Disney invited me on an expense-paid trip to Los Angeles for the Disney Frozen Event so that I could report back to all of my readers about the movie and behind-the-scenes details. No other compensation has been exchanged and all opinions are my own.
Group shot with the directors and producer (below) was taken by our very brave leader, Marshall from Disney. All other photos were taken by me. Don’t forget that FROZEN opens in theaters tomorrow, November 27, 2013!
The morning after our group of 25 bloggers walked the white carpet and saw the world premiere of Disney’s FROZEN, we drove down to the Disney Animation Studios for an exciting day talking with the people involved in making the film. First, we met with the talented filmmakers of FROZEN – Disney veteran Director Chris Buck (“Tarzan”) and first-time Director Jennifer Lee (co-writer, “Wreck-It Ralph”), along with longtime Disney Producer Peter Del Vecho (“The Princess & the Frog”, “Winnie the Pooh”).
Later, we broke up into smaller groups (go Team Anna!) for some hands-on fun where we visited 3 different sections of the animation process:
- Rigging Lab – FROZEN’s Rigging team is in charge of creating the tools for both the most detailed and believable human expression as well as a snowman who can fall to pieces. We joined them in their computer lab to test out our skills at moving the characters….and let’s just say that we’ll be leaving the complicated animation process to the professionals!
Did you know that FROZEN used 245 clothing rigs, which is more than 2 times the number of clothing rigs in all other Disney movies combined?! Elsa has 419,000 hairs on her head. I have about 100,000. Rapunzel had about 27,000 hairs. That’s some detailed animation!
- Acting Through Animation – We met FROZEN’s Head of Animation, Lino DiSalvo, and members of his talented team as they demonstrated how they brought the characters of FROZEN to life, including how they would sit in front of mirrors late at night or put themselves in front of the camera in their office to discover the perfect expressions. They were a fun bunch! About 70 animators teamed up to work on FROZEN, and I love that they would get together regularly to screen sections of the film as it was in progress only to find that they were so lost in the story and the music that they forgot they had jobs to do.
- Voice Recording – We had the crazy opportunity to step up to the microphone and become a character in FROZEN ourselves! Yes, we each had a chance to act and record a scene from the film. And, yes, I will be showing you the scene that I recorded…soon!
Chatting with FROZEN’s Directors and Producer
In just 5 short years, director Chris Buck’s pitch to make Hans Christian Anderson’s classic story of The Snow Queen into a Disney animated movie went from dream to big screen reality. When we met with FROZEN Directors Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee and Producer Peter Del Vecho last week inside the Disney Animation building, we learned the inside scoop on how they made the magic happen.
Developing Elsa, The Snow Queen
One of the aspects of FROZEN that we (as viewers) enjoyed so much was the fact that there was no scary, evil villain. In the original story, the Snow Queen is evil, but that’s not the case in FROZEN.
Director Jennifer Lee explained Elsa’s transformation from evil Snow Queen to a more relatable character: “(In) the original story she is a villain, she’s just pure evil and you don’t know anything about her. That was really hard for us and I think that’s what’s made it such a challenging story to tell. The original story by Hans Christian Andersen has a great theme about love versus negativity or fear that we love – we really liked that. But The Snow Queen herself was like an enigma. We kept her a villain for a long time and it wasn’t resonating with us. It wasn’t the story we wanted to tell. We didn’t want to tell a good versus evil story.”
Jennifer Lee continued, “Chris had pitched a wonderful concept of looking at an act of true love that could be a different thing. And and one day we were all in the story room together…and someone said, ‘what if they were just connected more? What if they’re sisters?’ And that was it. All of a sudden the whole thing (came together). We all emotionally felt it. And then the more we did that, the more interesting Elsa became…when she wasn’t a straight forward villain.”
I personally loved the dynamics of the sisters’ relationship. From childhood play to teenage tension. Misunderstandings and ‘I’d do anything for my family’ devotion. Elsa and Anna’s sisterly bond was beautiful. As a woman with three sisters myself (plus two sisters in law and three daughters) I know how wonderful and frustrating and joyful and maddening and silly that relationship can be.
Creating animated snow
As a person far removed from the animating world, I can watch a movie and enjoy the story and the beauty of the artistry and never realize the skill that it takes to create some of the elements of the show I’m watching. I was surprised when the directors and producer began explaining the challenge of animating snow and ice that looks realistic.
Director Chris Buck said, “The ice was hard because a computer does everything perfectly. And so the first kind of ice that we saw, that the guys were doing, looked more like glass or plastic. We realized the ice has imperfections in it, it has flaws, and so we had to put those imperfections in. And then it started to look really good” But before it could look just right, the crew did quite a bit of research. They went to an ice hotel in Quebec City, noticed “how the sunlight would come through the ice and how beautiful the different rooms were. And also we were there at different times of day.”
They also had a crew go to Cheyenne Wyoming and had all of the animators (women AND men!) wear big skirts with corsets and walk through deep snow…just so they could understand what happens when you walk through snow in a long skirt.
Director Jennifer Lee said, “We didn’t want the characters just walking on top of snow. We wanted the integration. And doing integration with snow, we had to completely build programs to do that. We didn’t have anything like it. (At first) a lot of it looked like sand or packing peanuts. It was very difficult but the Technology Team just pushed it. They were amazing what they did. And just to give you a little sense of how hard it is to do what they do and how we’re so proud of them.”
Jennifer Lee continues, “In the scene where she builds the ice palace, there’s one shot where you enter it as it’s building and you rise up and when we finalized that scene after several months…four maybe four or five months working on it….there were four hundred people in a room with us, because they had all touched that scene, just to make that happen. It was a very emotional moment.”
Teamwork in animation
It’s crazy to think that a single frame could take 30 hours to render. Luckily, the team at Disney really does work together, collaborate and support each other. I loved hearing about the creative process.
Jennifer Lee explained, “It’s like a Rubik’s Cube, you solve everything and there’s one square that’s in the wrong place. So we just really rely on each other. And I think we always say we don’t have to have all the solutions right away. We just have to keep working it, keep molding it.”
Chris Buck continued, “The other thing we do is we screen the movie for ourselves about every twelve weeks, and in the beginning that’s just story sketch and it’s animation that flushes out. But at that screening we bring in the other directors and the other writers at the studio. And they give us notes, and sometimes it’s like a two-day retreat, well a retreat makes it sound like it’s fun. But basically they tell us things that are working but things that aren’t working. And it often feels like someone’s disassembled your car and then they all go home and you get to put all the pieces back together.”
Well, it seems that they found all the right pieces and put them each in the perfect places. Even the names of the characters came to be with a lot of thought and purpose, though it wasn’t on purpose that 4 of the main characters’ names said together just happen to sound very much like Hans Christian Anderson, the creator of the original story (Say it – Hans-Kristoff-Anna-Sven!). So many details, so many people working together, and it all came together beautifully.
Check back tomorrow, opening day of the film (11/27/13) for my full review of FROZEN and throughout the coming weeks for more details, interviews, and fun from Disney Studios.
Frozen stars the voice talents of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk and Ciarán Hinds and is directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee with original songs by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.
Check out my FROZEN activities that you can do at home with the kids:
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