Disney’s Moana Producers Visit CU Denver

Photo: Sarai Nissan


Disney has been under the public eye for being a studio that fails to incorporate diversity into its films and characters. In response, Disney hit the drawing board and released its much anticipated indigenous princess flick, Moana.         

Moana follows the story of a young girl in ancient Polynesia, voiced by young actress Auli’i Cravalho, who embarks on a far-reaching quest to find herself and learn more about her ancestral history. As cliché as the film might seem, motifs of heroism and female empowerment are trickled throughout alongside many sing-a-long, tear jerking songs. On Nov. 17, a classroom full of 150 CU Denver students got a peek at the design process of the film with an in-depth presentation by Moana’s creative producers, Hyrum Osmond (Co-Head of Animation) and David G. Derrick Jr. (Story Artist).

After joining Walt Disney Studios back in 2008, Osmond was able to work on his immense portfolio of not-so-little films. He’s had his hands in Disney box office smash hits such as Frozen, Tangled, and Wreck-It Ralph. With so many years of experience under his belt, he was now able to incorporate his own creative flair into Moana. “As a kid I remember watching Aladdin in theaters, so working on Moana is a dream come true,” Osmond said.

With producing a potential Oscar winning film comes the need for accurately portraying the real stories of the people found on the Pacific islands. Explaining that as the film was pitched to John Lasseter, creative honcho for hit films such as Zootopia and Toy Story, Osmond made sure that the film stayed true to its original authentic vision by sending his team out on a research mission.

He sent them out to the Pacific Islands including Samoa, Tahiti, Mo’orea, and Fiji, ensuring that this film incorporated a realistic value of the mystical history found within the Pacific Islands. They wanted everything to be as realistic as possible, including the traditional dancing, the food, and the music.   

Along Osmond, David G. Derrick, story artist for the film, got the opportunity to dig into his own Polynesian heritage. “We cooked our dinner in a traditional Samoan oven called an umu,” Derrick said. This heritage has since trickled into the enchanting narrative that is Moana.

CU Denver animation students got a glimpse into the cultural inspiration behind Moana, while also seeing the intensive design process involved in creating a state-of-the-art film. While staying true to the cultural pieces integrated into the film, they made sure to provide a film that resonated with viewers of all ages. “We aren’t going out for realistic design, we’re out for designing characters that audiences can connect with,”  Osmond said. He advised students to seek design elements that sparked an emotion instead of trying to design something ultra-realistic.

After viewing many behind the scene clips of the film, CU Denver students clapped with enthusiasm for a film they awaited for so long.

   Great films aren’t built overnight, and Osmond and Derrick made it known that although most of the beloved films we know and love take a long time to make, the wait makes the viewing  all the more worth it.

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