The Art of Frozen




Chronicle Books LLC


December 3, 2013



The Art of Frozen is an art book written by Charles Solomon. It features concept sketches and paintings, storyboards, and finished art alongside behind-the-scenes commentary from the animators, production artists, and writers.


In Walt Disney Animation Studios upcoming film, Frozen, the fearless optimist Anna sets off on an epic journey—teaming up with rugged mountain man Kristoff—to find her sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter. Encountering Everest-like conditions, Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom. The Art of Frozen features concept art from the making of the film—including character studies and sculpts, color scripts, storyboards, and more—alongside interviews with the film's artists about the making of this comedy-adventure.


The book contains four chapters:

  1. Coronation
  2. Wilderness
  3. Ice Palace
  4. Return to Arendelle

It contains a preface from the executive producer, John Lasseter, and a foreword from the directors, Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck. It also includes an introduction about the transition from Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, The Snow Queen, to Frozen; this is expanded upon in the prologue, which describes how the film ultimately became a story about two sisters. Descriptions of the different characters and insight on their development are interspersed throughout the chapters.

Introduction: From "The Snow Queen" to Frozen

Royal family concept art

After many different propositions, Disney decided to make their adaptation more family-oriented.

Frozen is a loose adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, The Snow Queen. Walt Disney was drawn to Andersen's stories due to their vast emotional presence. The Snow Queen became one of many attempts by Walt Disney to adapt the stories of the Danish author, which ultimately culminated in works like The Little Mermaid.

However, The Snow Queen proved to be a difficult tale to approach from a cartoon film standpoint. Though Disney had determined the main theme of the tale as "regeneration through faith" and noted that the story "ties up loose ends", it was felt that it was "very uninteresting and just [faded] out into nothing." Andersen's story has been highly praised by scholars, but it is a prolonged, episodic, and bleak tale. Yet, the prospect of animating a queen ruling over a frozen kingdom kept the vision alive for seventy years.

In most drafts for its versions of The Snow Queen, Disney had discarded the troll and mirror, and it became necessary to craft a motive for Kai to leave, such as going to sea on a whaling ship to impress Erica, who would represent Gerda. In yet another version, Gerda is Greta, a notorious gold digger, and Kai ends up marrying the Snow Queen. But with all these propositions, the stories lacked defined characters and compelling narratives, though the artwork was amazingly diverse and beautiful.

The Snow Queen evolved into Frozen after John Lasseter and Chris Buck began developing a musical version of the story. The filmmakers then abandoned Andersen's focus on Gerda's journey and focused more on the eponymous Snow Queen. The story reached a critical point when it was decided that the heroine and villain would be sisters with a shared past.

Prologue: A Family Affair

A tale of two sisters

Frozen ultimately became a tale about two sisters.

With the focus on Elsa and Anna's sisterly bond, Disney finally had a foundation for translating Andersen's tale to a traditional three-act feature film, simultaneously deviating from Disney's standard "princess finding her prince story." In order to properly understand Elsa and Anna's bond, Disney artists held an event which they hailed the "Sister Summit", in which they brought women from Disney animation who grew up with sisters to give insight on their relationships, painting a picture of conflict, angst, and heart. The Frozen crew began to get a sense of the plot and resolution: "It's about the two sisters saving each other; it's their broken relationship and how they repair it."

After solidifying the story, the crew was ready to move on to art and animation, to take ideas and transform them into a visual experience. Like the writers, the artists also pulled from their own lives to express the most emotional and visual power possible. However, above all else, the goal was to have the film resonate, regardless of generations. As such, the Frozen crew drew from Disney's 2010 film, Tangled, to create a fairy tale experience that was at once magical and had a contemporary feel.

Chapter 1: Coronation

Arendelle town concept

The village featured in Frozen drew heavily upon the designs of the Norwegian village of Balestrand, particularly the asymmetrical placement of buildings.

The first chapter focuses primarily on introducing the setting of the film and the characters associated with royalty. Early in the production of the film, it was decided that Arendelle was to be based on Scandinavia. Chris Buck and John Lasseter both approached their good friend from CalArts, Michael Giamio, to take up the role of art director for the film and oversee the creation of a world with a "level of complexity and attention to detail from costume to character" that had never been done in a computer-generated film. Along with assistant art director, Lisa Keene, production designer David Womersley, and some other artists, Giamio visited California's Danish village of Solvang, where they learned that there were many Scandinavian cultures, each with their own specific traditions. Eventually, the film shifted its focus particularly on Norwegian architecture and culture.

