In part 4 of our in-depth interviews with the creative team behind Walt Disney Animation’s latest animated feature “Moana”, I talk with production designer Ian Gooding about how he helped create the tropical environments that Moana and Maui call home.
ITM: Give us an idea of your history with Disney and which projects you’ve worked on that you’re most proud of.
Ian Gooding: I started in 1990 as an effects in-betweener in traditional 2D animation, a long time ago on a featurette called ‘[The] Prince and the Pauper’ that came out with ‘[The] Rescuers Down Under’. And at some point along the way I ended up switching departments to [visual development], and then my first art directing gig was “Runaway Brain”. That was a really fun project. We made that in France at the time, at the Paris studio.
I’ve worked on so many different things. I really enjoyed working on “Wreck-It Ralph” and ‘[The] Princess and the Frog’, two of my more recent ones. ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ just had such a fun variety of worlds. And ‘[The] Princess and the Frog’ was similar to [‘Moana’] in that it took place in a real place, but we had to do a lot of research to try and nail what it felt like to be there.
ITM: How did you come aboard ‘Moana’? What appealed to you about the project and what were the biggest challenges?
Gooding: [‘Moana’ directors Ron Clements and John Musker] asked me to work on it, and I love working with them, so that was a gimme right from the start, that I would say ‘yes’. It terrified me [laughs], because there’s no metal, no glass, no architecture to speak of. So how do you get those wow moments? There’s only so many orange sunsets you can put in front of the audience, but I figured, ‘it’s a good challenge, so let’s do it.’
The biggest challenge was just nailing that time and place, so that it couldn’t be the Caribbean, or it couldn’t be Baja, California or something. I had to really feel like the South Pacific two thousand years ago, as close as we could make it.
ITM: Tell us more about the research process on ‘Moana’ and how your trips to the South Pacific helped shape the movie.