Dozens of animated projects come out each year, but Disney’s Frozen is more than just a movie. This 2013 release is one of those rare instances where a film goes beyond a piece of entertainment and takes hold of the pop culture mainstream – spawning a hit soundtrack, merchandise, fan videos, and more.
Frozen’s overwhelming reception has made it the highest-grossing animated film of all time, with critics comparing it to some of the studio’s best work. But what sets it apart from its contemporaries? What were the elements that helped Frozen catch hold of the public’s imagination on this scale?
Those are questions that Computer Animation graduate Lance Summers recently weighed in on. Lance was a look development artist on the movie, and has been with Disney Animation Studios since 2009. In that time he has been credited on other hits like Tangled, The Lion King 3D, and Wreck-It Ralph, but despite their success, the Frozen phenomenon is unlike any other in his professional career.
“It has been surreal to say the least, especially when we all first saw what was happening to it,” he says. “There was this energy when Frozen was released, then we started winning awards, and fans keep responding to it now. To be out and see people enjoying it is great. I really can’t get away from it these days, which is a good feeling.”
Being a look development artist gave Lance the opportunity to work closely with the film’s colors and textures, helping to realize the director’s vision and maintain the consistency of its visual style. Working on environments like the ice palace, he understood the scope and quality of what they were working towards, but admits that he couldn’t have predicted the deep connection that audiences would feel for the material.
“We never imagined all of this would come because we were just so busy and focused,” he says. “Towards the end of production we saw it all come together and knew it had a good story, emotion, music, and you really felt for the characters – but we still didn’t see all of this happening, I don’t know how you could have. It’s a once in a lifetime thing, the box office, the soundtrack, having videos of the songs being lip-synched on the Internet. I’m very proud to have been a part of it.”
Frozen has been likened to projects developed during Disney’s film renaissance of the late 80s and early 90s, which saw a string of classics like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin have a similar effect on the public consciousness. Speaking about the current studio culture, Lance feels that the talent of their current staff – from artists to managers – is an important part of the Disney magic that infused its way into the feel of Frozen and will carry into their next project, 2016’s Utopia.
“I think it has a lot to do with everyone who’s here,” he says. “You get a group of amazing people who are all doing their best work, and then there’s the great leadership we have here. All the good things that come with that leadership flow down to each individual artist, I think that’s what makes it hearken back to those days.”
“When you start working here, you’re in awe of the history and all the films from the past, and then you start to realize how great it is in the moment, and that we’re continuing to make groundbreaking films like Frozen. It all comes down to the people and the energy that’s in the building.”