Realizing that a search engine could only yield so many results, a group of artists went to Norway to do visual research for the film. The artists visited the Norwegian village of Balestrand, which would provide the primary inspiration for the structure of the village featured in the film, the chapel where Elsa was coronated, and various other architectural styles for the kingdom as a whole. The village is specifically based on the Norwegian "Dragonstil" style of architecture, a late nineteenth century blend of Victorian aesthetics with rustic Norwegian designs. The castle, on the other hand, drew inspiration from twelfth century Norwegian stave churches, featuring both a similar roof line and detailing.


The artists of Frozen utilized the Norwegian pattern style of rosemaling, which features intricate floral designs. Rosemaling is featured on both sets and character costumes.

Artists were particularly struck by the immense presence of rich patterning, textures, and shapes featured in Norway. One such form of patterning was rosemaling, Norwegian for "decorative painting"; it is an intricate ornamentation style that arose from Eastern Norway in the mid-eighteenth century and was used by Disney artists to decorate elements in the film, mainly costumes and sets. There was somewhat of a challenge in integrating such a level of detail into the film in a manner that did not overwhelm the viewers, and the artists worked tirelessly to ensure all the colors and patterns harmonized to produce a look that was "fresh and lively, but not too dense."

With a general sense of the setting of the film determined, the writers and artists were ready to apply this to the characters.


Anna concept art

Concept art of Anna.

After the success of Disney's Tangled, it was difficult to make Anna the central character of the film, since is she markedly different from Rapunzel, a heroine associated with the supernatural. Though this was a deterrence, the writers and artists ultimately accepted that Anna would be her own character; animating Anna produced movements that were distinctly different from Rapunzel, movements that were more quick and quirky. And despite her lack of a power, head of story Paul Briggs stated Anna's greatest strength comes from her willingness to stand beside others.

Anna's costumes were subjected to rigorous aesthetic standards to fit both her title and personality. For her travel outfit, the goal was to apply a striking and bold look that was elegant at the same time; to achieve this, Anna was given rich saturated hues like blue and magenta, colors that suggest royalty. To reflect Anna's sunny nature, her outfits over the years used warm colors like grayed yellow greens, ochre, and olive.


Another difference with Frozen was the presence of a second protagonist. Briggs states, "Elsa is interesting because she could be perceived as the villain, but she's not." Elsa starts as a repressed character who is forced to hide her true self and, above all else, needs someone to stand by and help her.

In bringing Elsa to life, the goal was to focus on her abilities. Her ice dress is a testament to her winter magic and designed to be suggestive of an ice crystal; the palette contains a walking effect in which the colors will reflect and refract. Giamio also gave Elsa an analogous color scheme of icy and warm blues for a "striking effect."


Hans concept art

Concept art of Hans. His appearance was designed to convey the attributes of a prince: strong bearing and grace.

Hans was a special case for the writers and artists alike; in many of their films, Disney had already depicted characters undergoing transformations, such as Aladdin and Cinderella going from low social standing to royalty. However, Hans would transform from benevolent prince to power-hungry villain.

When the twist in Hans' character was revealed, many animators leapt at the chance to animate the prince and his split personality. Character design supervisor Bill Schwab stated that the hardest task "was to make sure [they] covered all aspects of [the prince's] personality while never fully tipping [their] hand to the audience." Hans' costume was inspired by the traditional short-waisted bunad; its black lapels and collar were meant to convey "heroic strength." Hans was also given epaulets and an aiguillette to add "princely bearing."

The Duke of Weselton

The Duke of Weselton was originally conceived as a harmless royal handler to Elsa and Anna after the deaths of their father and mother. But as the story for Frozen evolved, a new character was needed, a villain who would serve as the "red herring" to the plot.

The Duke was designed to be a "fussy royal", as characterized by his thick circular glasses, the number of medals on his chest, the posture of his torso, and his small stature.

Costume Design

Costume concept art

Concept art depicting the level of detail placed into each and every costume.

It was only because of computer-generated imagery that the vast scope of the film was made possible. With traditional hand-drawn animation, it would have been incredibly difficult to repeatedly produce the patterns on Elsa's cape and the rosemaling featured on Anna, Hans, and Kristoff's clothes.

