It was a perfect autumn day when a hard-working team of animators and artists took a break from their work on “Frozen II” to share some insights into crafting one of the year’s most anticipated animated films.
Directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck spoke in great detail about finding the right story for the sequel to their Oscar winning film. Determined that this would not be a sequel just for sequel’s sake, they pondered some of the questions fans had been asking along the way. Some of the biggest questions they got — and that they themselves did not have the answers to — were:
- Why does Elsa have icy powers?
- How have they grown since Anna saved Elsa’s life?
- Why was Anna born the way she was?
- Where were the parents going when their ship went down?
- And is there really such a thing as happily ever after?
“Frozen II” sets out to answer these questions in a story that truly is the second half to an adventure that began with the first film in 2013. Elsa, now the Queen of Arendelle, feels something calling to her. Some strange song that leaves her yearning to know more about her abilities, her destiny, and her family.
The new film opens with a young Elsa and Anna, before icy accidents and isolation, listening to their father, King Agnarr, as he tells a true story of an enchanted forest he visited as a child. It is magical and dangerous, and the princesses are fascinated. So years later, when Elsa starts to feel drawn to find this forest, it sets them, along with Kristoff, Sven, and Olaf, on a journey of peril and discovery.
One thing Lee wanted to make very clear was that “Frozen” and “Frozen II” are two halves to the same story. This will not be a sequel for sequel’s sake. It matters, and the elements that are introduced, the story that is told, all aim to serve the characters we met in the first installment.
To prepare for the undertaking that would be “Frozen II,” Lee and Buck took their team on a trip to Scandinavia, determined to better understand the world of Disney’s favorite sisters. On the subjects of Anna and Elsa specifically, Lee said,
What we realized on this trip is that Anna is your perfect fairytale character. She’s an ordinary hero, not magical. She’s optimistic. Whereas Elsa is the perfect mythic character. Mythic characters are magical. They carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. In fact, the mythic characters often meet a tragic fate and we realized we had two stories going together, mythic story and a fairytale story. In the mythic aspect of it, the fear of that tragic fate is something that Anna’s been worrying about and thus protect her sister from.
Lee and Buck went on to explain:
Jennifer Lee: “Frozen II” is ultimately a mythic fairytale about home and family, self-discovery, courage and the power to never give up.
Chris Buck: So we could never give up. We could never have made
this film without the talented artists with whom we reteamed.
And with that introduction, we went on to learn more from the very artists who worked together to craft what will undoubtedly be a truly magical film.
On the subjects of fairytale and myth, we turned to some of the experts, including: Marc Smith, director of story; Becky Bresee, head of animation; Marlon West, head of effects animation; Hyun-Min Lee, animation supervisor for Anna; Wayne Unten, animation supervisor for Elsa; and Griselda Sastrawinata-Lemay, visual development artist.
Hyun-Min Lee talked a bit about where Anna is now, following her heroic adventure six years ago. “In the first film, Anna was the fearless one who was forging ahead,” she said. “And then this time, Elsa’s being called into the unknown and Anna is very much nervous and worried for her sister’s safety. And the big difference is that unlike the first film, Anna is not alone anymore and she feels like she has everything she could ever need.”
The story of Anna’s lonely childhood is detailed in the song, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” By the end of the first movie, the isolated princess finds herself surrounded with family and friends and an open palace gate. Lee explained more of Anna’s current status when we reconnect with her. “She has her whole family with her, Arendelle, and all the people she loves and that’s the source of her strength and her optimism,” Lee explains. “She definitely doesn’t want to lose this current state of bliss.”
Elsa, meanwhile, had her adventure and knows she should be satisfied. Marlon West spoke of her evolution, saying, “But in this film, she’s owning every aspect of her magic, the scariness, the power, the grace.” And to demonstrate Elsa’s growth since the first film, the animators went to great lengths to design new, very intricate uses for her powers. Ice spikes and slides and showers of sparkles unlike anything we have seen before.
In addition to a strong demonstration of Elsa’s powers and Anna’s love and duty, there is another vital and often overlooked element to the further development of these characters: costume design.
Griselda Sastrawinata-Lemay discussed the process of finding the right costumes. She said, “For each costume, we always ask who, what, when, where and why.” She went on to describe Anna as the fairytale character, “…We gave her a more traditional fairytale look and silhouette.”
But Sastrawinatra-Lemay continued, talking about the non-linear method for this process. “We grow as the story grows,” she said. On the subject of the sisters, she went on. “Designing for [Anna] is tricky because once we decided that Elsa will always be in light value, it is challenging to find a color that would hold the same brilliance and strength when their next to each other.” They ultimately decided on a deep set of jewel tones to balance Elsa’s mythic, icy palette.
The biggest takeaway from this discussion was the sheer amount of time and number of talented people that work on a production like this one. They put months and years of thought and care into this world and the characters in it.
Marc Smith wanted to convey this, as well the pride the team has for “Frozen II.” He said,
“So, as you can see, there’s a lot of love and passion that goes into making these movies. All the artists I think love the characters they’re working on and–. We’ve been living with this movie and with these characters and with the new songs, which I think you got to hear a couple of, there’s seven total, for years now and I think we’re just really excited to– the release date is so close that we can get it out into the world and share with everyone. That’s it.”