Disney Animator Darrin Butters is no stranger to success. But sitting down with him to discuss his role as a Moana Animator, he shares nothing but true enthusiasm for the excitement he recognizes when fans can learn from speaking to him about his work. His career is inspiring and you will absolutely adore the life he gave Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson, in Disney’s Moana. The Moana Disney Animator is very passionate about his work and why he loves creating art that speaks to people – both literally in animation and figuratively. Our family visit to Hawaii earlier this year was wonderful and we brought home hundreds of stunning photos. The trees, the mountains, the waterfalls, the oceans…and the chickens! My seven year old daughter was so amused by the many chickens in Kauai. She pointed out every chicken and their unique characteristics: “oh look, that one has a funny feather”, “that chicken runs silly”, and my favorite “why is that chicken pecking a rock?” Moana introduces us to wonderful characters with a beautiful inspiring story. While I do love Maui and Moana, a personal favorite star of the animated film is Hei Hei the chicken. Everything I learned from Moana Disney Animator Darrin Butters and why I love Hei Hei the chicken are just a short list of the many reasons my family is excited for the theater release November 23rd.
Beginning with performing puppet and magic shows at just eight years old, Darrin Butters has always loved performing arts. He was an illustrator for a natural gas company’s art department then joined Disney as an Animation Assistant in 1996. He went on to work as an animator on Bolt, Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Oscar®-winners Frozen and Big Hero 6, as well as 2016’s hit Zootopia. He certainly has found his calling as an animator and fans of Moana are in for a wonderful surprise as they see Maui’s animated tattoos, a stunning art within an animated character. My daughter and I saw Moana a couple of weeks ago and just days later I interviewed Darrin to learn about the animation he contributed to the film.
Creating art that really touches fans is Darrin’s favorite thing about animation. He has a young daughter too and can definitely relate to the magic felt by watching new animation. The stunning setting in Hawaii is reminiscent of our most recent family vacation. But it’s the animated characters that really touched me. An opening scene of baby Moana exploring the ocean had me smiling thinking about my daughter’s very first time touching the water as a toddler. Moana’s grandmother dancing on the rocks reminded me of my own grandmother. But the starring character, Maui, is what really brought it home for me. My cousin Joe is a couple of years older than me. He is very big and tall. Very very big and tall, like The Rock big and tall. My entire life his nickname for me was Hei Hei. In high school, he thought it was hilarious when all his friends also picked up that fun little nickname for his baby cousin. I certainly was not amused but the moment I met Hei Hei the chicken while watching Moana, I knew this animated film would forever be a favorite.
Hei Hei the chicken was originally supposed to be, in the words of Darrin Butters, “a cocky character”. But his dynamic with Moana and Maui on the boat just didn’t work. So the animation took a different direction and Hei Hei became the silly chicken that mindlessly pecks at rocks and keeps you laughing through the entire animated film.
After calling me Hei Hei my entire life, and in anticipation of the many jokes I’m about to hear after friends and family see Moana this week, I’ll just leave this little gem of a 1988 throwback photo here. I love you cousin Joe!
Butters shared that all animation is done after the characters are cast. You will recognize smirks and behavior the actual voice stars have making it even more fun to see Dwayne Johnson, The Rock, play Maui. Hei Hei the chicken might even have a real chicken star out there himself – it’s certainly not me.
See Moana in theaters November 23rd.
Who do you expect to be your favorite Moana character?