Elsa (Idina Menzel) may be an ice queen, but she rules her kingdom with a warm heart. In Frozen 2, her powers are put to the test when an enchanted forest awakens and endangers the kingdom of Arendelle. In order to save it, she, along with Anna (Kristen Bell), Kristoff (Jonathan Gross), and Olaf (Josh Gad), must embark on an incredibly dangerous journey into the unknown where they will encounter new elemental creatures and possibly discover the answers to why does Elsa have powers.
Geeks Of Doom joined a group of journalists for a rare opportunity of a sneak peek of Frozen 2 to learn about how the research process plays a huge part in expanding the world of Frozen, as well as adding new characters based off native folklores, fairy tales, and more.
Check out what sort of elements come in to play and how they will be an intricate part of the sequel.
“The fun part, what really inspired this was when we were doing research into Norse and Scandinavian folklore, and thinking of Elsa’s parents of nature,” co-director and writer Jennifer Lee said. During a 10K hike, Lee says they came across a forest that felt like it was coming alive. There, they heard about the tales about how some of the rocks they saw were thrown by giants, and how there is life hidden underneath those rocks. “You have to ask spirits if you want to do something, and they will answer,” Lee said about the experience. “The joke of it was, they didn’t seem to like me in the Norwegian forest. I ripped my pants and I fell down. Everything went wrong for me in Norway. Chris [Buck] was just skipping along.”
Co-director Chris Buck said he had a fantastic time there and spoke about the fairy tale atmosphere and that you could feel in these forests. He described it as warm and cozy, and beautiful. The two would compare their stories, and after a trip to Iceland, Lee said she found herself at home, despite the warnings that “the land was in charge” and that it could potentially “kill her.” She said she would gladly walk on the glaciers despite the dangers of slipping into the crevasse and dying in an instant. However, Buck wasn’t nearly as adventurous as his co-director. And the two discovered that they were Anna and Elsa in terms of being the living embodiments of a fairy tale and mythical story.
These research trips did inspire the story elements and color palettes in the film. One aspect is the dark sea with its black sand and jagged rock formations, which gets its inspiration from the black pebbled beach that they saw during their research trip.
Producer Peter Del Vecho added that the research trips immersed them with inspiration, and as such, was the spark needed to develop the story ideas for the sequel.
For Lee, she looked back to Norse sagas and Hans Christian Andersen’s original “Snow Queen,” and even deeper into some of the older folklore and stories that were indigenous the Sámi and other parts of Scandinavian culture. Some of the things that stood out to there were the stories of the Nokk and the elemental spirits that came from Iceland, which was largely founded by Scandinavia. But the one discovery they had made, and that they joke that they knew about it in Frozen, but in reality, they didn’t, was that “the mythic story is a tragic story,” Lee said,
“It’s about a superhuman character, someone with a special power, who carries our sins and our flaws and our mistakes for us, and, usually, has a tragic fate. I looked at Frozen, and said, ‘In Frozen, Elsa would have had a tragic fate, and so would have the world have imagined if Hans had killed her and the storm raged on, that would have been the mythic version of, but then the fairy tale of Anna came in and saved the day and the power of two of those tug-of-warring together was the biggest discovery, and that really came in the research about the difference between a myth and a fairy tale.”
Frozen had a limited color palette to work with, using cool blues, beautiful emeralds, cranberry colors, and magentas, and white snow to fill the screen. However, Frozen 2 would be a complete contrast to that as it takes place during autumn, where there would be brilliant oranges and really saturated yellows. This posed a challenge to the artist of how they were going to get our world and our characters to live in that very colorful palette.
“Everything that we experienced with the fjords and how tall and grand they are, we carried that over in Frozen, and whether it was the Ice Palace, or whether it was our forest, or the fjords themselves, this is an example of that verticality in our white palette, but now, we needed to take verticality into a fall palette,” co-production designer Lisa Keene said.
They had to make very discreet choices about how they were going to take the world of Frozen, use their experience with the color palette, and implement it into Frozen 2. But Keene says things can get chaotic pretty quickly when building an organic environment because of all the team would be using all of the inspiration they brought back home from their research trip.
Keene said they knew they couldn’t deviate too far from the language of Frozen. This meant continuing to respect the first film, and not going overboard with the enchantment in the sequel. And there will be a lot of enchantment. “If everything is enchanted, and everything is speaking to you on that level, then you don’t get to appreciate the stuff you need to narratively,” she said. “So, in this Enchanted Forest, there is a main story that’s going on, and there’s a lot to see.”
In order to narrow things down, they talked to a Norwegian botanist. They also used specific trees so that there would be contrasting shapes. “One of the interesting things about that region is that fall also happens on the ground,” Keene said “It’s not just what happens on the trees. The plants and the ground cover actually turns hues, as well. So, we were actually given a plethora of opportunity for color almost everywhere.”
It is then up for the environments team to take the visual development and execute it across the film. Yes, building a natural world is challenging, but “building a natural world that’s also stylized is really, really hard,” said head of environments Sean Jenkins.
