Frozen 2 Interview with Disney Animator Nara Youn

What can you tell us about the characters in Frozen 2 and how that informed your choices in bringing them to life?

The characters are a little more mature than the first movie. It has been three years and they have gone through a lot. Things we need to consider include the fact that they have already gone through an emotional rollercoaster in the first film. How did that affect them? How would they act differently now compared to how they would act in the first film? 

We also have character leads which is critical to consistency. We have 80 animators in our animation department and to do our job right, we need to ensure that Anna and Elsa stay consistent throughout the whole movie despite there being 80 different people animating them. Our character supervisors do a really good job of managing us so that we really hone in on each character trait. There is lots of direction like, “Hmm, maybe Anna would act this way” or “this isn’t quite her expression.” They do all the corralling for us of to keep us consistent with Anna and Elsa’s expressions and characteristics.

How has Elsa changed from the first film to the second film?

Elsa is a little more confident in the second movie than the first one. In the first one, for more than half the movie she was always scared. There was a very nervous aura about her. She was constantly yearning for her own acceptance within Arendelle and from her sister. She does have a moment where she finds herself in Let It Go, but that leads into a whole slew of problems which stalls her complete transformation in that film. After Let It Go she is left alone, and she designs her castle, but what is she going to do? She can’t just be designing castles all day.

Frozen 2 goes further and asks: where does she belong? It is more about her curiosity. Into the Unknown shows her querying her calling and where she belongs. She is unsure whether she belongs in Arendelle or whether there is a bigger calling for her. The second movie is a “this is me” kind of moment for Elsa. It is about her journey to find herself and her origin. It answers a lot of her questions that she had with her parents as well. Both Anna and Elsa learn about the dark history behind Arendelle. These are the key stories that our directors wanted to tell in Frozen 2 that weren’t really touched on in the first film: Elsa’s origin, her power’s origin and the history of Arendelle.

How has Anna’s character developed?

Anna also has a very big character change from the first film. In the first film she had everything to gain because she was always alone and suddenly the gates were going to be opened and she made all these new friends. In the second movie, she has already gained all these things that she desired so much in the first film, so now she has everything to lose. 

What research went into the film?

The artists drew on a lot of cultural inspiration for their work. Artist Brittney Lee referenced a lot of Norwegian wedding dresses and Norwegian architecture for both Frozen and Frozen 2. Anna wears a Japanese obi (belt) and Griselda Sastrawinata-Lemay, the artist that designed Anna’s outfit, imagined that now that the gates of Arendelle are opened, a dignitary maybe gave Anna her belt as a gift. There are so many neat ideas behind some seemingly tiny designs that we learn as we go along. 

The use of color is so significant in this film. I understand that the colors were inspired in part by the artists’ discoveries in Scandinavia. Norway was filled with autumn tones of browns and oranges; setting the stage for Arendelle, and Iceland featured cold blues and purples; the color scheme for Ahtohallan. Despite these differences, the colors are also complimentary – much like Anna and Elsa. What is the process for deciding on color for the film? 

The visual development (“vis dev”) department, the art director and the lighters decide on the use of colors. The visual development does what we call “color keys” where they conduct environment and other studies, including for costume and character, and provide color swatches to indicate what colors will be used in a sequence. Lighters are the ones who light our 3D animation with the color selected. 

Animators don’t really get to see too much of the lighting, but lighting helps create atmosphere which this is important. So, what we animators do – because we don’t have anything lit yet – is refer to the color keys that the vis dev department creates for us. They are quick, pastel-like drawings and don’t have a lot of detail, but they indicate what colors are being used; whether it is bright pinks and purples, or dark browns and blues. That helps animators get an impression of what is going on so we can get in the head space of Anna and Elsa and where they are physically and emotionally in that scene.

What Elsa sequences did you work on and what was your process for understanding what she was experiencing in those particular sequences?

I animated Elsa in three sequences: Show Yourself, the whole scene inside the ship where she brings out the memories of the water, and a small section of Some Things Never Change

To get into the right headspace, I considered the first film to be Elsa getting used to her powers. In the second film, I kept thinking that this is Elsa where her power is starting to overwhelm her. It is becoming stronger than what she can control, and because of that she’s wondering why this is happening. There is a lot of uncertainty and doubt about whether she is in the right place. This was how I tried to put myself into Elsa’s psyche.  

In the beginning I animated a lot of her sense of nervousness and I concluded by working on Show Yourself – it was the very last sequence I worked on. She went from being heartbroken and unsure to a moment where she knew exactly who she was; where she displays the pinnacle of her power. Show Yourself was also one of the last sequences to go into production. It was like going out with a bang!

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