WAMG Takes A Look At FROZEN : Part 2
To promote their new full length animated feature FROZEN, Disney invited members of the press to Disney Animation Studios to check out how the film was made, and show us selected parts of the film before its November 27th release.
While there, we met with directors Chris Buck (TARZAN) and Jennifer Lee (co-writer WRECK-IT RALPH), as well as producer Peter Del Vecho (THE PRINCESS & THE FROG, WINNIE THE POOH) in a small roundtable Q&A to learn just how they created this epic animated feature. Check it out below to find out how they brought this tale to life, as well as casting the film.
In “Frozen,” fearless optimist Anna (voice of Kristen Bell) teams up with rugged mountain man Kristoff (voice of Jonathan Groff) and his loyal reindeer Sven in an epic journey, encountering Everest-like conditions, mystical trolls and a hilarious snowman named Olaf (voice of Josh Gad)in a race to find Anna’s sister Elsa (voice of Idina Menzel), whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter.
So, this dynamic between sisters seems like something that’s totally new and fresh in terms of the whole Disney princess genre. Why are fans not being told about it via the trailers? Because I feel like they would be really excited about that angle?
JENNIFER LEE: I don’t, I don’t know. I think that might be coming. I think part of it was we, um, it’s, when you’re just rolling it out, trying to introduce the story, it’s a very big story. And you want to set who the lead is and then sort of, kind of, what the general issue is and then you want to start adding the layers. People that know Snow Queen and Anna’s pretty iconic immediately. But I think it can get confusing unless we do it in stages. So I think that’s part of why. Uh, we found that, that trying to throw everything in the trailer, it was confusing people, so.
CHRIS BUCK: And, and part of it was, and the, the trailer that just came out was sort of giving people an idea of what is this movie about and it was all about who is gonna save the day? Who’s gonna save the kingdom from this eternal winter? So that was sort of the thing, ’cause we had done some, you know, tests and things just to see what works and that was one of them.
JENNIFER LEE: Like, “Wait. Who’s the lead. Wait. Is it…?”. It just was confusing. So I think it’s, ’cause it, hopefully our big thing is it’s a very big movie and there’s, it’s very, it’s complex and it has high stakes and we just wanted to make sure that it, it doesn’t go — you don’t watch it and go, “I don’t even know what that’s about.” So we’re kind of doing it in stages.
CHRIS BUCK: It’s a tough movie to market, there’s no doubt. There is a lot, there’s a lot in there. There’s a lot in there, so. And it’s hard to sort of pigeon hole it to one, just one thing.
Can you tell us about those musical numbers? How intimidating it is to do musical numbers for Disney that has some of those iconic musicals?
JENNIFER LEE: We can ask Bobby and Kristen about that. I think they’d have an even better answer than us about…
PETER DEL VECHO: [OVERLAPPING] Yeah. They would. That was a big thing. We should talk a little bit about the process. The fact is… that we hired them on really early on in the process, and worked with them very day. I mean, they were based in New York. We, they would come out here when needed, but they were based in New York and we had a big screen, um, uh, video conference connection with them for what? At least two hours every day.
JENNIFER LEE: Every day.
PETER DEL VECHO: And a lot of it was just about story and story development, character development and really understanding what there were ’cause it’s very important, our, our story is very complex and the songs needed to fit into that story and propel that complex story. So before they could write anything they had to understand who these characters were.
CHRIS BUCK: And they really hammered us about, you know, simplifying these characters more. What does each one want? And, and a song has to have a very simple idea and then, you know, it can shoot off from there but it has to have a very clear idea. So it was a challenge for us to simplify, you know, each of their wants — Olaf, Elsa, Anna.
JENNIFER LEE: Yeah, we didn’t want to do a traditional, you know, like music traditionally we wanted always, um, to have, to — because often times in the past it’s a very simple story, and so the music in it is a bit of just sort of the stop and start in that. And we wanted a big movie and we wanted to have the songs either drive the plot forward or reveal something about the character that was significant, or, so they would, we would find a char–, you know, agree on a song like “Let It Go” you got to see in that song, the minute we land on that song it changed everything in the movie. And so then we would, then we’d ship the movie and then do a song they wrote would have to fall out and they’d have to do a new one. So it was this chicken and egg constant all the way, all the way ’til June when we had the final song. Um, even that then we had to go back and, you know, we hopefully not affect the animation, the stuff that had been animated we try to hold off anything we thought we might change, but, um, it was, it was, we just wanted…
PETER DEL VECHO: …more than anybody had to be really flexible because it, one, one thing, one change affected a lot of other parts in the movie.
