This past week, Nightmarish Conjurings was able to take part in the ONCE UPON A SNOWMAN press conference moderated by Amy Astley, Vice President of Communications and Publicity for Walt Disney Animation Studios. In attendance were Co-Director/Writers Trent Correy (animation supervisor for “Olaf” in Frozen 2) and Dan Abraham (veteran story artist who boarded Olaf’s “When I Am Older” musical sequence in Frozen 2) as well as Creative Consultant Peter Del Vecho (producer, Frozen 2, Frozen, and the upcoming Raya and the Last Dragon) and Head of Animation Becky Bresee (supervising animator of Anna in the first Frozen film). During the press conference, the crew discussed everything from the inception of the story, returning to the Frozen world, and the struggle to find the perfect Olaf nose.
Synopsis: What happened to Olaf within the moments after Elsa created him as she was “letting it go” and building her ice palace, and when Anna and Kristoff first meet him in the forest? And how did Olaf learn to love Summer? The previously untold origins of Olaf, the innocent and insightful, summer-loving snowman who melted hearts in the Academy Award®-winning 2013 Disney animated feature, Frozen, and its acclaimed 2019 sequel, are revealed in the all-new Walt Disney Animation Studios animated short, ONCE UPON A SNOWMAN. The film follows Olaf’s first steps as he comes to life and searches for his identity in the snowy mountains outside Arendelle.
Trent, to start things off, can you talk about the inception of this short?
Trent Correy: Of course. I started in the training program at Disney in 2012. Actually, my very first film at Disney was the first Frozen where I got to meet Becky Bresee and Peter Del Vecho and later I met Dan, but this idea came from… I started as a crowd animator during the first Frozen and my very first character to animate was Olaf. I was very lucky to get to animate Olaf for the rest of the show. I very clearly remember seeing Chad Sellers animator shot during “Let It Go” while I was a trainee and Elsa meets Olaf and it’s beautiful and then she just walks away. She creates life and she walks away and I was like, there’s got to be a story there.
I love Pinocchio, I loved Bambi and I’m like, I want to see what Olaf’s first steps are like and we don’t see them for another 20 minutes in [Frozen]. I actually found sketches last week when I was moving of original ideas from 2013, little deep boards and writing and ideas of Olaf taking his first steps and learning about who he is. Cut to last year, Jennifer Lee, our fearless leader, stood on stage and said, we’re going to be partnering with Disney Plus. I thought right then that this is the perfect opportunity to have this short come out eight years later and that’s when I got to work with all these fine folks: Peter, Becky, and Dan.
Dan, how did you come to partner with Trent as a fellow director on this project?
Dan Abraham: Working with Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck and Peter Del Vecho…I guess they liked what I had done with the old [Olaf] song [in Frozen II]. They’re like, oh, this guy has a handle on who Olaf is and so Jennifer asked if I would partner with Trent and direct this great idea that he had all these years ago. And so the two of us just kind of went arm-in-arm from there. We had a ball.
The production of ONCE UPON A SNOWMAN cam right at the tail end of Frozen 2. Peter, what was that experience like for you in terms of going straight from one to another?
Peter Del Vecho: Well, I’m sure Trent and Becky and Dan can attest when you make these movies, you get to know these characters really well. It becomes a family. And as hard as the movies are to finish, it’s also hard to step away. So I think the fact that Trent and Dan had this story ready to go, we could build on that enthusiasm of having finished the first movie and bring all that skill and the momentum that we had as you finish a movie, bring that right into the short. I think it was a nice way, almost, to celebrate, to continue to celebrate the finish of the movie.
Becky, for you, what it it about the Frozen world that really speaks to you as an artist and animator? And what did you enjoy about making this particular short?
Becky Bresee: Well, when I started on the first Frozen, I was really in it for the fairytale of it. I’ve always loved fairytales, Disney, art, and that all, it spoke to me. And as well as a princess, I wanted to be a princess. But after a while, it started to become a sister story. And then it spoke to me in a very different way because I have sisters. And more so, I have daughters and they’re my little Anna and Elsa. So I was more invested now, even more so than before. That’s what drew me to the project. What’s wonderful about Olaf is he’s a reflection of the love between these two sisters. He’s just such a wonderful character.
Like Peter said, it really is not often we get to revisit characters and so when Frozen 2 came up, it was just, we were like, “Yay! We get to visit these characters again.” And then to continue on with this story that’s very special and ties everything together from those first moments of Olaf, it’s a really unique way to revisit the scenes and think about the people who animated the scenes in the movie and then how it all ties in. One of my favorite parts of this was I got to animate the moment, the last scene where Olaf walks over to the hill approaching Anna and Kristoff. [While animating it] I realized this is the moment right before he walks into Kristoff and Anna’s life and changes them forever and changes all of us forever, really.
Though Olaf was designed years ago, can you discuss bringing him to life for this short and any challenges you may have faced – especially in regards to his nose?
Trent Correy: Maybe I’ll let Dan elaborate a little bit, but we’re building off a lot of work from a lot of many talented artists throughout the story that have worked with the Frozen franchise for eight plus years. Hyrum Osmond was the original Olaf supervisor and in Frozen, him and the team discovered things like, “If we don’t bend Olaf’s arms, he’ll move a little more like a toddler, so he doesn’t have elbows.” So, really there’s a lot to build off of, design-wise. And, for the nose, in my original pitch, it was actually a fish nose that he has for most of the short and then I pitched it to Dan and he’s like, “Huh, hang on a minute.”
Dan Abraham: Yeah. It’s just honestly, the fish, you’ve seen the short, the fish is now on there for a few seconds, and it’s sort of just a funny gag. But when he’s running around with a fish on his face for several minutes, it’s too much. It just doesn’t…And Olaf is being chased by wolves. And to me, I’m like, if he was being chased by cats and he had a fish on his nose, that story story adds up better for me; but since it was wolves, I’m like, “Well, what if we make it a sausage? What if we make it meat because wolves and meat, that math adds up better.”
Walt Disney Animation Studios’ animated short, ONCE UPON A SNOWMAN, debuts exclusively on Disney+ October 23, 2020.