But even so, the visual development team faced difficulty in the animating process. It was necessary to remain true to the Norwegian designs while appearing graphical and animated. The animators also spared no effort in the smaller details, such as the movement of the fabric and the inclusion of materials like buttons, trim, and stitching. Even the texture of the clothes were emphasized; there had to be a clear difference from silken materials to the predominant Norwegian fabric, wool. The team stayed faithful to Norwegian influences, having altered Idun's outfit to detract from its original Russian influence.

The artists not only focused on the costumes of the main characters, but also on those of the crowds to help shape and bring life to the environments. This was essential to keep a consistent Norwegian-style feel to the film.

Chapter 2: Wilderness

Snow concept art

Concept art of a bleak snowy landscape.

Though Arendelle is a major location in Frozen, Anna's journey took her to the wilderness beyond the kingdom. The second chapter describes the endeavor to express the natural environment featured in the film and introduces the characters associated with the outdoors; however, Norway remained the primary source of inspiration, and the artists strove to depict its mountainous wilderness in great detail, be it the landscape, the flora, or even the color of the water.

The principal challenge was with snow; the Frozen crew were determined to not show snow as merely a bland, white blanket. During their field trip to Norway, Giamio and the other artists took notice of how snow could acquire deep blue shadows or orange-reds, depending on the position of the sun in the sky. Proper depiction of the snowy landscape was of utmost importance to convey a sense of "the bleakness of the mood." To further emphasize Anna and Kristoff's feeling of being lost, it was necessary to make their surroundings at once large and bleak to express being both physically and emotionally lost. To portray snow accurately, many crews had to work together; the effects team worked quite closely with the character animators to ensure that the characters were responding appropriately to their surroundings.


Kristoff concept art

Concept art of Kristoff. His design was based primarily on the clothing of the real-world Sami people.

In sharp contrast to the traditional princes of animated fairy tales, Kristoff is a rugged ice harvester who lacks charm and elegance. According to Paul Briggs, Kristoff is like Elsa in that he too is hiding his true self; he's very tough on the outside but has a "softer inner core." As with Elsa, Kristoff would be pushed to open himself up by Anna.

In designing Kristoff, artists sought to convey his contrast to Anna, and also Hans' elegance. Kristoff was given worn patches on his pants to emphasize the difference between him and the royal characters. The ice harvester's overall appearance is based off of the costumes of the Sami people, the indigenous inhabitants of the arctic regions of Scandinavia. Keeping with the theme of having the characters respond to the situations of the film, animators considered things such as the heaviness of Kristoff's boots, which would cause the ice harvester to bend in a particular way.


Sven concept art

Concept art of Sven. The reindeer was designed to look like a "dumpy, unprepossessing animal".

Sven was designed to help further Kristoff's unkempt appearance; this was done by making Sven a more realistic reindeer as opposed to the "prancing pseudo-horses" of cartoon Christmas specials. Like his human companion, Sven is far from regal and has a worn and torn appearance from being out in the wilderness. However, this, along with the reindeer's expressive eyebrows, added to the comedy of the character.


Olaf was a difficult character for the animation crew because he was an exercise in truth in materials. It was difficult for the animators to determine how snow would appear if it could actually move. Olaf was likened to Lotso from Toy Story 3 due to their mutual lack of anatomy; as a teddy bear, Lotso was essentially an "oddly-shaped pillow", and Olaf is little more than "three balls of snow with sticks for limbs." Ultimately, it was decided that for Olaf, simplicity would be the key; as a snowman, he would be able to pull himself apart and put himself back together.

Olaf concept art

Concept art of Olaf featuring his ability to move and reassemble himself.

With regards to his personality, Olaf was conceived as a naive child-like character. Story artist Jeff Ranjo compared Olaf to a baby: "He's just been created. He doesn't know much about the world, so you have to explain things to him that you would take for granted, just as you would to a little kid." Because of Olaf's personality, animators were able to take some liberties in bringing the snowman to life, particularly with his "In Summer" sequence. As such, they were able to have Olaf float in water and sit on the beach. And since the environment of the sequence was based within Olaf's imagination, it reflected his desires; the shapes were made to be more Olaf-like so that the world would appear more welcoming to the snowman.

