The original Frozen movie had no shortage of fun characters. In addition to its core cast of Anna, Elsa, Olaf, Christof, and Sven, we had baddies like Hans and the scheming Duke of Weselton. But as the adventure of Frozen II takes us outside of Arendelle and into a mysterious Enchanted Forest full of mystic wonders, what sort of new characters will we meet?
SYFY wire FANGRRLS recently got to go behind the scenes at Disney Studios to learn all about some of these new characters and creatures that audiences will meet when the film releases on November 22.
Warning: The images and info below contain production stills and development art and could be considered spoilers.
The teaser trailer for Frozen II kicked off with a scene of Elsa attempting to use her ice powers to tame a raging ocean scene. Ever since then, fans have been scratching their heads on the internet trying to figure out what was drawing her out into the water, to begin with.
Well, now we know. This harsh trial-by-ice-water scene is the precursor to Elsa’s confrontation with the Nokk.
In the Scandinavian folklore that the movie draws inspiration from, the Nøkken are a mischievous, shape-shifting water spirit. For the purposes of the film, a decision was made to have this Nøkk take on the form of a horse, serving as a protector of the Dark Sea. The team at Disney studied horses at the nearby Equestrian Center in Burbank, California, to learn a catalog of ways that horses show emotion and expression with their bodies. Then they combined that with ideas of water movement, making the Nokk's hooves break as it runs across the water, and having the mane splash like a sheet of water would.
The creation of such a character is one of many ways that Frozen II pushes barriers in their production. Historically, animated projects flow through their various departments like a river, with teams working on backgrounds, lighting, character effects, independently each other, placing their elements into the work as it reaches them. But for a creature like the Nokk, the process has to be a lot more collaborative, with a variety of departments owning it simultaneously
“This character is super collaborative,” Animation Supervisor Svetla Radivoeva told us. "Usually we kinda own 100 percent of the performance in Animation. And with the Nokk we had to share it with three more departments: Effects, [Tech Animation], and Lighting. And really, without those departments finishing their work on them, you can never really see the final version of him."
Another character that needed to work as a collaborative process was Gale, a wind spirit that was one of the first designs worked on for the new movie. Like the Nokk, Gale's design heavily draws on her element, which provided another unique challenge.
"My first question was how do you draw wind?" said Bill Schwab, Art Director of Characters for Frozen II. How do you draw something that isn't there? And so, the solution was to think about debris and sticks and leaves and things that might be in the Enchanted Forest that we could actually use to define Gale."
"So, we have our unsung heroes in environments who play a pivotal role in the creation of Gale in that they set out the scenes for us to have our characters act within," Tony Smeed, Head of Animation for the film, told us. "And in the case of Gale, it was really important to have the right elements in the scene for us to be able to show she's there.
"The only problem is Environments lives way upstream from us. And sometimes the work they do doesn't actually reach our desk for weeks or months (afterward). So, we had to collaborate very closely with them, plan on what we would need for the scene for them to put in so that when we get it we would have things like leaves on the ground, a rock for Gale to go behind, or a tree to blow or tall grass on the left here at the end. But this was sort of a culmination of all these different departments that both upstream and downstream that had to come together to create one character in this one moment," Smeed went on to say.
We've met a water creature and a wind spirit. Are you starting to notice a pattern here? The next creature we were introduced to is a whole class of new characters, the Earth Giants, who share some design DNA with the trolls of the first movie but on a much more massive scale.
Schwab told us about the origins of the designs for these creatures: "Manu Arenas, who's a Visual Development Artist here at the Studio, was the first artist to start working on the Earth Giants. And he really focused on in on the scale, the enormous scale of these characters and also integrating them into the environment because they are made of rock. So, those are super cool! The next artist on the Earth Giants was Nick Orsi and he really leaned into 'how much environment these characters be made of?' and 'how can we abstract that into a character?' and again really playing with the enormous scale of these characters."
"One of the toughest things to do is make these characters feel like they're actually living and breathing creatures," said Smeed. "If you think about the way we move, when we inhale, our stomachs expand and the skin stretches. But with these, we can't stretch their 'skin.' If we stretch or bend or twist the rock material, it ceases to feel like stone. So, how we fixed this was we had a really great team, with [animation] supervision by Wayne Unten for the Earth Giants and Chris Pedersen, Rigging Supervisor. Those two collaborated to come up with ways to find natural creases where these characters could bend and move without bending the rock. In fact, they devised a way to just have the rocks slide around rather than bend, which helped us preserve their stone-like feature."
The last character we got to meet was Bruni the salamander. We got the least amount of information about this little critter, but it's hard not to imagine that we won't see him heavily used in the merchandise as we get closer to the movie. The phrase "as adorable as possible" was used three times by Schwab and Trent Correy, an Animation Supervisor.
"Yeah, I mean, when we were working with the salamander we just — we took reference from all sorts of lizard, salamander, reptilians, and just really tried to have fun with the character. He's kind of in that moment where you just want something cute to look at," said Correy.
Given that we were shown wind, water, and earth-based characters, the inevitable question was asked: what other elements will be represented in the film? Salamanders are, after all, a creature associated with fire in mythology and folklore. The team was relatively coy in answering this.
"You'll find out more when you go see Frozen II," said Correy.
At this point, it was clear we should… let it go.