Looking deep inside Disney’s Frozen

The two recent trailers from Frozen, starring Kristen Bell, broadway legend Idina Menzel, comedian Josh Gad, and Jonathan Groff, gave the impression that something was missing and that it was only scratching the surface. This is very true. MovieViral was invited to the Roy E. Disney Animation Studio in Burbank, California for an exclusive behind-the-scenes the look at Frozen. Aside from some of the lighting and audio, the film is complete. Though only 30 minutes of footage was screened at the presentation, Frozen looks to be one of Disney’s best animated films yet. During our trip to the acclaimed studio, we learned that a great deal of things go into a Disney animated film.
From the directors Chris Buck (director of Tarzan and Surf’s Up) and Jennifer Lee (writer of Wreck-It Ralph), Frozen is Disney’s 53rd animated feature. In the film Anna (Bell), a fearless optimist, who must brave the harsh icy cold conditions to find her sister, Elsa (Menzel), the Snow Queen, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in an eternal winter.
So if you wanted to know how many computers were used to complete one frame? Or Which gender is the most difficult to animate? Why the Disney team brought Dr. Snow in? What kind of software was built? Where did Disney Animators travel to study and research for Frozen? Hit the jump to find out more about this, plus a look at some very exclusive images from the film.

The Basics

1. Frozen is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen.

2. Because of the film’s unique story and antagonist, the first two trailers are acting like set ups. The first one was to let you know that Frozen was coming, while the second one established the story. The third and final one should feature the musical numbers that were heard at the D23 Expo and be more character centric.

3. Frozen is one of the rare animated films that actually got the principle cast to record their voices together. Not only did this build better character chemistry, but it also led to improv. Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel recorded their voices together 8 to 9 times over a span of two years.

4. Depending on the shot, it can take up to 4,000 computers and 30 hours just to complete one frame.

5. The film took up to four years to develop and complete, but the story truly came together and started to crystallize a year and a half ago.

6. Using snowflake generating software, there are up to 2,000 different snowflakes that can be seen in the entire film.

7. The film’s setting is inspired by the landscapes of Norway, and Wyoming during the winter season.

8. Bobby Lopez (Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon) and his wife Kristen were constantly rewriting songs as the complex story kept evolving. Since they were based out in New York, the two met up with the directors for two hours a day via Skype, where they discussed simplifying the characters’ wants and needs.


9. In very early versions of the movie, Olaf was suppose to be one of the first guards of Elsa’s palace. Chris Buck compared that version of the character to a trial run or someone’s first pancake where the cook throws out the pancake when the cook finds out that it is burnt on the bottom.

10. In order to keep him from getting too complex, Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee wanted Olaf to have a childlike innocence. Like when a child makes a snowman for the first time where the heads are never perfect, and the body is disproportionate. That was the idea for the directors when they were thinking what kids would think of a snowman.

11. Josh Gad, the voice of Olaf, did plenty of improv during the course of the recording sessions. But the directors were very careful not to have him in too many of them or risk him taking over the story. He is there to interject levity to the scenes. But they also gave him proper screen time. One of his major scenes will be when he sings his musical number “In The Summer.”

12. Olaf had to earn his place in the film. Jennifer Lee says that he couldn’t just be thrown in, that he had to have a purpose, and one of his purposes is that he is the embodiment of the love between Elsa and Anna.

Animation Process

13. Just in effects alone, it took over 50 people to make the the scene of Elsa building her ice palace during her musical number. According to the directors, it took “forever” to render.

14. Animating female characters are extremely difficult. They have to go through a range of emotions, and having a film with two female characters and building distinguishing aspects was hard. (Updated) Here is what Frozen‘s head of animation Lino DiSavlo had to say about some of those difficulties:
“Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, ’cause they have to go through these range of emotions, but they’re very, very — you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to — you can get them off a model very quickly. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression; that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna (Kristen Bell) being angry.”