CHRIS BUCK: But, but and also to your question, yes it is intimidating. It is intimidating to do a Disney feature just because of the legacy. But you kind of have to just put that in the back of your mind and go, I, you know, we know all the great movies, at least, you know, some of us do, and, and it’s, um, you know that it’s all there but you just have to make this movie its own and the movie will sort of tell you what it needs. There are songs that didn’t make it, you know, that weren’t right for this – things that we had to throw out.
JENNIFER LEE: We had to make it work.
CHRIS BUCK: And then the artists here too. The board artists bring this to life, and the animators, and of course the writers… and everybody else. They’re the ones that, that make that initial leap with us once we say, “Yes it’s great,” and they go how do we this? I don’t think we ever go “Oh my gosh, you know, such and such is such a great movie. We’re never gonna be able to top that.” You just, you just keep moving forward and you know, do the best you can with, with each film.
Did that summer song about living in summer, did that come from the story or was that, uh, or was that something that…
JENNIFER LEE: Yeah, that was an early idea. When I came on the project and we were working on all the characters and it, we were talking about love and fear as those are two main themes. And every character sort of hangs off the clothesline of love and fear. One, you know, some exploit fear, some exploit love, some are, are you know, controlled by fear, some are controlled by love. And we just thought that Olaf was perfect as innocent love and innocent love is vulnerable. So, I just remember for awhile… I remember saying, “What if he, what if his dream is to see spring or summer?” And people went, “That’s a little thick,” and Bobby Lopez, of course, goes, “I can run with that.”
CHRIS BUCK: Bobby’s twisted enough to say that.
JENNIFER LEE: But we felt like it really fit him in terms of that naive innocence.
CHRIS BUCK: Yeah it was. It was great. Now it wasn’t the first song that was written for Olaf. There was, there was like one or two others. And they were more of a calypso kind of thing. We wanted a warm theme but it was like, that’s too Sebastian. So, we’re like, okay we’re not gonna, we don’t try to do the same thing. But then when he hit on this, this sort of slight little Christmassy song, it starts a little Christmassy and then it just becomes this wonderful, innocent, you know, thing. He, as soon as we heard the demo, I mean, the demo is almost exactly what you hear here. Very, I mean, very few changes.
Not to dwell on Olaf but he’s obviously a completely different character design from any other character in the film. I loved how he plays against the realistic animation of the leads. They’re very realistic, especially when they’re with him, it seems. What was the reason for that?
CHRIS BUCK: The reason for that was, uh, uh, originally it was — Olaf started as — Elsa had all these guards, she created all these guards for her ice palace. Not in this version. Very old version. And then we said Olaf was the very first guard that she created, and we always talked about she was trying to learn about her powers. So we talked about it like it’s the first pancake. You know that pancakes get burned on the bottom that you throw out. Well, that’s Olaf. Olaf was her first pancake. But then it evolved from there. Then as we had Olaf in the story evolve to the girls as they grow up, and you didn’t see it today but the first thing they do is, these young girls, they sneak out of bed at night and Elsa does her snow, and (they’re both very young) they roll these snowballs together and they create Olaf, and Olaf is still very kidlike.
JENNIFER LEE: Yeah, and he loves warm hugs and they, they imbued him with their, their kid personality but it’s not a lie.
CHRIS BUCK: It’s not a lie.
JENNIFER LEE: So when he’s created later by Elsa in “Let It Go,” it’s memory to the last bit of love and joy she felt and he’s imbued with that. And then, design-wise, the simplicity snow, we wanted any innocence of him to — to make his design too complex just didn’t feel right. When you’re a child the, the awkwardness and the funny shapes you make with the snowmen, the heads are never perfect and, and that was just ideal to us for, for who he would be and what, as kids we think about snowmen.
CHRIS BUCK: So it’s very childlike design that, you know But it’s great. Throughout the movie it is that reminder of their time when it was good, when the two sisters had, that they were happy together.
Olaf kind of steals the scenes throughout the movie. Was that by design or does a lot that comes from Josh (Gad)?
JENNIFER LEE: You know, we had a lot of fun with Josh. We always enjoyed Olaf. We were very careful though. We wanted to give you a lot of his scenes ’cause we enjoy him, and still balance him though, so that he’s adding to emotion when needed. He’s sort of — I always like the character who states the obvious, that drives a point home, but in a way that’s funny. So, it was a lot more about how he would help the scene grow. And obviously Josh is very funny. Josh gave us plenty of material. We would just improv with him and, in fact, the very first scene we meet Olaf was the first time we ever brought Josh in. It was not an interview. We knew that we were gonna have him but we had rough pages and just said, “Let’s play.” And he played and what’s in the movie is exactly from that first time. That’s when I think we really found Olaf’s voice. We knew his personality, but just those little things — there’s always an innocence to it, but yet there’s this fun — and just these ways where he’s always seeking, and always willing to be a part of things that we loved. We weren’t afraid of — anytime we had him we all of us enjoyed him so much.
