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Immersed in Movies: Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee Talk ‘Frozen Fever’

Immersed in Movies: Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee Talk 'Frozen Fever'

The gang’s all back for the new Frozen Fever short playing in front of Cinderella, in which Elsa (Idina Menzel) gets a cold while preparing a surprise birthday party for Anna (Kristen Bell). And with Frozen 2 just announced, we got to speculate about potentially expanding the role of Olaf (Josh Gad) as well.

Bill Desowitz: When did it hit you that you were back but that it was different? 
Chris Buck: In animation dailies, I think the first time back, so actually seeing the characters move again. And you go, “Oh, it’s different — they’re not doing the same scenes or the same shots.”
BD: But they’re doing things that are similar and singing a song (“Make Today the Perfect Day”) that echoes the past.
Jennifer Lee: But I think we were overwhelmed with the idea of even doing it. And we sort of found our way into the story and we were building it and you get wrapped up in it. And when we did see that first animated moment, it got a little emotional. She’s back — she’s alive again. But getting there was surreal…
CB: Surreal is a good word.
BD: How did you come up with the idea?
CB: So the first brainstorming that we did was early June and we just started playing with things. The obvious thing was to do an Olaf short. So we started playing with that a little bit. Then one of our great story artists, Marc Smith, said, “What if Elsa had a cold?” And we all went with it.
JL: And what kept coming up for us was that Elsa was the one character who was this very tragic figure from the film and at the end of the film is free, but you only get about one minute with her post experience. And so what is Elsa like now that she is free? It was this moment where we were like, “That was the most fun for us,” and what other things could happen with her magic? 
And that’s where we started as opposed to really trying to force something. Everybody was having a ball with it. And the one thing that came through was the relationship between the girls that was unique, that we were doing sisters. But to throw that aside and [focus on Olaf] didn’t feel part of our world. So having another story about their relationship now that Elsa is free was great.
BD: But does that mean that a potential Olaf-centric sequel is a possible warning sign?
JL: Well, I think, the key that we found with all the characters is that there’s a balance in how they work together. And Olaf works really well with anybody and we love that. He states the obvious, brings up the extra point — he’s a perfect foil. You learn as you go who he is and what makes him only speak as Olaf. You can’t just put him out there. You need to understand how he works. 
BD: You need someone for him to bounce off of. He can’t be the initiator.
JL: I’m sure there are people that have many ideas about that.

But you’ve opened up a new side to Elsa.
CB: It was just freeing and as the cold gets worse, we could have some fun with her, mostly at her expense.
JL: Wiping her nose on her sleeve. She was human. What we loved about the song is that Anna is looking out for her and they’re both looking out for each other. It really supports the relationship that they have but with the visuals countering it with all the havoc. And to push with Elsa. Idina had a blast doing it as it was a different side of her. And we did too. But we didn’t want to go too far. It’s a simple short.
BD: And her sneezing display…little snowmen?
CB: It started with her sneezing and wreaking havoc in the kingdom. Inside hallways and spikes in the village.
JL: Psychedelic floating snowflakes. We had all this crazy stuff but it was too much. And then you got to the logic of does a sneeze cause this and a cough cause that?
CB: Keep it simple.
JL: Snow boogers.
CB: But there were all different sizes.
JL: We were going to make them more like Olaf and be different sizes, but we said, “Where’s  Olaf?” It’s a different story and it also makes him not unique. And he is unique and there is no other Olaf. But there was something about these mischievous, little cold bugs and Olaf loved it, but it took a lot of experimenting. At one point, we had an Olaf two stories high.
BD: What about the look? Did you have the new Hyperion renderer for global illumination and ray tracing?
CB: Yes, what we were using on Frozen didn’t apply so we had to switch into that.
JL: There were these subtle differences in the lighting that we were able to do so much more. The saturation and the depth of range. It was stunning.
CB: That’s interesting because I was there along the way so it wasn’t as blatant to me.
BD: Let’s talk about what’s going on at Disney Animation after two Academy Awards and the development of the Story Trust.
JL: Chris can talk historically, but I can talk about the last four years — this month. For me, certainly, what I’ve appreciated is how they embrace the writers. And there’s been a lot of work with bringing the writers into the story meetings as well on the other films and encouraging doing what they do best and helping support structure and drive emotion. But as a whole, I think the teams are getting stronger and stronger because we’ve been doing this together and we all help on each other’s projects [Zootopia, Moana, Giants]. We’re building off of Tangled, RalphFrozen, Big Hero; we know who to go to when we’re in trouble. When we need to look at comedy, we can bring in Rich Moore. And we can trust each other and we’ve been brutally honest. So I think the studio is determined to do the strongest story it can.
BD: And with success comes the confidence to experiment and take risks.
CB: Especially since I left in 2004 and coming back and seeing the rebirth again with John and Ed coming back.
JL: And the studios are very supportive of each other and that’s wonderful, but there’s not this need to be like each other. What I appreciate is John and Ed are really filmmaker driven.
CB: Even when Jenn and I first began, the writer thing was still an issue. When to bring them in and I was always fighting for that. They needed to be in the room, they needed to work with us. A lot of us are visual guys and structure is not necessarily our strongest asset. Seeing it overall you need everybody.

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