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‘Moana’: How Disney’s Sci-Tech-Winning Drawing System Aided the Oscar Contender

The Meander drawing system, honored with the Academy's Sci-Tech Award, helped shape "Moana's" 2D and VFX sequences.

Meander used on “Moana”

Animation

Disney’s innovative Meander drawing system, utilized on the Oscar-winning “Paperman” and “Feast” shorts, and one of 18 recipients of this year’s Academy Sci-Tech Award, was integral to “Moana’s” 2D/CG integration.

“It was used extensively by effects to do shot planning, and during the hand-drawn prologue, and on everything that was hand-drawn during the [Lin-Manuel Miranda] song, ‘You’re Welcome,'” Brian Whited, Disney’s senior software engineer, told IndieWire. He designed and developed Meander and will receive the Academy’s Sci-Tech Award on February 11th at the Beverly Wilshire.

READ MORE: ‘The Most Beautiful Shots in The History of Disney’ Highlights ‘Snow White,’ ‘Moana’ and Everything in Between — Watch

“Marlon West, the VFX supervisor, did drawings to guide the CG, and the effects animators ended up using those drawings directly in the final film,” added Whited. “They included the lightning bolts coming off of Maui’s hook. He found that it was easier to just draw those than to have an effects animator do those curves in CG, which is very complicated.”

Meander used on “Moana”

“You get the actual hand of the artist instead of clicking a mouse, which is more mechanical,” he continued. “He drew right on top of the CG art. Because it is vector, they could translate the actual curve geometry from the drawing into their effects shots. It’s not something that we expected.”

Meander was originally developed as a digital drawing tool for such tasks as clean-up animation, and was intended to be used on the 2D-animated version of “The Snow Queen,” which was scrapped before evolving into “Frozen.”

Then it was crucially expanded as a platform for John Kahrs’ black and white “Paperman” to emphasize the texture of the pencil line art layered onto the CG.

“After ‘Paperman,’ development stopped for a couple of years,” Whited said. “It was used as is [to a lesser extent] for the silhouettes on ‘Feast’. After that, we started thinking that it would be nice to take the core of Meander and repackage it into a more feature-rich library that could be integrated into other tools and leave the standalone Meander behind.”

“Paperman”

“So I started reworking Meander as a library, which we call Meander Kit,” he added. “And the first target for integration has been our new playback and review system, which is Autodesk’s RV. We’ve developed a plug-in in RV that uses all of the Meander functionality, which has been in production for two years. Animators and effects animators are laying out entire shots with hand-drawn animation to guide the CG. It’s increased the integration of 2D drawing tools into the workflow.”

READ MORE: Oscar Animation Roundtable: Building Worlds in ‘Zootopia,’ ‘Kubo and the Two Strings,’ and ‘Moana’

Meander Kit has even been adopted by Pixar as a plug-in to their desktop and mobile story apps.

“Basically, anywhere you can draw, we want to integrate Meander,” Whited said, “and I think the mobile space is getting really exciting. Meander Kit runs on Linux, MacOS, and IOS, so we can develop apps for iPads.”

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