15. The goal of a screen test is to define the primary cast. Using no dialogue, these characters walk in, are presented with a situation, they react, and then they walk out. For example Anna gets hit by a snowball, the way she reacts in a playful and optimistic manner is her defining moment. Then she walks out. This goes on for the rest of the cast. Screen tests will lay out the foundation and set goals for the animators to getting truth in acting.

16. A variation of thumbnails and video recordings were used to help the animators perfect Anna and Elsa.
Elsa animating supervisor Wayne Unten explored different thumbnails of all possible poses, and different ways the characters move. He then took what he felt would work and composed them together. Things he looked at ranged from angles of the pose, silhouettes, tension, and then he put them all into what is called a “blocking pass.”
Anna supervising animator Becky Bresee would film herself dozens of times acting out certain scenes to make sure she would get the performance she wants. Getting a little personal, she would film herself doing this scenes with her dog, husband, and even her daughters.

17. Part of the animation process included bringing in Idina Menzel to talk to DiSalvo, where up to 60 different animators were crammed into one small room to learn and discuss techniques, singing, and most important aspect of all: breathing. Animators would take video recordings of Menzel singing “The Past Is In The Past” and watch subtle things like diaphragm movement, neck tension, cloth, lighting, and breathing. If it would make the performance more believable, it will be included. According to the animation team, there has to be a certain level of believability that needs to be there before the shot could be approved.

18. Kristen Bell‘s voice lend itself to the character of Anna. While viewing film recordings of the voice recording sessions, animators would notice subtle things like Bell biting her lip a lot. These subtle things were taken into consideration when animating characters.

19. Despite it being CG, there is a lot of hand-drawn animation that goes into projects like Frozen. Some critiques have CG animators doing rough drawings of characters in 2D. The principles are the same, but the end result is the appeal and entertainment.

20. Some of the best CG animators have never hand drawn.

Creating Movements and Emotions

21. Character TD department is responsible for character rigging, cloth rigging, hair rigging, and simulation. Rigging can best be described as the character’s skeleton and muscles. Without it, the character would just be a sculpture. Aside from that, the character TD department will also build a set of controls that will establish a character’s movements. For them, it’s not just about the gross movement of the character, they are there to get the facial gestures just right.

22. One of the challenges of Frozen was that the TD department had to populate the entire kingdom with people. In this case, the department ended up building 312 character rigs, 245 cloth rigs, and 63 hair rigs. It’s more rigs the department has build than any of the other Disney films.
To put that into perspective Anna’s character had 420,000 strands of hair; that’s 4.2 times more than a human.
Just in case you care keeping count, in Tangled, Rapunzel had 27,000 strands of hair.

23. To cope with Anna and Elsa’s challenging Scandinavian hair braid style, the TD department built a new software called Tonic, which harks back to the hold barbershop days. Tonic used hair volumes and clumps, which would help build the strands and translate it into the vision. How the hair fell into place or if the character “had a bad hair day” helped the animators get an idea of how hair would work.

24. 245 cloth rigs is more than any other Disney film combined, twice over. The cloths in the film were inspired by mid 1800 costumes, gowns, and attire. All of which were very detailed, very intricate, and very layered.

25. The TD Department approached the cloths from a real world perspective. Using a pattern based approach. The team built new software called Flourish to capture the sheer, stretch, and gravity in a more convincing way so they can best represent silks, wools, and other clothing based materials. For example, by adding motions to a horses’ stirrups or tassels, they can dictate its behavior or the way it moves.

Effects and Simulation

26. Some of the effects used for Elsa’s magic were in fact hand drawn and not added by CG. This includes key scenes of Elsa using her magic to freeze water.

27. Close interactions with snow like trudging through or digging snow was hard because the team wanted to create believable snow. According to the team, if you do not have the believability, the characters are just “floating” in the world, they are not “in it.”

