At a recent Moana press day Legion of Leia sat down with Eric Goldberg, one of Disney’s Renaissance animators, to chat about his latest work on the upcoming film. He’s the man behind some of the most beloved characters in Disney Animation like Genie in Aladdin, Phil in Hercules, and co-directed Pocahontas.
Already beginning to follow suit from what we’ve seen in Moana previews, Maui (voiced by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) and specifically Mini Maui is Goldberg’s latest contribution to his Disney Legacy. We got a chance to hear stories about how the actors he’s worked with over the years, including the late great Robin Williams, are a part of his inspiration in an unexpected way when animating.
Legion of Leia: Coming on board for Moana what was it that drew you to the project and inspired the creation of Mini Maui as a character?
Eric Goldberg: Every now and again us 2D animators will do a rough pencil test as kind of test drives for the characters. I animated some scenes of Maui and I animated some scenes on toddler Moana and the ocean. To get the discussion going so to speak. As the story process progressed Mini Maui (a sentient tattoo of Maui on Maui) started to emerge as a character in his own right. Everyone responded to not only the notion of moving tattoos but that Maui and Mini Maui had this relationship together and that was fun to explore. On of the things John Lasseter wanted to explore was not only that Mini Maui was Maui’s conscience but also can give it back to him a little bit. He turns the screws on Maui! That’s what he does once in a while. It’s a fun aspect of the character. They all love and support one another ultimately and thats part of the heart of what a Disney movie is.
Legion: Does he get some musical number action in the film?
Goldberg: (laughs) All I can tell you is he’s not a bad dancer.
Legion: As an animator what can you tell us about how the physicality of the characters are reflected by the moves of the real life actors portraying them? In this case Dwayne Johnson voicing this larger than life demi-god.
Goldberg: (Maui’s) the sun and everybody else is the solar system. (Laughs) You can’t just imitate what the actors do. It’s never going to become a character in his own right. He’s never going to be that character of Maui. So you take your influences from all sorts of things. Even though Dwayne is a huge part of who this character is, there’s a physicality to Maui and his movements that comes from all sorts of sources. One of them is we had Polynesian dancers come in and show us traditional dance steps which they incorporated into the Maui animation. I think that’s great! I don’t know if Dwayne can dance like that or not. That’s where you pull aspects from all sort of the things culturally and attitudes that help not only inform who the voice actor is but inform this new character you’re creating.
Legion: Yes, even Genie isn’t just Robin Williams in animated form but there are aspects of him there.
Goldberg: One of the things that people ask me is if I referred to reference of Robin (Williams)a lot (on Genie) and I didn’t refer to it a lot. The reason is I was a huge fan of Robin but if you watched Robin act, he had arm lock a lot of the time. I wanted the Genie to have more movement, I wanted Genie to be as expansive as Robin’s vocal cords. So it was a different style of movement than Robin had. Are there aspects of Robin in the Genie? Sure but in terms of the style of movement he was a larger character visually than Robin was as a person.
Legion: It was also cool to see winks to the Rock’s mannerisms in Maui like the eyebrow too!
Goldberg: Sometimes its something as small as a mouth shape. When I was doing Phil in Hercules, I was watching Danny DeVito who did his voice on camera and his lips did this really weird shape did a really weird shape every time he did and ‘s’ or ‘ch’ sound and I started putting that on Phil and his lip synch really improved. It was great but it was just that one aspect that seemed really unique. Let’s see if I can incorporate that but like I said it comes from all sorts of sources.
Moana opens this Thanksgiving!