We recently spoke with Peter Del Vecho, Producer of Walt Disney Animation Studios film “Frozen” for which he received the Academy Award® for Best Animated Feature to get the scoop behind the Mythology of this epic animated feature film and it’s follow up feature “Frozen 2.” We also had the pleasure of speaking with Steve Goldberg, VFX Supervisor for both films to get the scoop on the VFX behind “Frozen 2” and the breakdown of a few of those scenes that made this feature so special.
ELSA AND NOKK (The Water Spirit )
Q. Hi Steve! Thank you for joining me today. I wanted to say the water simulation is pretty breathtaking in Frozen 2 especially the scene with Elsa and the magical water horse. When Nokk and Elsa meet crossing the Dark Sea that is beautifully animated and the VFX are stunning.
That VFX of the mane and tail of the Nokk for example, can you explain how that was achieved? The overall scene in general when those two meet, it is one of the most powerful scenes for me visually and I would love to know more about how the VFX for that scene in particular were brought from Vis Dev concept into VFX “reality.”
STEVE GOLDBERG: Sure. The visual development (vis dev) images were very ethereal and beautiful. Early on in the story development, there was this idea that there would be a horse made of water that would be shown in and above the Dark Sea. That meant there were a lot of questions that needed to be answered: What is happening with the dynamic properties of it? If it’s going to have water coming off of the mane and the tail, what would that be like? What does a horse that is made out of water look like underwater?
I would say about 6 months out of production on that sequence we started doing some effects testing.
We built a horse and had it standing there on these waves and we started running these simulations for the mane and tail, running some water ripples down its body but it was way too much visually, and we thought “OK, here are some images” but again it was just way too active but it was enough to spark the conversation between us, Michael Giaimo, Production Designer and Lisa Keene, Co-Production Designer and other members of the animation and effects team.
Lisa ended up taking the lead on it and there was a lot of talk about “What should the mane and the tail look like?” We decided we wanted it to have more of a gentle bounce, like when you see water going over a fine edge…”one where you get more of a beautiful calm waterfall effect” and then we started pulling from reference to inform animation and effects, it just became one of the more collaborative characters we’ve worked on.
The mane and the tail were the most dynamic thing in this scene so we needed to help guide the viewer’s eye.
There were so many different elements we had on it. There was an internal volume on it, so that you could always see the horse’s shape; a little bit of an internal glow as well, in little subtle ways but it allowed us to volume down those internal ripples and a lot of fine tuning.
At one point we were looking at all these different layers. I didn’t want to put it in front of the Directors until it had gone through compositing and lighting, because it got to the point that they were asking so many questions and were fine tuning so much…
BRUNI (The elemental spirit of Fire)
Q. One of the cutest new characters is the little salamander creature Bruni that literally sets the forest ablaze with his fires. The scene with Elsa and Bruni where she finds the “culprit” setting the fires is one of the cutest scenes in Frozen 2. The little Bruni character is adorable, especially when he licks his eyeball. Too cute! Were the VFX difficult to achieve here? How did you guys figure out what that fire should look like?
STEVE GOLDBERG: A lot of that was coming out of the Director’s working with Vis Dev and reference to artwork. The art team would go ahead and start pulling images of fire and asking “Could you make this?” We want it to be believable fire for CG, meaning, it had to move like fire, had to act like fire but it also had to be heavily stylized. Marie Tollec was the FX lead on the fire and her and Dong Joo Byun started working on some fire simulations that had a really stylized look and feel to them. We all got pretty excited about that. But overall, just a lot of discussion about the color, the fire didn’t really consume anything, like natural fire.
It was really about heat, it was “magical” fire because at the end of the sequence the fire would go down and you wouldn’t see all of this burned “charred” land, so it was “magical” in that sense. Truth was, there was a lot of work done with the fire sim, but then in the sequences where you see pure fire you don’t really see the salamander at all.
We called the salamander “Sally” in production, “Sally the salamander” (laughs) Bruni came up later.
Q. Bruni was too cute. I was curious, what color was the fire? And how did you come up with that color? What shade? Slightly Pink?
STEVE GOLDBERG: Magenta. Blue, pink and white and a redder, slightly pinker color when he is on fire. When he “cools down” he goes more of a “cayenne” and that modulates depending on his mood.
THE WAKENING OF THE (Earth) GIANTS –
“Truthfully, the “Rock Giants’ are really Scandinavian Trolls, we had trolls in the first movie so… it seemed a natural progression.”