28. Matterhorn is a snow generating software that was created specifically for this film.
One instance called keyframing follows the rules of real world physics. Think of a ball bouncing upward from point a and how it arches downward to point b.
In simulation the animators write their own rules, as long as they still follow the point a to point b concept.

29. The effects team were even conscious of how the wind would flow through hair and cloth. A variety of controlled simulations were done with the strength and length of the wind varying.

30. Motion capture work is even used in the animation field. One of the barriers between people and computers is interfacing programs. So when the effects team wanted to achieve something they couldn’t do just by animation alone, they would construct a draft of a scene, and using tracking devices (similar to motion capture technology) and six cameras in different positions of the room, would run through a scene.
Since the entire dynamic of a scene can change in simply by moving the same camera in that virtual space, the team would take a 100 different shots and present five of the best ones to Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, and/or John Lassester, who then approves one or maybe all five of the shots, which then would end up being in the final cut of the film.

31. There is a lot of real world phenomena that gets lost when it gets put into a real computer because it’s not there by default. As a layout artist, it is there job to take into consideration the real world anticipation, overlap, momentum, and physics that is built into our natural motion and transfer that into the computer.

The Science and Research of Frozen

32. To study the effects of snow and ice, Dr. Ken Libbrecht (aka Dr. Snow) of CalTech was brought in to show how snowflakes are formed. He showed that tiny little ice crystals form in the air and depending on the temperature and humidity that tiny ice crystal start to branch and plate, and this process is repeated until you get the snowflake that you see before you.
When the team brought this to John Lassester, he was so excited that he gave them the idea of Elsa building her ice palace in the same branching and plating manner. So watch Elsa’s musical number carefully as you will see branching and plating in action. Even when the chandelier is forming, there is still branching and plating going on.

33. Part of the research also included a team of animators to travel to Norway to study the film’s organic environment. During their trip, the team found that the Kjerag rock formation was an excellent setting for the kingdom of Arendelle. The castle in Frozen is one of the first that is not in promontory setting or is very vertical. In fact it is one of the few castles that is actually flat as opposed to its dominating features. Instead kingdom is built to give off the feeling that it embraces the nature that surrounds it.

34. Rosemaling was another inspiration behind this film. It can be found in clothing, embroidery, small details, and even architectural environments like ceilings, walls, columns, window frames, furnature, etc. They even put rosemaling into these costumes. Not only would it make the world more cohesive, but it also gave the characters their own personality. Each character has their own shape language within the rosemaling.
Anna is playful, she gets floral rosemaling.
Hans being very elegant gets a more graphic designed rosemaling. In fact his costume is inspired by the Bunad designs that you would typically see in Norway.
When Elsa leaves the kingdom, her costume is no longer inspired by rosemaling, instead it is inspired by snowflakes.
There is hardly any rosemaling seen on Kristoff because of his character background.

35. The research in Norway also proved helpful in creating the costumes. The production team took into consideration the fact that if these characters would wear satin and free flowy material like Rapunzel did in Tangled, they would freeze to death. So they designed costumes that would based on heavier material like wool and velvet. Normally that would mean that these dresses are more structured in a certain way that doesn’t allow for secondary twirly movements. However, by pleating them, it does allow the characters to be more playful.

36. The research team also took a trip to Wyoming to study what it was like to walk and trudge through snow in a dress. Even the men took part in this study

37. Trips to different ice hotels in Quebec City were taken to study how light reflects and refracts off ice.



38. Anna’s catchphrase “Wait, what?” is actually something that Kristen Bell says a lot.

39. Acting coaches were brought in to help animators create major and subtle character movements. So when you see Anna bite her lip, or Elsa’s diaphragm move, this is something both Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel, respectively, do in real life. Basically if it made it more believable, the animators put that in.

