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Frozen 2 Interview with Disney Animator Nara Youn

Love is stronger than fear, but kissing won’t save the forest.

Frozen 2 abounds with profound themes, an unprecedented visual richness and some of the most intense emotional arcs we have ever experienced through song. Recognized as the highest grossing animated film of all time, the stellar sequel to Disney’s Frozen is one to be explored.

And who better to explore it with than Disney animator, Nara Youn. Nara graduated from Ringling College of Art and Design in 2006 before working on a lengthy list of impressive animation projects including Big Hero 6, Megamind, How to Train Your Dragon, Moana, Zootopia, Frozen and now Frozen 2. Nara kindly agreed to chat to us about Elsa and Anna’s latest adventures, contemporary dance lessons and learning how to run in heels.

A caricature of Nara by one of his Disney colleagues
A caricature of Nara by one of his Disney colleagues

Nara, congratulations on the success of Frozen 2! How have you been celebrating? 

Thank you! We had a small party when the film opened. Our directors had just come back from their world tour and we celebrated with cupcakes!

When were you first recruited to work on Frozen 2?

I was recruited in one of the later teams because, prior to joining Frozen 2, I was working on a Short Circuit short that will eventually be released on Disney+. So, I believe I started in January. The first team on the film ended up going into production I think around October or November, and I joined a little later – about 2 months into production. So, from January to August was when I was completely onboard working on Frozen 2.

When does the whole animation process start for a film like this? How long does it take?

Typically, our movies end up taking anywhere between 4 to 5 years from start to finish. The animation portion of it usually ends up taking about 10 to 12 months. 

We know that you were an animator on Frozen 2. I noticed in the credits that animation is broken down into three categories: Animation, Crowds Animation, and Technical Animation. What is the difference between these categories and what did you predominantly work on?

Let me start with ‘Crowds Animation’ first. ‘Crowds’ animators are usually animators-in-training.

They are in charge of animating the crowds that are in a scene.  Sometimes we have shots with really high character density that an animator won’t be able to handle by him/herself.  When we have 30~50 characters in the background talking / dancing / or cheering, if one animator had to animate all those characters it would take months to animate all those characters.  This is when our Crowds team come to the rescue. Our crowds animation team with our Crowd Animation supervisor will take these high character density scenes to allow the Animation team to focus on the key figures in a scene. Sometimes these scenes can get up to over a hundred characters and thanks to the Crowds team, we can focus on the key story driving characters instead of spending months and months animating every character in a scene. 

Technical animation – we love tech anim – makes our shots look super beautiful. Tech animators help with hair and cloth animation, and where there is a lot of movement involved. We collaborate a lot with tech animators where characters are interacting with different materials. For example, when Elsa is brushing her hair or interacting with her cape or her dress; or where on the fabric she is going to lift her skirt. Our drawings take our ideas only part of the way in indicating what type or sort of movement we want. Animation doesn’t have control over the technicality of the hair animation and the cloth animation, so technical animators bring all that interaction to life for us. 

Something I worked on closely with tech anim was Show Yourself where Elsa is spinning, and her cape is blowing in the wind. I did some key drawings for the tech anim team and then they were like, “We got it, don’t worry about it.” They work their magic. Our supervising animator in the tech anim department was Alex Kupershmidt – he’s one of the 2D animators from The Little Mermaid. He has an insane amount of knowledge about 2D animation. So, us animators really don’t have to say anything or give too much direction, he’s just like, “don’t worry about it, we got it.” The shots always turn out really beautiful. 

Animators are tasked with bringing to life the director’s vision for the characters. The characters’ direction and development originate with our directors and our storyboards people. We as animators are required to bring out the performance of the character in a particular sequence. Animators embody a lot of the acting. We take the recordings and the dialogue from our voice talent and we bring the characters to life with puppeteering and other methods. Animators create the performance of the character to give them emotion, movement, expression. All the little eye twitches, blinks, shivers and acting, are made with intent by animators. What’s cool about being an Animator is we get the chance to be anything and everything.  We can act as a reindeer, a snowman, a girl, a boy, animals, and sometimes inanimate objects. It’s funny if you see some of our reference videos: a lot of fully-grown men and/or women acting like little Elsa and little Anna (laughs).

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