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Frozen II: How to make the new creatures appealing and enchanting marvels of design
ALTHOUGH the new Frozen II begins by treading the familiar terrain of royal Arendelle, the filmmakers had a distinct challenge this time around.
How could they create several fresh characters that would propel Elsa's next adventure, let alone look appealing enough to perhaps fill an entire Disney Store wall?
The sequel to the billion-dollar 2013 smash hit travels to a mystical forest, as our lead characters come upon such natural spirits as wind, fire and water. Yet none of the new elemental symbols looks as conventional as viewers might expect.
To symbolise fire, the designers of Frozen II, which opened in cinemas worldwide last week, leaned into high-end cuteness. To embody water, they went with galloping strength, and to depict wind, well, they had to render what could not be directly rendered.
The wind spirit, Gale, "doesn't have a face, doesn't have a body and, like, a real wind, is utterly invisible", Marlon West, head of effects animation on both Frozen feature films, said during a visit this month to Washington.
"The only effect is on people and the environment - like blowing characters' hair and clothes - so we had to provide an (animation) rig to suggest when and where Gale is." Gale stirs up a forest's autumnal palette, summoning beautiful similarities to all the colours of the Pocahontas wind - another Disney movie that Mr West worked on. The fall shades, Mr West said, are meant to mark a stark contrast from all the whiteout snow back in Arendelle.
For the fire spirit, the Frozen II team created a blue-and-fuchsia salamander named Bruni, whose mad dashes leave a fantastical blaze of colour in his wake.
Instead of realistic reds or oranges, the filmmakers chose a tint - magenta - that reads as surreally magical.
"We knew, storytelling-wise, that this couldn't be natural fire. It wasn't burning the forest and (nothing) was being destroyed," said Mr West, who joined Disney Animation in 1993, just in time to work on the classic Lion King (which has its own memorable fire scenes).
Yet because the specialists want viewers to feel the effect of the fire, they rendered realistic size, movement and warbling heat distortion of a blaze.
Those effects, Mr West said, "keep the viewer going: 'Ooh, that looks pretty hot!' "
Such visceral precision with the spirit colours was essential to art director Michael Giaimo, Mr West said - none more so than the mesmerising blues of the Nokk, the horse-shaped water spirit, drawn from Nordic folklore, that Elsa tries to ride.
A crucial challenge was to create a horse form that looks as though he's made of water, but is not fully attached to the ocean that he glides across.
"There is a separation, but not so much that he feels foreign when he's running across the water. It's a weird little tightrope to walk" as an effect, said Mr West, who also worked on the largely ocean-set Moana.
"The first time you actually see the Nokk in the film, the first shot of him, his hindquarters almost drift off - almost pure ocean," Mr West said. "His forehooves and his chest and his face really leap out at you."
And as Elsa rides the Nokk, the symbiotic teaming is intended to reflect that the ice princess is growing in strength and empowerment.
"We wanted her to lean into all aspects of herself," Mr West said. "That was important." WP