A few months ago, Geeks of Doom joined fellow journalists on a trip through Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, CA to get a sneak peek at their upcoming and highly anticipated animated feature Frozen 2. We already shared what we learned in terms of what to expect to see in the sequel, along with the new characters and the new worlds that they will meet and see, and what exactly goes into a ballad like “Into the Unknown.”
Now we are ready to share another piece with you, which takes a look at the bond of sisterhood that is shared between Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel). The theme of sisterhood played a huge role in the first Frozen, as it took a look at the bonds between the two. Although Anna was able to bring out Elsa from her self-imposed exile, Frozen 2 will explore how strong that bond is as Elsa journeys into the unknown to discover the voice that has been calling out to her.
Check out more on how the themes of sisterhood relate to fairy tales, myths, and more below.
In our previous coverage, we learned that Anna and Elsa’s arcs resemble that of fairy tales and myths, respectively. Now, this piece will expand on that thought, looking into how it relates to the two characters. For Anna, she is the courageous adventurer who is always positive and believes in a happy ending. Whereas Elsa is the mythic character, someone who has the weight of the world on their shoulders and is always working toward some destiny or purpose.
When the development of Frozen 2 started three and a half years ago, the team took a deep dive into these characters, including where they were at the end of Frozen and the hard-wiring that’s going to go all the way through the original and into the sequel.
Director of story on Frozen 2 Marc Smith talked about how their research trip to Finland and Norway, north of the Arctic Circle and then to Iceland, served as an inspiration. This was the same thought process for the first because Frozen was greatly inspired by the Nordic regions. But not only was the team inspired by the landscape, but they were also influenced by Norse and Scandinavian folklore. “You understood why all of their tales are so imbued with magical spirits, forest spirits, magic,” Smith said.
It was because of these research trips that they started to develop around the themes of fairy tales and myth. Where Lake Inari in Finland felt like a fairy tale, Iceland felt mythic. The nature surrounding all of it felt like it would try to kill you. “Everywhere you turned you just felt like a tiny little human in the face of nature,” Smith said.
So as they started to hone in on the story, they discovered that they could use the contrasting aspects of fairy tales and myths for the story. Animators tend to draw inspiration from their real lives. Frozen‘s sister story was very personal for Becky Bresee, one of the heads of animation, as it drew parallels to her own life with her own relationship with her sister as well as her two daughters. So she gets to continue that relationship in the sequel.
But now that these characters have matured, it will be exciting to see how much more they would change as they embark on a new adventure. The same can be said for the story and animation team as they will find new ways to challenges these characters on a narrative and animation level. “It was exciting to get to collaborate again with all the different departments and to meet these challenges,” Bresee said. “For instance, effects and animation got to collaborate on a few new characters in the film.”
While these shots are “complex and hard” to work on, animators love to work on the challenge. And once they achieve the desired look, they are “animation gold.” Working with an existing family of characters proved to be one of the challenges animators had to face because of all of the characters that needed to be in the same scene. “This was challenging as an added complexity as they all have to have motion but more importantly, emotion,” Bresee said. “Also, in the film there are a lot of really long shots to animate, so many of the longer shots were some of the more emotional moments as well.”
In Frozen, Anna was seen as the adventurous-type and one who would take more leaps of faith than anyone else. Whereas Elsa was taught to “conceal and don’t feel” out of fear that she would lose control of her ice powers. She is the film’s mythic character.
Anna is the perfect fairy tale character because she’s an ordinary hero with no magical powers, and she’s optimistic. A stark contrast to Elsa who is the perfect mythic character because she is magical and carries the weight of the world on her shoulders. Often times, mythic characters meet a tragic fate. So they realized that they had two different stories coming together as one: a fairy tale story and a mythic story. It is the tragic fate of the mythic story that Anna has been worrying about and vows to protect her sister from.
However, Frozen 2 will be a bit of a role reversal for the two, as it is Anna who is now worried about Elsa’s well-being as the Ice Queen longs to know who is behind the siren sound that keeps calling out to her.
Anna is very protective of her clan. She would do anything to keep them safe. “Anna is that kind of strength and positive energy as part of her big charm and we were trying to find fun moments where we could push that part of her a little further,” animation supervisor Hyun Min Lee said.
Audiences will get to see a lot of that from Anna during the charades sequence. In it, Anna is fully committed to having fun in this game by showing a wide range of expressions, and not caring what she looks like. “Anna is moving her whole body and using everything to try to connect and communicate with her sister,” Lee said. “When they’re doing even basic expressions, this is something we offer the animators as a guiding template to use as a starting place.”
Using these expressions, audiences will be able to see what the subtle differences and similarities are between Anna and Elsa. “When they’re animating it or trying to infuse this into all the scenes, all the acting and animation, and while we’re trying to do this in the animation, one of the great ways that we found a way to show their differences and their maturity is also the costume design,” Lee said.