40. An entire wing of the Disney Animation Studio is dedicated to upcoming films. Each wing in itself is then decorated by the film’s theme. So for Frozen there is a lot of ice, transparency, and cool blue colors. Whereas Big Hero 6 was decorated to the theme of San Fransokyo, the fictional city (a hybrid of San Francisco and Tokyo) where the movie is set. This wing has a lot of postcards and posters with the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and other famous San Francisco landmarks in it. The wing also decorated with Japanese-inspired building exteriors, paper lanterns, and posters of sumo-wrestlers.

41. Olaf’s song “In The Summer” was not the first song written for the character, nor was it the only song. Olaf, who is a snowman, doesn’t have much experience with summer, and as a part of that twisted humor, directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee wanted to be sure that “warm temperatures” was the theme of his song. Before settling on “In The Summer,” Bobby and Kristen Lopez wrote a song that involved Calypso. However, it was deemed too Sebastian by its directors who did not want to do the same thing twice.

Story Bits

The following bits may be considered spoilers, so if you don’t want to know anything about the story, now is your chance to turn back. But if you want to know more about it, then scroll down.

42. Frozen has a unique situation of having an antagonist who isn’t inherently evil. It is revealed that Elsa is cursed with ice magic at birth. Not knowing how to fully control her powers she accidentally hurts her sister Anna. Anna is then taken to a magical troll who heals her of her injuries and has the incident wiped from her memory. To prevent this from happening again Anna and Elsa’s parents separate the two, with Anna not understanding why she has to stay away from her sister and Elsa being shunned for something she has no control over. The two love each other very much, they are just in a precarious situation.

43. Olaf is a symbol of Elsa and Anna’s childhood innocence. Not only does Elsa have the unique ability of creating ice and snow, but she also can bring it to life.

44. After Anna gets engaged to Hans, she asks for Elsa’s blessing. Elsa says she cannot give her blessing because she thinks Anna is marrying too soon. This drives a wedge between Anna and Elsa, and as a result a frustrated Elsa reveals her powers in front of her kingdom’s advisers, who proclaim her to be a sorceress. When she runs out into the court her frustration grows and her powers become more sporadic and as a result she shows her ice powers in front of the people.

45. She then runs off to the North Mountain to be alone, however she unwittingly sets off a curse of eternal winter on the kingdom of Arendelle.

46. Teaming up with an Kristoff, an Ice Harvester, and Sven, his trusty reindeer, Anna will travel up to the North Mountain to bring Elsa home and end the curse.

47. Their first attempt ends in failure with Elsa unwilling to leave. However her frustration leads her to accidentally curse Anna with the same curse Arendelle is under.

48. After leaving Anna under the care of a village doctor, we learn that Kristoff had developed feelings for Anna during the course of their journey to the North Mountain, and that only one’s true love can break the spell.

49. You start to see how colors and emotions play into the way the ice changes in Frozen. When you see a happy Elsa form her ice palace for the first time, there are cool blue and purple colors. However, when he knights of Arendelle attacks her and forces her to go on the defensive, there are yellowish hues.

50. Like most Disney films, there is an animal companion. In Frozen, Kristoff, the male lead, has Sven, a reindeer. But the way the two communicate is different than what we have seen in previous Disney films. While the two look like they are communicating, it is actually Kristoff that speaks for Sven in what he thinks a reindeer would sound like if they could speak. So it may look Kristoff is conversing with himself because he is actually saying what he thinks Sven would respond with.



Next up, costumes. The animated characters in Frozen might look simple and easily digestible, but rest assured that a significant amount of thought was put into each one of their looks and wardrobes. Take Anna, for example. The Hollywood Reporter reports that co-director Lee purposefully created a cheerful wardrobe for this bubbly character, deliberately picking floral patterns and saturated colors to accurately reflect her personality. Close inspection of her clothing also reveals that the directors sincerely took into account the climate that the characters are living in — in other words, it’s no mistake that Anna’s travel outfit is made with heavy wools and velvets, since they live in a northern climate.

