Every element in a movie is there to contribute to the story. From the setting to the costumes and makeup, every visual piece is put there to advance the story. While with live-action, the director must workaround available elements in the physical world; in animation, there are no such restrictions. This leads me to say this. Costume design in animation is such a fascinating process. With no real-life fabric or gravitational restrictions, costume designers in animation are only limited by their imagination. However, at the FROZEN 2 press day, we learned that there is so much more that goes into each and every outfit that appears on the screen. Every element in the design is there to further the story, to let the audience in on a character’s emotional state, their journey, or even lend to overall themes of the film. We got a chance to get a peek behind part of the creative process for some of the new outfits for Disney’s FROZEN 2.
Similar to a live-action production where a character’s outfit must be built from scratch, the first step to bringing these characters’ outfits to life is a number of 2D breakdowns. These breakdowns not only help animators as they build these characters in each scene but also help to keep the designs consistent between the final film as well as in any other mediums that Anna and Elsa may be recreated in. This year’s D23 hosted almost full-sized statues of the sisters that match the breakdowns to the last detail. And while it might not be as necessary to break down things such as embroidery types or fabrics that the costumes are made of in animation, that didn’t stop the design team from doing just that as was shared by Brittney Lee, one of the Visual Development Artists for the film:
“We utilize every frame and every bit of the frame we can to tell, tell the story, right down to the very last bit embroidering, every thread, every bead, every sequin. We design to hopefully reinforce who she is and what she’s going through at any particular point in time… And we even go down to the very deepest steps of calling out exactly what material we want for every little thing, so hopefully, with all of this information on her costume you know a little bit more about her before she ever sings her first note.”
Since the release of the first Frozen, audiences have seen Anna and Elsa in a couple of new outfits. From the bright spring colors from the Frozen Fever short to the cool-toned, but cozier dresses for the winter in Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, each look has captured a different season in the lives of both beloved sisters. While the color schemes, decorative schemes, and apparent fabrics were different for each of the shorts, the general silhouettes remained the same for both girls – Elsa in the more fitted bodices and cape, and Anna with the fit-and-flare silhouette and jacket. However, for FROZEN 2, both Anna and Elsa’s styles get a complete revamp.
No longer in her snow dress, the first new outfit audiences were introduced to when the first trailer dropped was Elsa’s new pants and jacket look. Elsa has gone through major costume changes before, though. In the first film, she goes from her restrictive coronation outfit to the now-iconic snow dress. Brittney Lee also broke down Elsa’s evolving costumes for us:
“For a character like Elsa, costume and hair design are important because she’s very complex and constantly evolving, so we are really trying to help that journey along through what she is wearing, trying to infuse narrative in her costuming form the very beginning. And so when we meet her and her sister when they’re both little girls, they’re both very bright and effervescent, and then you see in the first film, Elsa’s journey as she growing up. Things change a bit and as she gets older and she’s being more secretive and she’s more secluded, her silhouettes change and she becomes more restricted. She gets higher collars and longer sleeves and gloves and her, her hues deepen. She gets much darker and so that is an effort to help the audience know. To tell you the story that she’s being closed off from the world, and it’s not until we ultimately get to see her let it go, that we bring her back to the hues that you meet her in when she’s very little. We’re ultimately saying that through these silhouettes, through these colors, that she is the authentic Elsa. That’s her true self.”
If bright hues and unrestricted silhouettes are Elsa’s true self, what went into designing Elsa’s nightgown? What does the deep burgundy hue of Elsa’s nightgown from the “Into the Unknown” sequence mean for the queen of Arendelle? Brittney Lee was kind enough to lend us some insight into designing this outfit as well:
“First off, we knew that ‘Into the Unknown’ was going to be a sequence that takes place at night. It’s going to be right after the characters play charades. There’s gonna be a song and so we knew that we had to design this as a nightgown. Whatever she was wearing was a nightgown, so it’s not a dress. It’s a nightgown, but it’s an Elsa nightgown, so it can be pretty glamorous and that’s the fun with Elsa is that because we know that she can create her clothing via ice magic as she’s one in the past, we’re not beholden with her after ‘Let it Go’ to restrict her materials to the real world materials that would be available in the Nordic region at the time. Elsa is allowed to have more sheer fabrics that are more ethereal and that, the etherealness of the fabrics that she wears is to help support this idea that she is this, this creature. She’s this magical being, but where we are restricted with her is in color… We know her to be the snow queen, so blues and cool colors are where she fits, so we ultimately chose to go in this sort of magenta violet hue for her because of two reasons.