Ultimately, the goal was to have the forest look good from every view. And to keep up with that kind of consistency, the environments team built up their library full of trees, bushes, and rocks, which would then be used to populate across a large region. But they also had to be careful not to get too crazy with the flora and fauna and restrain themselves so that they can stage the story through this forest in such a way that it doesn’t overwhelm the characters.
Additionally, there is a lot of ground cover, and a lot of colors to go with it. So it is so much more than just adding leaves, but the ground itself is colorful. “With the foliage on the ground, the ground cover had to be a hue of red that was going to allow for a real hue to pull off of,” Keene said.
Fog was also used as a medium in order to help with the graphic reads. But working with an autumn palette proved to be difficult because it may distract too much from the story that’s happening in the enchanted forest.
Going back to Arendelle proved to be somewhat of a challenge as well, because the environments team needed to apply that autumn palette to the snow-covered kingdom. Snow was literally a blank canvas for the environments team because they were able to paint on any color you want, and use whatever you need to use. However, this was different for Arendelle during autumn because, as Keene puts it, it has a “much narrower range, even though it’s a very vibrant one, and it’s very rich within itself.”
But it wasn’t just a simple swap, it had to work story-wise, as well. This proved to be very necessary as there will be a musical sequence that plays throughout the town.
This meant that there needed to be some civic planning. “We had to know how you would get from whichever areas we chose to use, there was some kind of linkage between them,” art director of environments David Womersley said. “So, it felt more logical. We went into Arendelle, we made it more of a real place, pulled things together, made them all rational and kind of a lot more urban logic going on.”
As the sequence plays out, the audience will see that the town has a real history behind it. It’s rustic and has a central square. Not only that, but they are preparing for autumn, which can be seen by all the banners that are hanging up throughout the town. Of course, with the use of the autumn palette, it helps make everything the audience sees pop. Add in the music, and it begins to feel like a Frozen movie.
Jenkins joked that one of the perks of having a consistent town and village is that it is a virtual set. They also settled on a lot of neutral colors because the forest hues in fall are so intense and so bright. These neutral colors would help offset that intensity so that you can see those smaller details of the town. And in some cases, Arendelle will be a backdrop as opposed to a narrative aspect like the enchanted forest is.
The environments team never wants to overwhelm the characters because the characters are the story. They see their roles as enhancing the scene. But they are given a little more latitude when there is no character in the shot. They call this the “music room shot.” When it comes down to it, they are there to support the characters and the narrative.
For the environments team to understand the story, the action, and even the environments, the environments team is always looking at the storyboards as they are coming through. For example, if a storyboard has a character is going to run downhill, the team can cater to that.
And it wouldn’t be much of an enchanted forest or a dark sea if it wasn’t populated with trolls, giants, and mythical spirits.
Head of Animation of Frozen 2‘s Tony Smeed introduced us to one of the newest characters of the sequel, the Earth Giants. “These creatures are made of rock and asymmetrical, which affects the way they move,” Smeed said. Because they are made of rock, this makes them super heavy and their size and their weight have to be conveyed through the animation.
Various artists like Manu Arenas and Nick Orsi delivered different versions of these characters which would then be integrated into the environment. “Determining how much environment vs. character and again, this amazing enormous scale of the Earth Giants,” Smeed said. “Around this time, the director asked me to think about trying to infuse some of the troll DNA from the first film as well as keeping this scale, which resulted in these giant rock creatures.”
In addition to the Earth Giant’s mobility, Smeed said they also looked at the characters’ breathing. When a human breathes, their bellies expand and the skin stretches. But because Earth Giants are made entirely of rock, it makes it hard to stretch that element. So, Supervising Animator Wayne Unten and Rigging Supervisor Chris Pedersen figured that they could slide the rocks over or under each other.
Bruni is another new character and the latest animal companion that audiences will meet in Frozen 2. Curious and cute, this salamander inhabits the Enchanted Forest. Though shy at first, Bruni can’t help but be drawn to Elsa’s icy magic and enjoys the cool snowflake treats she creates. One of the key things that animation supervisor Trent Correy wanted to do was make Bruni as “adorable and cute as possible.”
So after the animation department got their hands on Bruni, Correy, and Reece Porter did a run cycle and looked at “salamander and lizard references, concept art to infuse real physics and personality.” Early tests during the production would help inform artists about the Character, even the Directors, and determine who Bruni is.
But Bruni won’t be the only new character to appear in the film. In fact, there will be a shapeless elemental character that can only be found in the enchanted forest, and its name is Gale. Like its namesake, Gale is a strong wind. It also has quite a playful personality.
Gale serves as one of the elemental spirits that we will see. This proved to be a more difficult character to visualize as wind doesn’t have a real physicality to it. You can’t see it, so it’s hard to develop a rig for a free-flowing character. In fact, one of its first iterations saw Gale as an ethereal being.
It was only until Lee wrote in a sequence where Gale interacts with Elsa, that they needed to give Gale a bit more substance. So Art Director – characters Bill Schwab looked at what might move Gale around. Working together with tech animation, Gale would interact with leaves, sticks, and debris. After applying the rules of physics, and using new software, Gale came to life.