CHRIS BUCK: We were careful throughout the movie. When you use the whole movie, we were careful that he didn’t… what you saw with the Summer Song and that whole bit, that’s his introduction.
JENNIFER LEE: That’s his big scene.
CHRIS BUCK: That’s his moment, but when he has these other moments he’s there to interject a little bit of levity to the scene if sometimes it gets too heavy… or he’s a great, you know, an innocent, as, he used the scene he says he’s very poignant actually. But we were very careful of that, that he wouldn’t just take over the story.
JENNIFER LEE: Yeah, and there’s stuff that we couldn’t show you today where the side of him that — the way children are very poignant and emotional. We always say like even with a character like Olaf he has to earn his place, because you can’t just throw him in. What we really are proud of is when you see the whole, there’s something about him. He’s this little embodiment of the love of those two girls that they lose, and your hoping they get back. He’s funny and witty but there’s a presence about him that we think just coming, even through the girls are not together onscreen, ties them together, that we love.
Chris, between Tarzan surfing through the jungle and the penguins surfing in SURF’S UP, you really had characters that interact with their environment. On this film, what was the fun environment to sort of play around with animation-wise?
CHRIS BUCK: Well, the snow was obviously. The very deep snow that they get into was a trick, you know. And that was a fun environment. The ice is another one. A lot of the slipping and sliding that the characters do, but then just creating it and the beauty of it. I think that was phenomenal. I think the guys just did an incredible job. It wasn’t easy, by any means. We had some, the first things we did they kind of looked plasticky.
PETER DEL VECHO: It took awhile to render too.
JENNIFER LEE: Yes, one frame took thirty hours, I think, to render. One frame. We had four thousand computers working on it at one point. So, it was, for them they, we were blown away by how the effects team and lighting team took that on.
PETER DEL VECHO: The other thing is that our characters don’t just walk on top of snow. We really wanted them to interact with the snow. When they fall in the snow you want to see that. So technology, working with the effects department really did a fantastic job. It wasn’t easy to create that look.
So when it comes to the character Elsa, who do we get to thank for casting Idina Menzel?
CHRIS BUCK: Well, I mean, that was us. That was all of us. But our casting director brought Idina in. We always thought, “Who could do this?” you know? ‘Cause we knew that the songs were gonna be outrageous. And just that character, the strength of her. We of course had seen her in WICKED and knew what an amazing talent she was. But I always told Idina when we started working with her and didn’t even realize it, you know, but the character of Elsa is still, she’s so powerful and yet there’s a really vulnerable side to her. And Idina’s the same way, you know. Her persona is very powerful, but you know, when she –
JENNIFER LEE: Very gentle spirit, you know.
CHRIS BUCK: She’s very sweet, uh. And it comes out in Elsa, you know, this vulnerable side. So, besides the voice, which we knew was just killer, her acting was really — she nailed it. It was beautiful. We did a table read where we had Kristen Bell, who plays Anna, and then Idina Menzel was in. And we actually put John Lasseter right between the two of them because we, you know…
PETER DEL VECHO: I think it was Bobby and Kristen’s first day here. So they hadn’t started writing any of the songs yet.
CHRIS BUCK: They read through the script, of course it was wonderful but we had to show, we didn’t — no songs yet. We had to show the power of the music in this, for this film. And they sang, you know, this beautiful song. They sang it to each other, Kristen and Idina, and it just, there wasn’t a –
JENNIFER LEE: Everybody was crying.
CHRIS BUCK: – dry eye, dry eye in the house. It was just magical. It once again, showed that use of the character’s –
PETER DEL VECHO: And then I remember Bobby and Kristen leaning over and saying, “Oh my God. We have to write a song that tops that.”
Be sure to check out Part 1 of our FROZEN day HERE
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 (voice of Josh Gad), Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom.
The film is directed by Chris Buck (“Tarzan,” “Surf’s Up”) and Jennifer Lee (screenwriter, “Wreck-It Ralph”), who also wrote the screenplay.
It is produced by Peter Del Vecho (“Winnie the Pooh,” “The Princess and the Frog”).
Features original songs from Tony® winner Robert Lopez (“The Book of Mormon,” “Avenue Q”) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (“In Transit,” “Winnie the Pooh”), and an original score by Christophe Beck (“The Muppets,” Oscar®-winning short “Paperman”).
FOR MORE INFO:
“Like” FROZEN on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DisneyFrozen
Follow FROZEN on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DisneyAnimation
Visit the official website: http://www.disney.com/frozen