We wanted to in a little bit of a way reflect that there is some conflict in ‘Into the Unknown’. She is a little bit unsure about what’s going on. She’s a little bit reserved, at least to begin with, and so a darker deeper hue hopefully helps to support that. But also, this scene takes place inside the castle in Arendelle and that’s not a place that we normally see her in, you know, and in her nighttime outfit inside of the palace. Inside the castle in Arendelle is very rich and has deep dark hues and it’s very cozy. We knew we’d be seeing her interact with her sister and with Kristoff and Olaf and Sven in the ‘Charades’ scene and so we wanted to be able to make her feel cozy and to make the audience feel cozy and to help bring you all in and make you feel like you’re at a slumber party with them.” Even with her hues changing for the conflict of the “Into the Unknown” sequence, it’s important to note that her snowflakes still haven’t left her side. Snowflake and icicle themes can be seen throughout the embroidery details in all of Elsa’s outfits since “Let it Go” and her nightgown is no different.”
Elsa is not the only person who got a costume overhaul. Anna’s travel outfit unveiled in the first trailer is like nothing we have ever seen her in before. While her new cloak is reminiscent of the cape that she sports in the original Frozen, it has also evolved with Anna’s character. Giving us a little insight into some of the more overarching design elements of Anna’s costume, visual development artist, Griselda Sastrawinata-Lemay had this to say:
“In the Frozen world, our production designer, Michael Giaimo wants to approach it as if we are making a classic live-action movie, which means that there’s a lot of effortless moving fabric and a lot of very exciting color pops that you see when the character is moving[…]. For each costume, we always ask who, what, when, where and why. Since Anna is a fairytale character, we gave her a more traditional fairytale look and silhouette. And then the process of designing is not always linear. We grow as the story grows and these are some early iterations of her travel outfits. Designing for her is tricky because once we decided that Elsa will always be in light value, it is challenging to find a color that would hold the same brilliance and strength when their next to each other. The chosen travel outfit is variation number 122[…]. The process and animation is collaborative. For example, this cape. This type of cape usually has a small opening for her arms but because we need her to be able to move a lot and have a full range of motion we opened up the opening and that caused a challenge for our team to make it look good when she’s moving. And I think our team did an incredible job.”
While Elsa has her details rooted in snow and ice, Anna’s embroideries are reminiscent of the Arendelle crocus of the original film, now adapted to the more of a wheat icon to represent fall.
Contrasting Anna’s fall colors, Elsa’s new travel outfit returns to her snow-dress colors of the ice blues and sheer fabrics. Like Anna, Elsa is layered up against the cold (that doesn’t bother her, anyway) with a jacket that has a split cape coming from each shoulder. Her snow and ice themes can be found in the embroidery and beading details throughout her jacket and its under-layers. Elsa has ditched the full-length gown for the first time, instead replacing it with a three-quarter-length, semi-sheer underdress and pants. With the return of her bright colors, we can assume that by this point in the film she is back to her true self, as even though this outfit sports a higher collar, it is not a restrictive one, but one that allows for more of her snow and ice details.
So much work goes into even the smallest of details in every element that audiences will see on the screen when FROZEN 2 hits theaters. It’s incredible to know how much thought goes into color schemes, animated embroidery detailing, and dress lengths for each outfit that these characters wear. Each element in the film gets the same attention to detail that the costumes do. From the design of the buildings in town to city planning for the village surrounding the castle to the gorgeous backdrops of scenery, every part of the film is designed from scratch to create an environment to effectively tell the story of FROZEN 2. It just goes to show what a monumental feat that creating an animated feature on the level that Disney produces is.
Walt Disney Animation Studios FROZEN 2 opens in U.S. theaters on November 22, 2019. Want to learn more about the challenges that Disney had to tackle in making the film? Check out more of Raven’s coverage here.