The clothes make the character: Disney’s Neysa Bové talks “Moana”
By Darissa Townes
Disney’s animated feature “Moana” follows the adventures of Princess Moana, a courageous young navigator from Polynesia who sails into the ocean in search of a mysterious island alongside the demigod Maui.
Neysa Bové took the reins of costume design for the film and visited SCAD-Atlanta on Nov. 3.
Born and raised in Spain, Bové studied at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. Before joining Disney Animation Studios in 2014, Bové worked as a toy designer for Mattel.
I had the wonderful opportunity to chat with Bové about her experience getting into Disney and her time throughout the production of “Moana.”
What was it like coming from consumer products to Disney Animation?
After consumer products, I went to Mattel and I designed Barbie dolls, so it’s toy design. It’s all relative, it’s all within consumer products world. It’s quite a big shift because you’re working on something that’s gonna go to the market right away, versus jumping on a film and it can take years to make that, so that was quite a transition. Every job I’ve had, I’ve learned something new and with this new job, I’m learning every single day.
What kinds of things are you learning?
Coming into the animation world, I’ve learned that there are so many valuable groups of people that work in animation that I had no idea about. We have engineers, we have people that develop software programs, a lot of people that are not necessarily artists but are a huge part of making the film. And then there’s the whole filmmaking process.
Were you able to go on the research trip for “Moana?”
Unfortunately not (laughs)! But I did get to see a lot of their videos and they took a lot of photos! A lot of the times, when they go on research trips, it’s supervisors and above, but they came back with so much intel. That’s just amazing for an artist to see, so it was wonderful to look at all their photos.
For Moana’s wardrobe, what was your process when coming up with designs for her outfits, because she has seven?
Yeah, she has about seven from when she’s a baby til she’s 16! I would start knowing who the character is. You look at the character designs, and then you start studying the history. We got to talk to the Pacific Trust which is a group of people that came from Oceania and they told us a brief history on their cultures. After that, I do my own research and try to get inspired by things that they’ve taught me, but also the things that I see that I’m comfortable with like the fashion world. And then I start designing after that.
Does the material of a costume come into play when designing them?
Absolutely! That really determines the look of the film. For Moana in particular, we had two approved materials. In other films, it’s quite open, but for this one, because they’re trying to be historically accurate, they had two approved ones, pandanes which comes from the pandanes tree and that’s what Moana’s skirt is made of. And then tapa, which is what she wears on her sash. That’s actually made of the mulberry tree bark. I got to learn all about that and I didn’t know that they had these materials.
What piece of media has your all-time favorite wardrobe?
That’s so hard to pick. There are so many of them! I love the Golden Era in Hollywood, a lot of Gene Kelly films. My favorite costume designer is Edith Head and she worked with Hitchcock so I get a lot of inspiration from her.
What are your thoughts on Game Developer Barbie?
I think it’s great! There are women in positions that people think is a Guy’s World and that’s silly. Bringing awareness to having women work in those fields, I think it’s great for little girls, so it’s good to see it out in the toy world.
Was there a particular character in Moana that was challenging to create a wardrobe for?
I think everybody. I’m working with materials I’m not used to. Going to fashion school, we didn’t buy tapa or pandene, so every single one was a brand new learning experience. I think I learned a lot with the way certain natural fibers drape versus other ones.
What was the hardest part about the entire film production process? This was your first one.
I think for me, it was making the transition to film. You’re working at Disney and there’s so much pressure. Your inner voice is telling you every single day is ‘don’t screw up, don’t screw up.’ The way that Disney films inspired me as a little girl, I want to make sure that I do that for little girls and little boys out there.
How do you feel knowing that the outfits that you make are the things that little kids will be wearing next Halloween?
It feels so real! It’s so crazy! I can’t even fathom the idea that that’s happening. It’s definitely a surreal situation for me, but I can’t wait to see everybody’s rendition on it.
What’s your favorite Disney movie?
Little Mermaid. I grew up with that and working with Ron and John is absolutely surreal because they made one of my favorite movies. And what little girl didn’t want to be Ariel?! I think that’s one of my favorite ones that made me feel like Disney magic is everywhere.
Moana hit theaters Nov. 23, 2016.