~Peter Del Vecho
STEVE GOLDBERG: For the Earth Giants animation and design we worked really closely together with the other departments as well, to get their shape. They’re made of rocks so you don’t want them to be rubbery. I would say the trolls in the first movie had a lot of elasticity in their face and in their hands. In the case of the Earth Giants it was the size of them, we wanted to not only keep the shape, but how they could work together to support the level of emotion.
That sequence when they were melded into the walls of that riverbank, turns out it takes time, (laughs) to get them integrated in. We didn’t know how long that sequence would be when we first started building sets, so Sean Jenkins Head of Environments really wanted to approach the river gorge with more of a modular approach. Then we could kind of build pieces as needed and then we could go ahead and set the earth giants onto the bank and add them in when needed.
We looked at allot of Finland and Iceland reference photos – beautiful fall leaves turning and the dark value of the rock – with the dark density, was really kind of wonderful. The Art Director really wanted to maintain that kind of look and feel, so that was kind of a “jumping off” point for us.
PETER DEL VECHO: “On the forest floors there were big mounds of earth, and you can see how your imagination would want to figure out how these big giant boulders just appeared in the middle of nowhere in the forest; it makes no sense. So the Scandinavian folklore talks about how “giant trolls’ ‘ would throw those rocks into the forest. You can definitely feel how Scandinavian folklore was connected to nature.”
When we visited Finland and Norway on our research trip, it felt very much like a fairy tale and the connection with Anna really fit. But when we went to Iceland, the idea that Elsa was connected to nature because she had “water powers” sort of made sense its much harsher environment so it made sense with her powers and it also being a more mythic environment and the idea of Elsa being a more “mythical” character all fit together.
Mythic characters usually are magical, usually carry “the weight of the world” on their shoulders, they usually help others when others can’t do it themselves and they usually lead a tragic fate. So we realized even though we had two sisters, they were two very different characters. Elsa is a very powerful human being but compared to “nature” she is not that strong, nature’s powers are far stronger.
Nature can make you both calm or in danger… the wind can be a gentle breeze or it can be a tornado.
Q. Yes, I like how you portrayed the different elements of nature in the film. As with the strength of the wind and how the characters were affected and moved along by all of nature’s elements throughout the film.
PETER DEL VECHO: Right, in Frozen 2. we get to elaborate on specific elements and how the characters are moved through the film via those elements. So when we get to the Nokk there are many versions of the Nokk from Scandinavian, Nordic mythology. The basic mythology is that in a body of water you wish to cross a water horse might appear to help take you across the body of water. And if you get on the horse and the horse thinks you are “true of heart” it will take you across, if it thinks you are “lying or you have a hidden path” it might drown you instead… so even though in the movie we use the horse in a different way, that is where it came from, the old mythology.
The wind played an important part of the story to build depth. The fire salamander is actually Scandinavian Mythology. People would chop logs and keep them outside, where salamanders would crawl inside them. Then when the logs were placed in the fire, the salamanders would run out from them over time, the salamander was associated with the logs and the fire and they then were attributed to the ones who actually “light” the fire.
Anna = “human” world, extravert, “maturing”, learning to stand on her own. Elsa = “Elemental world”, Shy, mythical, “magical” learning her history.
~Peter Del Vecho
In a realm known as Kumandra, a re-imagined Earth inhabited by an ancient civilization, a warrior named Raya is determined to find the last dragon.
PETER DEL VECHO BIO:
Peter (Producer) was most recently the producer of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Frozen,” for which he received the Academy Award® for Best Animated Feature, along with his fellow filmmakers, directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee. Del Vecho joined Walt Disney Animation Studios in 1995 and produced the animated musical comedy “The Princess and the Frog,” which hit theaters in 2009 and received three Oscar® nominations, including best animated feature. He also guided Disney Animation back to the Hundred Acre Wood as the producer of 2011’s big-screen adventure “Winnie the Pooh.”
For his work on the animated feature, “Frozen,” Del Vecho received both an Academy Award® for Outstanding Animated Feature as well as a Producer’s Guild Award for Outstanding Producer of Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures. “Frozen” also received an Academy Award® for Best Original Song (“Let It Go”), as well as a Golden Globe, BAFTA Award, five Annie Awards including Best Feature and the Critics’ Choice Award.
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Lori Hammond, CG Circuit
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