Elsa’s costumes too, required serious thought from the film’s directors. They made her wardrobe confining in the early stages of the film, as this is supposed to underscore her hiding her power. Later in the movie, when Elsa accepts herself for who she is, moviegoers can notice her clothing opening up and “[showing] her freedom,” the directors told The Hollywood Reporter.

Prince Hans’ look was also perfected by designers, and it is described as “elegant and put-together” by Lee. His jackets have more of a graphic design, but he’s not from Arendelle, so he deliberately still had rosemaling, a decorative Norwegian painting technique.

Elsa’s hair

source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/52957967@N03/

Another character who required extra attention? Elsa. They say a woman’s hair of full of secrets, and Elsa’s locks are no different. The Hollywood Reporter highlights that Disney’s animators had to work with 400,000 CGI threads for Elsa’s hair — a feat that required the invention of a new program called Tonic. Disney’s animation teams aren’t unfamiliar with the task of playing with characters’ hair, considering Rapunzel carried 27,000 extra-long strands on her head in 2011′s Rapunzel, but Elsa’s hair took it to a whole new level.

I hope you enjoyed this post, it contains information which I compiled from different sites. ^.^

On the other news, the latest news says that Disney Create is going to be closed soon. It is glitching very badly, and recently Disney cut off 700 of its staff members. Whenever I look at some drawings, it automatically lets me to another Disney page.
Disney is cruel and it only wants money, money and more money. It just doesn’t care for children all over the world. Millions of users on DC are heart-broken. Though it has not yet been officially announced, I spoke to a Disney Create moderator who revealed that DC will indeed close down slowly, and painfully. 😥

What do you think? Tell me in a comment below.



  1. Oh, and did you just say Disney Create is closing..?

    NO, NO, NO, NO I’M ALMOST FINISHED WITH MY FIRST DRAWING AND NOW THIS HAPPENS?!? What is WRONG with Disney?!? I can understand that they’re closing it because it has a big glitch, (Unlike PH, PH closed for no good reason.) but I WILL MISS DISNEY CREATE!! 😥 😥

  2. I sent an email to support@disneyonline.com, peppering them with questions about Disney Create, Pixie Hollow and other virtual worlds. I also added that I do enjoy the Disney mobile apps like Frozen Free Fall, Disney Animate and Lost Light. I did get the reply…it just was a one line reply. ‘Unfortunately we are unable to assist you with this query.’ Why? Wasn’t it about Disney Online, at least DC? They sure are avoiding us…we really can’t do anything about this. :/

  3. nooooooo ! Disney is a bunch of ——— !! & ———————- !! I put the – there because I was sweraring .sorry . but this is bad . Disney is a bunch oh s——— !!!!!! 😦 . im mad . im sorry sarah . you love Disney create . I know it . yes it dose glich . if I draw I mess up . sarah I know you love it . if Disney dosent care then we gotta make em . Im thinking posters , dates for voting & more . Disney hurt me but no one mess’s with my bffs ! no one . they will regert it .

  4. hey sarah , I have a windows computer & theres this thing called paint & I draw on it a lot . its like create but no stamps or anything . I miss Disney create ill email or post s pic as good as I can . I like drawing on paint better but im getting better on create . im alot better on paper

  5. I practiced on MS Paint before I started DC…I never used stamps and all, but DC has got many more features and you can also SHARE your art with others, so that’s why I think it’s better.
    But the good thing is that DC the site will still be there with the painters and all, but your art won’t get approved or shared. I tried devianART, but DC was better for kids. I will still be drawing on DC, as I am comfortable with it, but I know my art won’t get approved and that irks me. But it’s okay, at least I can draw something.
    I also made a clip of animation on FlipBook in DC. Please see it!

    1. well I saw a video made in 2013 & they wear on a site called picnik that closed in 2013 so keep dc on a tab so I guse you can save it . I don’t really know

  6. Somebody said that odd stuff like glitches were happening on my blog.it’s funny how Sarah was able to accept my invitation and you weren’t. 😉

Let me know what you think, it means so much to me! ღ

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