However, with Olaf, there was also the issue of having him not blend with the snowy environments. Simultaneously, it was necessary to have the snowman not stand out too much as if he were a "cut-out." Variations in lighting and texture were used to achieve the desired effect.


Troll Art of Frozen

Though introduced late in the production process, the trolls were not exempt from the same design standards of the other characters.

The trolls were introduced relatively late in the production process but were envisioned to be comical in appearance to belie their ability to ascertain the truth in others' hearts. Their overall design is based on round boulders, and they are outfitted with moss garments that feature an organic rosemaling motif. The trolls are also given luminous rock crystals that are said to channel the aurora borealis, thus connecting the trolls to their environment. The primary goal was to create a variant of troll that was not generic, like the brutes seen in The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter.

Chapter 3: Ice Palace

Elsa's ice palace concept art

Elsa's ice palace was designed to celebrate the hexagon motif of snowflakes.

With their mastery over animating snow, the Frozen crew was ready to move on to the other facet of Elsa's powers: ice. As such, the third chapter focuses primarily on the sequence in which Elsa constructs her ice palace as well as her post-coronation appearance. There is also a brief section on designing Olaf's more icy counterpart, Marshmallow. Ice proved more difficult than snow due its optically active nature; it can shift its colors, appear either transparent or opaque, have a smooth surface or one etched with patterns, and reflect the surroundings or distort them entirely. On the technical side, refractive objects are particularly difficult to render with computer-generated images, requiring an extensive amount of rendering time.

To continue to maintain accuracy, John Lasseter met with Dr. Ken Libbrecht, "Doctor Snow", from Cal Tech to discuss the formation of ice crystals. The Frozen crew also took a trip to an ice hotel in Quebec City to provide inspiration for Elsa's palace. Yet, to advance the story, there was a distinction between making "normal ice" and the "magical ice" produced by Elsa; the goal was to portray both in an equally believable manner. To help this distinction, the artists provided Elsa with a "signature snowflake" design that appears repeatedly throughout the film. Ultimately, this snowflake was featured in the construction of Elsa's palace, which was decided to be an homage to the hexagon motif found in all snowflakes.

The Snow Queen

Elsa concept art

Concept art of Elsa. Her design was meant to project style, originality, and confidence.

Elsa's Snow Queen appearance embodied many of the challenges faced by Frozen's simulation team. In general, the designs needed to have strong sleek shapes that possessed both clarity and motion, while simultaneously providing emphasis to the characters' physical and emotional performance. Elsa's look was designed to do just this, projecting style, originality, and confidence with its combination of the column dress, mystical frost cape, and elaborate hairstyle.


Marshmallow's initial design consisted of a giant monster built of snow with tree trunks as arms, though he retained his ability to produce icicles. He went through at least four different incarnations before finally obtaining his in-film appearance.

Chapter 4: Return to Arendelle

Frozen Arendelle concept art

Concept art of a frozen Arendelle. It is a culmination of the artists setting forth to understand how not only to depict a setting that drew from Norwegian influences, but also the natural forces that would affect it.

The final chapter shifts from discussing Frozen's art and story to focus on its music. It also recounts the events in the months leading up to release.

Music was very important to the film, as Frozen began to pick up momentum in terms of development when it was conceived as a musical. Director Chris Buck feels that "the most emotional, the most dramatic, the most fun sequences in a movie will be the songs." However, the songs had to do more than accompany the film, they had to be an integral part of the experience. According to John Lasseter, "a good song can provide concise, emotionally resonant storytelling. Ideas that would become tedious in exposition can be neatly presented through a song." For this reason, Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez were commissioned to write the songs for the soundtrack, on the basis that their "very strong story sense" would make the songs part of the film's overall structure. The efforts of the husband-wife team are particularly evident in Elsa's song "Let It Go", where "you can really see [her] character develop."

Though the animators had worked out all the difficulties in character, set, and environment designs, some final issues remained. For one, the designs had not yet accounted for the film's release in 3-D format; it was imperative that the visuals were spatially correct or the audience would not perceive depth. And, in spite of all the other challenges overcome, the biggest one rested with time. By the time the film's story had evolved into the resonating piece it is now, the crew only had one year before the film was set for release. Yet, the crew was so invested in the film that the both the 3-D rendering and time constraints proved to be of no concern, and the film completed, set for release on the intended date. Paul Briggs attributes this investment in the film to its inspiring emotional power: "You get it done because you know it's going to be great."

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