No. 1 highest-grossing animated movie in history. Yes, history! Surpassing the initial release of Frozen (2013) and Incredibles 2 (2018), with estimated earnings of $1.3 billion, it’s easy to see this movie was a hit. So what made this film so special and have such a global impact? I leave it to the creatively genius innovation Disney continues to develop, and their dedicated attention to every detail displayed throughout the film.
Frozen 2 : Six Years to Grow
Frozen, which released six years prior to the sequel, was without a doubt a major success in its self. Laying the foundation for the characters we know and love such as Elsa and Anna, as well as Sven, Kristof and of course Olaf! Where some thought that might have been the end to their frozen adventure, Disney had other plans. But first, creating and finding a new narrative to generate the same success (if not more) was crucial for the film. The film took about four years to actually make, with changes to the characters appearances, the world they live in (as it had changed seasons) and implementing new characters that posed as a challenge for animators and visual effects. New technological breakthroughs were brought to the table as characters such as wind, water, and even rocks became important characters in the sequel.
The amazing Jennifer Lee, writer and director, worked tirelessly to get the story right with edits still being made one year prior to the premiere date. From Frozen to Frozen 2 the change and growth of the characters was essential, as the maturity of the film targets the original audience. However, there was one point when the film was thought to be too mature and would be hard to follow by younger aged children who would most likely be attending a Disney animation film as well. Special screenings were conducted to gather reviews of how the audiences reacted, and helped guide the film with what was missing or what needed to be improved on. Although not always the easiest critique to digest, it allowed for the production to review all the working elements of the film (songs, visuals, story, characters, etc.) to become stronger and more cohesive.
One theme brought to the film is the idea of change, and while ‘Some Things Never Change’ the characters went through a bit of a makeover. If you look at the comparison below you can see the change both Elsa and Anna have had since the first one. Anna is given a more mature hairstyle compared to her previous two braids and Elsa is now standing taller, embracing her magical powers. Their costumes become increasingly more intricate as well, Disney did not slack off on the amount of detail executed even in their new outfits. From 3-Dimensional jewels to even the smallest details on their dresses, such as the stitching and patterns that can be seen. They may be subtle differences, but they create a big impact and next level in digital animation.
Groundbreaking Animation and Visual effects
It’s no secret that the creativity behind this film was absolutely genius (or at least I think so). The detail and research conducted by Disney shows just how much care and consideration goes into every detail. They even visited places like Norway, Iceland and Finland to study the landscapes and culture that are integrated into the world of Frozen. Just like original animated movies brought to you by Disney, animators continue to conduct research for inspiration and to ensure they understand the characters and world they are creating to the fullest. Some examples of this throughout Frozen 2 would be:
*Studying the anatomy of a horse for the Nokk (the water horse)
*Taking skydive lessons to understand wind (Check out the scene where Bruni is caught in the wind)
*Exploring landscapes and standing on glaciers
*Creating videos of themselves doing the movements we see the characters do
*Getting a taste of other cultures
By exploring and seeing first hand how their subjects work, the animators can then have a better understanding of the movement. Movement is integral to the character’s personalities and identifiable characteristics. If you compare Anna and Elsa again, there movements reveal certain traits. Anna is more animated in her gestures and often clumsy, while Elsa has now grown into her powers creating her move more confident, grace and purposeful. Control points are used by the animators to execute the movement as life like as possible. For example, Elsa’s feet have control points to help create the realistic movement when she’s walking or moving, especially when she’s barefoot and it is more obvious. Animators also had to consider the movement of their hair as they endured wind, water, and action. A software that they developed back on Moana (2016) called ‘Quicksilver’ aided the animators to make the movement more realistic. It’s important to note that while Frozen took a long time to make its way back up on the big screen again, Disney was constantly developing new technologies through other films released within the time gap that ultimately helped test out new softwares and techniques. You can see this previously done with Silly Symphonies at the beginning of the Walt Disney Studio’s success. The Windmill (1987) is an excellent example of how it was a testing ground for new technologies for feature films to come at the studio, especially Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).
Dealing with Water
Creating realistic water is a very difficult task, but of course, Disney mastered it. Another simulator, SPLASH, used in the making of Moana (2016), is used to help create the effects such as a waves crashing on the shore or how the open sea would move. While Moana (2016) focused on more calming water, Frozen 2 ramped it up a bit with raging waves and even creating a character out of it. The task combined both the animators and visual effects team to work together in order to control the water and how it would move as a horse. As previously mentioned, the animators studied the anatomy of the horse in oder to grasp a greater concept of how the animal would move and it’s strength for when Elsa is trying to ride it. Every details counts for making the character believable to the audience, and one thing that helps the audience connect is through emotion. You’ve heard the saying ‘the eyes are the gateway to the soul’, well in animation its like the gateway to believability. Most characters have exaggerated eyes as that is where we can see the most emotion, but one problem with the water horse (Nokk) is that it really doesn’t have eyes. So how can people understand it’s emotion or feeling? Well, they cleverly made use of the ears and where ever they pointed implied where he was looking, as well as signifying his emotion — Back for angry, or pointed at the rider meaning they respect the rider.
*Fun Fact : The inspiration for the Dark Sea came from the black sand beach of REYNISFJARA, a coast of Iceland.
Disney continues to amaze audiences around the world with it’s genius and innovative ways of creating compelling stories through technological advancements that capture a world and all it’s glory. Even the smallest details were taken into consideration, some of which I have not touched on here but if you are interested to learn more about the animation and making of the film I highly recommend Into the Unknown : Making Frozen 2 on @Disneyplus. It takes you through an eye opening journey that not only the animators and visual effects endure, but also the musicians, actors, producers and the whole production crew working on it. (which is way more than you probably imagined)
I studied animation and Disney studies at university and seeing how far animation has come from the first short cartoon is truly amazing. Walt Disney would be proud that creativity and innovation still lives on at the Disney Studio, and personally I can’t wait to see what they come out with next.
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Sources : Disney, Insider, Variety