With the outfits for Frozen, production designer Michael Giaimo wanted his team to approach the process as if they were making a live-action film, which meant that the costumes would need to have a lot of effortless moving fabric and a lot of very exciting color pops that you see when the character is moving. Of the new costumes in Frozen 2 that we got to see was Anna’s travel costume. For each of the costumes, visual development artists like Griselda Sastrawinata-Lemay ask themselves who, what, when, where, and why. “Since Anna is a fairy tale character, we gave her a more traditional fairy tale look and silhouette,” Sastrawinata-Lemay said. But designing some of these costumes can be tricky since the story is constantly growing and evolving.
Designing costumes for Anna proved to be tricky because, in order to stay thematically constant and true to the character, Anna needed to be wearing a color that would hold the same brilliance and strength when she is standing next to Elsa, who is always wearing a costume that is in a light value.
One of the effortless moving fabric pieces that Sastrawinata-Lemay showed us was Anna’s cape. Originally designed for Elsa, the cape had a small opening for her arms. But because the visual development team needed her to be able to move a lot and have a full range of motion, they expanded the opening. That created a challenge for Sastrawinata-Lemay’s team to make it look good when she’s moving.
And there will be a lot of moving considering that Anna and Elsa will be on this epic journey into the unknown. For Elsa, they shortened her dress and gave her pants, and then added a cape to show the heaviness of her emotional state. However, this only took away from the Ice Queen persona that audiences and fans know Elsa to be. Elsa would need to stay light, bright, and feel like ice in order to reflect that Ice Queen persona.
These animators know these characters inside and out, and they don’t want to do anything too drastic that would have them deviate from who they truly are. For them, these characters are like family. And after being done with the first film, a lot of them missed animating them. But when they got the chance to revisit the characters, it was a nice opportunity to see them grow.
“As animators, our job is to communicate clearly to the audience what the character is thinking and feeling,” Elsa animation supervisor Wayne Unten said. He adds that they do their jobs right and are able to express emotions through blinks, gestures, and body poses. The audiences get sucked into the story and forget that these characters are animated, and start to look at them as living, breathing people. And that is part of what he loves about being an animator.
It’s through body language that the audience gets to see how the characters are feeling at the moment, rather than hearing it from them directly. That idea will be on display in the “Into the Unknown” sequence. There, Elsa is awakened by an unknown distant voice calling out to her. Frustrated, she begins to argue with herself saying that she hears the voice but will not acknowledge it. The voice is not responding to her, but every time it calls out, it is telling Elsa to go on this adventure to discover who the voice is. And yet, Elsa is struggling to follow that voice because she believes she has already been on an adventure. So it is a back and forth that is projected on-screen through an animated musical sequence. And eventually, she knows that in order for this to stop, she will have to follow this voice into the unknown.
But just as much as body language says what a character is feeling, we get to see Elsa’s emotions through her ice powers. In Frozen, she never fully embraced her powers. The ice that she projected was rough and had a lot of spike-like features because it came from a place of fear and uncertainty. After all, she had been taught to conceal her powers for a good majority of her childhood. However, when she exiled herself is when she finally learned to let it go. There, she finally embraced her powers and was able to be more expressive with them, using them to create artistic snowflakes and beautiful structures.
It is much different for her in Frozen 2. “She’s owning every aspect of her magic; the scariness, the power, the grace,” head of effects Marlon West said. Just like “Let It Go,” “Into the Unknown” will lean heavily on Elsa’s magic and use it in a way that will enhance the musical sequence. In that sequence, Elsa is as in-tune with her magic as she is out of tune. Her ability to control is expressed through the ice magic which takes on a life of its own, but then audiences will see her lose control as her magic accidentally awakens the enchanted forest. Those same effects will be heightened during the dark sea where she uses her powers to create a huge ice shape to create a ramp so that she can leap over a giant wave.
“To give something for character animation to actually, truly perform on we had to simulate this big wave…had to start to break up this ice slide and then give it to character animation so they could actually believably animate on it,” West said. “And then we went back, added more higher resolution pieces, little tiny pieces of ice, actually more of a water simulation to actually make it a whole believable scene.”
Animators and artists put a lot of love and passion into making these characters feel alive because they will be living with the film and the characters for a couple of years.
Bonus need to knows:
- Arendelle in Frozen 2 will be represented by a wheat icon that symbolizes the fall season. The shape itself is also a riff on the crocus from the original movie. And this icon shows up everywhere throughout the kingdom.
- A lot of the tender moments seen in the film are drawn from the animators’ own lives. This kind of reference shooting can help create a scene that the audience can relate to. “Once people relate to it, they start believing these characters and making them part of their lives, too,” Bresee said. “So, it’s what’s exciting about like the exploratory part of our job is to put these little things in and then to have the directors or anybody respond to it in a way that’s exciting, weird, and it’s kind of the joy of our job.”
- The Nokk proved to be a great challenge for West because not only did he have to create waves as an obstacle for Elsa to overcome, but he also had to create this wild water horse for her to tame. “We had to actually create this water horse that exists like, you know, underwater, that can kind of evaporate and reappear,” West said. “So, it was a big challenge to actually create a character that feels both like a character that has to be animated but to an audience, feels like it’s an underwater element.”
Frozen 2 opens in theaters on November 22, 2019. Click right here for more on the film, including trailers.