Using this rig would help indicate where Gale is during a scene. It’s when Gale wasn’t moving around that proved to be more difficult for the character to find. So the effects and environments team worked together and came to a solution. Environments would have the wind blow through the trees in order to give the film a sense of realism, while the effects team would have the leaves moving, which would indicate where Gale is.
Gale is a character who is using nature’s elements to describe itself. Often times it took splitting hairs, hue wise, to get that character to perform so that we as an audience could see it. Additionally, another question the environments team asked themselves was “how enchanted are these particular elements, conversely to the elements that we are going to describe as extremely enchanted?” Because not everything in the film can be enchanted, otherwise you can’t see the enchanted narrative that you want to describe.
Other artists like Annette Marnat would use lighting to help make the character more magical and beautiful, while Visual Development Artist Griselda Sastrawinata, who used patterning and color variation techniques.
Once they came to a consensus, it was up to the animation team to figure out how to animate the character and get the performance that they want once the animator sits down at their desk. So, the team, along with technical directors and software engineers, developed Swoop. This would allow the animation team to animate Gale by animating a path that it travels on. They had to think of the shape of the path and its timing along it.
Before the Swoop tool was developed, departments would be animating individual objects one at a time. Had they not developed the software, there’d be no tool available that builds a simple path that is easy to manipulate. “And really, Gale is the interaction with a character, so if we had Gale wrapping around Elsa’s arm, and we receive a note to change [the motion of] Elsa’s arm, you also have to redo the path that Gale traveled on until there was Swoop,” Correy said.
But there is another elemental spirit that Elsa will encounter on her journey, and this one isn’t as playful. In fact, it may be difficult to tame.
Nokk is a water horse spirit that is based on a Nordic folktale. The character was originally designed to be a shapeshifting spirit; however, the directors wanted to give the character a constant shape of a horse and with the intention that it would be as realistic as possible and to not have cartoony, funny expressions. As such, the animators went and did their research, looking into a horse’s anatomy, quadruped motion, locomotion, watched a lot of clips. They also traveled to Equestrian Center to watch beautiful horses and to speak to a trainer for a little more information.
The trainer informed them that horses are peaceful animals by nature, however, the Nokk was to be presented as a warrior and staunch defender of the Dark Sea, and one that would allow only someone that is worthy to pass. “We thought of the Nokk as a wild Stallion that has not been tamed,” animation supervisor Svetla Radivoeva said.
They learned that horses place their attention based on where their ears are turned. Radioeva talked about how the horses show emotion through their ears, so they could pull them back to show that they’re angry. Also, you can show if they respect their rider by if they’re facing their ears toward them or not. So the animators would use what they learned and apply that to the Nokk.
Like Gale, the animation team worried about the audience being unable to see the Nokk’s expressions given that it is made out of water. So they took a variety of concepts and handed them down to the effects team build on top of it and make it even cooler and prettier. Tech Anim would help out with the Nokk’s mane and tail, while animation deals with the performance. After that, it goes to effects and lighting, who have to make sure that the Nokk looks and feels like its part of the ocean. The department is responsible for preserving the performance of the animation and keep the Nokk’s facial expressions intact, but then also add flourishes to give it a water feel.
This was largely a collaborative effort between four different departments who had to trust each other and work together tightly. With so much back and forth going on between all of them, they had to create a system and a workflow that would make them more efficient. This meant that they needed to carter to some of the department’s needs. For example, if Tech Anim says they need to create things in the space or if something doesn’t work for them, the animation team would have to change something or move something in a certain way.
Like the Enchanted Forest, the animation team wanted to give the Dark Sea a mysterious feel to it. But in contrast to the Enchanted Forest’s enchantment, the Dark Sea had to feel dangerous treacherous. And much like the animation, Tech Anim, and effects and lighting, effects and production departments had to work together in order to achieve the required look, while also making it feel threatening to someone like Elsa.
But there were no horses to refer to, so the departments had to look at a set of equations that are out there that are used to model the motion of waves. Using those simulations, while also plugging in different values for amplitude and wavelengths, they saw how the sudden change of depth in the ocean floor changes the break on a wave. The department had to run through a series of tests in order to get the ideal reaction from the audience when they would see Elsa challenge a wave that is three to four times her size.
Effects supervisor Erin Ramos then talked about the department having to actually do a separate simulation for the shoreline because the water was traveling way too high up the beach. So they basically took those two simulations and lined them up together. With shorelines coming into play, the effects team referred back to Moana. The shoreline in that film featured clear blue water that had minimal form and looked warm and inviting. That is in contrast to what they wanted with Frozen 2‘s shoreline, which is rough and raging, with lots of foam, and waves crashing on the beach.
It’s unknown what lies beyond the gates of Arendelle, and even though we got a sneak peek of the enchanted forest and the dark sea, and all of the trolls, water spirits taking the shape of a horse, and a mischievous wind spirit that populates it, we still don’t know how it connects to Elsa’s ice powers. But it is very possible that those who are trapped in the enchanted forest, when it was enveloped in a magical fog, could have the answers. We will just have to wait and see.
Frozen 2 opens in theaters on November 22, 2019.