An In-Depth Look at Disney's 'Frozen'

Frozen Movie Poster
Poster for 'Frozen'. © Walt Disney Feature Animation

One of the most interesting aspects of Walt Disney Pictures' advance press day for their upcoming animated movie Frozen was the chance to learn from the animators about how they worked with the actors in bringing the characters to life on the screen.  Frozen's head of animation Lino DiSalvo says there's a lot of depth to the characters in Frozen and the animators were determined to do justice to each of them.

The big question going into the process was, according to DiSalvo, "How do we get 60 animators and how do we push getting to believable performances, honest, truthful, acting?"

The process actually began years ago when the animation team brought in acting coach Warner Loughlin to go over the script. Together, the animators and Loughlin went over every single character in depth, searching for their emotional motivations. "We go over every single human and we think about where the characters were before. And if we used the film as the present,  where the characters lived before, what they were doing before," explained DiSalvo.

This helped everyone work as a team and make sure that the choices made when animating each character were all coming together from a similar place. "When you see the hand of 60 different animators animating one character, there’s a cohesiveness and there’s a continuity there," explained DiSalvo.

"And on top of that we bring in someone like Idina Menzel, who’s voicing Elsa. We brought here in right here and I’d moderate like an Inside the Actors Studio."

The animators would actually get to ask questions about singing and breathing during songs, and Menzel was an excellent resource in helping the team understand what the characters needed to look like on screen.

"For those of you who are familiar with acting techniques, breathing’s obviously the foundation of your scene," offered DiSalvo.  "The costume - you could see her breath and her diaphragm and the breathing and all that echoing, and that tension stuff."  

"The script, we had the acting coaches.  Soon as the actors are announced, we bring them in," summed up DiSalvo.  "And the journey of finding who the characters were before we animated it - every film’s goal here is to obviously find the characters before you start the film - but with these characters and their big moments, it was incredibly important for us to be in a very comfortable spot.  So, when you issue an animator a scene with the hero characters, they knew what to do with it."  

Another interesting animation tidbit brought out during the Frozen discussion was that female characters are inherently more difficult to animate because they have a larger range of emotions. "Having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and looking very different if they’re echoing the same expression: that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna being angry."

The animators also were tasked with making a snowman, Olaf, into one of the central characters.

"With Olaf, we pitched the idea of, 'What if we just treat him like a snowman?' Obviously he’s a talking snowman, but he has segments.  His arms are sticks. They do not bend. 'What if we just kept that truth in material just 100 percent? How can that help us?' It was amazing.  It kind of forced the animators into very funny situations, and, Olaf being one of our comedic characters, that was key for us. So it’s something as simple as a character [if] he had to scratch his head, and if your arms don’t bend, something has to give," explained DiSalvo.  

"Or if a character needs to look, does he take his head off and look over the wall and put his head back on?  Does he drop his head?  And him being segmented and falling apart, it worked out really well for us," added DiSalvo.

Audiences will get to see the results of the animation team's work when Disney releases Frozen in theaters on November 27, 2013.

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The Plot:

Walt Disney Animation Studios, the studio behind Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph, presents Frozen, a stunning big-screen comedy adventure. Fearless optimist Anna (voice of Kristen Bell) sets off on an epic journey—teaming up with rugged mountain man Kristoff (voice of Jonathan Groff) and his loyal reindeer Sven—to find her sister Elsa (voice of Idina Menzel), whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter. Encountering Everest-like conditions, mystical trolls and a hilarious snowman named Olaf, Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom.