Disney’s Frozen 2 experts discuss the process behind the characters

BRUNI - 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. From the Academy Award®-winning team—directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, producer Peter Del Vecho and songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez—Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Frozen 2” opens in U.S. theaters on Nov. 22, 2019. © 2019 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
BRUNI - 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. From the Academy Award®-winning team—directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, producer Peter Del Vecho and songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez—Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Frozen 2” opens in U.S. theaters on Nov. 22, 2019. © 2019 Disney. All Rights Reserved. /

We sat down with Disney head animators and production designers to discuss the world of Frozen 2, its characters and what fans can expect from the sequel.

Disney’s Frozen 2 is set to be filled with mystery, intrigue, and great musical moments.

We detailed just seven of the fantastic things you can expect during Disney’s recent press day for the upcoming sequel. We were also fortunate to get time with four of Frozen 2’s key animation personnel: head animators Tony Smeed and Becky Bresee, as well as production designers David Womersley and Lisa Keene.

They shared more insights about the animation process, collaborating with other teams, and building the world of Frozen 2.

Head Animators Tony Smeed and Becky Bresee

You both got started working on Treasure Planet, right?

Becky Breese: We actually started 23 years ago, [the] same day, on Dinosaur which not many people have seen.

Tony Smeed: We were part of a trainee group. May 6th….

BB: May 6th, 1996 and I remind him of our anniversary every year!

How has it been watching animation transition starting with Dinosaur?

BB: It has been quite a journey. Getting to work on Frozen is amazing. We love the characters so much that we’re glad it’s done so well and inspired this next one. Quite honestly [though] we feel the same way about each character that we’ve ever worked on. You spend so much time with them and put so much of yourself into each of these characters.

Like I said in our presentation, we’re sad when we don’t get to revisit them again, so we’re lucky to get to revisit these guys. Every project that we’ve worked on has had amazing growth, for not only ourselves but the studio. It’s fun to see how the characters follow us again.

There are so many levels to animation. For the layman, how did your job title change with Frozen 2 versus the first feature?

BB: On the first film Tony was the animation supervisor for Kristoff and I was Anna’s animation supervisor.

We took care of the characters and shepherd them along the way through the different processes, as well as be the go-to people for those characters. On this film, we are overseeing the supervisors of the characters, as well as the animation department. It is a collaboration with the other heads of departments and effects, modeling and rigging. We’re trying to keep a throughline for them as well as overseeing the movie itself, the animation.

TS: It goes from a very targeted thing to a broad interaction with the rest of the crew.

BB: We feel that the most important part of our job was taking a team of supervisors who would collaborate well and shepherd our characters into this new journey. They’ve done such a great job and taken to different aspects of the job. You heard about the musicality? They were wonderful setting up our animation department with the knowledge that would make these characters sing, technically as well as emotionally. Each one of our supervisors brought something to the table.

We’re also celebrating 30 years of The Little Mermaid this year. How have you seen Anna and Elsa in the light of the previous Disney princesses?

BB: What’s funny is when I think about them and when we’re working on them, I forget that they are princesses. There’s something about it because our team is so strong and our animators love these characters, they know these characters, and they’re bringing a bit of themselves in real life to them.

They don’t feel like what you’d think of a princess in your head. They’re more heroines. I’m reminded here and there, but they’re not often referred to as princesses.

How does the collaborative process work from your end?

TS: There are different parts to it. There’s a collaboration between other department heads, planning for each individual part. There’s the collaboration that’s done for the characters which is a huge thing. We always collaborate on every film, there’s a level of that. We did it for the first film as supervising animators on the first film but these took it to another level where there were so many people dependent on other departments’ input in order to have a complete character.

Everybody was sort of stacked on top of each other to work on it all at the same time which was awesome to work that closely with everybody.

BB: It felt like it made the characters more organic because it was like a huge backyard fort.

The way everybody keeps discussing it was that not the case on the first feature or previous features?

BB: It does happen, but in this film it took it to a different level especially with how many characters had effects elements.

Someone asked during the panel about drawing inspiration from previous films. Is there pressure to create something wholly original?

BB: We never really want to repeat anything necessarily.

TS: I don’t know if it’s pressure. That certainly has never been on my mind. It’s usually the best idea rises to the top and we do a lot of research. Ideas pop up from anywhere and these characters somehow find their legs on where they’re going to end up.

With that being said, is there an idea that went through massive evolution that you’re proud of?

TS: Gale was a big one. The Nokk was a big one. Those had a long road of experimenting.

BB: In the beginning, we had the beautiful visual development art and we were like “Whoa! That’s cool! How did we do that?” Sometimes things work out and sometimes they didn’t. And then different things would pop up. It’s part of the fun of the discovery process.

Magical and larger than life, Elsa is the perfect mythic character—but she can’t help but wonder why she was born with powers. What truths about the past await Elsa as she ventures into the unknown to the enchanted forests and dark seas beyond Arendelle? Featuring Idina Menzel as the voice of Elsa, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Frozen 2” opens on Nov. 22, 2019. © 2019 Disney. All Rights Reserved. /

Production Designers David Womersley and Lisa Keene

David, you’ve been working in animation for decades. What’s the journey been like for you in seeing so many changes in animation?

David Womersley: It’s so different now. When I think back there it was like the Wright brothers compared to the jet age. There were a lot of great artists back then plying that particular craft, but in terms of complexity now it’s exponential. That person back there who was me coming to this studio today would get a job.

Lisa Keene: We’ve learned a lot.

DW: It’s been so much. Just going from 2D to 3D was massive. I remember when I first came to Disney they were still very heavily focused on 2D till about ’96, I think, when they opened this new 3D studio for this Dinosaur movie. I had a choice of going over to those movies and I thought about it.

I wasn’t that greatly into dinosaurs, to be honest. I’m not a dinosaur person, but I just saw that was the future so that was my choice.

People seem to assume an animator’s job is easier now with computers. Is that the case?

DW: It gives you a lot more avenues and options.

LK: It gives you more to mess up.

DW: But, of course, that brings a lot more complexity because you have more options and more tools. For us, learning Photoshop was….

LK: Oh, that was huge for us.

DW: That was a revolutionary thing because we don’t do CG. Photoshop compared to background painting….

LK: Everything was traditional back then. I went back to school to learn 3D for two years. Even though I still knew I wanted to do what I do that education made me a better artist in the long run. Photoshop, man, I would never go back. I can get so much more done quickly with more efficiency.

DW: You can’t spill your coffee.

LK: You can wear nicer clothes to work.

In creating an environment with this movie how much fantasy versus reality do you engage in?

DW: It has to be somewhere you want to go.

LK: If you’re going to play in it all day for 2 1/2 years you have to enjoy it. You have to be entertained with it.

You do what the directors are asking but try to bring something extra to it. Whatever you’re referencing it needs to be heightened.

Well, and how does the creation of the surrounding details have to coincide with the look of the characters?

LK: Talk about Anna and Elsa’s rooms.

DW: Anna and Elsa’s rooms, we go down to wallpaper. Anna has her wallpaper and Elsa has hers. It’s based on certain basic shapes that relate to each character which you see in their clothing, in their furniture, everything about them. Elsa definitely has her visual language and Anna has hers.

Kristoff has his. Olaf has his too. We can talk about things that didn’t make it into the movie – Olaf’s room has his wallpaper and everything, all his furniture. It didn’t make it into the movie but we still designed it and drew it.

LK: There’s a lot of thought that goes into it. It’s not just random. Each character will have a list of iconography that travels with them everywhere. Every time that character goes to a new environment or does something the conversation in the room is “Would that be Elsa’s language? Would she do something that looked like that?” And then we have to have the conversation, “No, that’s too aggressive” or “No, that’s too frouffy.” Those things are always balanced out.

Can you discuss more about what Olaf’s room would have looked like?

LK: He had this cute little wallpaper.

DW: You go inside the interiors of older houses and they all have diamond wallpaper. It was definitely based on a diamond shape and had little Olaf snowflakes. He had a little bed.

Next. 7 things we learned during Disney’s Frozen 2 press event. dark

Frozen 2 hits theaters November 22nd.