Frozen fans will soon have the chance to return to Arendelle to explore the mythology established in 2019’s sequel Frozen II. I recently had the pleasure of attending a press conference for the upcoming animated short MYTH: A FROZEN TALE which will premiere on Disney+ on February 26th. Producer Nicholas Russell, director Jeff Gipson, and production designer Brittney Lee outlined the film’s journey from the initial inspiration all the way through to its streaming release.
MYTH: A FROZEN TALE takes place in the kingdom of Arendelle and depicts a bedtime story about the elemental spirits featured in Frozen II. Filmed using VR technology and inspired by pop-up storybooks, the short combines the classic Disney animation style with cutting-edge filmmaking tools. Animators drew from sources like Eyvind Earle’s lush Sleeping Beauty backgrounds and the marriage of art and music in Fantasia while using modern technology to create the short’s distinctive look in real-time.
Over the course of the presentation and the Q&A period, Russell, Gipson, and Lee discussed the importance of staying true to the world of Frozen while also crafting a unique story, how the Disney legacy influenced their work, and the challenges they faced in adapting a VR short for a home streaming audience.
The majority of the film takes place without narration or dialogue, with just music accompanying the visuals. Each presenter praised composer Joseph Trapanese for his stirring score and emphasized the importance of combining music and animation. Gipson identified Fantasia as a major influence on the film. When asked why Fantasia is still so relevant nearly a century after its release, he answered: “Even back 80 years ago, Walt and his animators were really pushing on technology and pushing on art styles and trying to create something fresh and new. Even today we all reference back to segments from that film; we want to see that on-screen again. And I think that’s a testament just to how much further we will really try to push things and try to really go into something fresh and something we’ve never seen before.”
Following up on this idea of constantly pushing technology forward, Gipson discussed the genesis of the project. He directed Cycles, Disney’s first animated VR film. Jennifer Lee, the writer and co-director of both Frozen films and the CCO of Walt Disney Animation Studios, came to him with the idea to create a VR short for the world of Frozen. At the press conference, Gipson said, “I was so excited, but also so nervous because these are some of our most beloved characters and amazing worlds. I wanted to create something that would do justice to this film.”
MYTH: A FROZEN TALE was created using the 3D game engine Unreal Engine. Press conference attendees were treated to footage of Head of Animation Jorge Ruiz Cano animating in real-time using a tool called Swoop. Gipson said Cano was “listening to the music in our camera capture stage and basically dancing with those remotes to create that path of Gale and animate it to a place where it was amazing and tied with the music.” He added that the harmony between the art and the music, and amongst the team of almost 100 artists working on the film, blends beautifully with the film’s underlying theme of harmony between the elemental spirits.
Brittney Lee emphasized the importance of the color and shape language of the film, citing Disney Legend Mary Blair as an influence on the film’s palette and its fantasy elements. She also discussed how the recurring diamond shapes subtly tied into the visual language of Frozen II while still allowing for a fresh take on Anna and Elsa’s world. Lee’s original art also played a role, as her background in paper cut-out pieces is reflected in the film’s diamond shapes and its stylized sense of space.
When asked about the possibility for more stories about the kingdom of Arendelle, Nicholas Russell said, “I think that all of our stories, no matter if they’re feature films or short films, are all centered around really great characters. I think Anna and Elsa, and the gang of Frozen characters, we all want to see them on screen. We all want to see their world on screen. I think it’s such a rich cast of characters and world. Hopefully, we’re telling Frozen stories forever.”
Disney+ subscribers will be able to check out the latest Frozen story this Friday. MYTH: A FROZEN TALE begins streaming exclusively on Disney+ on February 26th.