Head of Animation Lino DiSalvo Talks Art of Frozen at Walt Disney Family Museum

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Hello Readers!
Here is a repost of an article I wrote for the Women in Animation San Francisco Chapter Blog. You can find out more about our organization by visiting
www.womeninanimationsf.blogspot.com.


Happy reading!

Enthusiasm for Frozen was palatable at the sold out Frozen: Art of Animation talk Friday night at the Walt Disney Family Museum. Lino DiSalvo, head of animation for the film and a Disney vet with over 15 years of experience at the company, led the audience on a fantastic and sometimes harrowing journey through the process of creating Disney’s 52nd animated feature film.

A Musical for Even Non-Musical People

“We watched every musical ever created,” DiSalvo said with a laugh as he chronicled the storytelling process. “[And] I started this journey hating musicals.”

It wasn’t the music he hated. DiSalvo grew up on classic Disney musicals and loved film. It was the “yearning look into the horizon” that truly bothered him.
He, along with the many other individuals who enabled the film to become a reality, wanted something more heartfelt for their heroines and the other characters.

He wanted the emotion of the characters to be so organic that they could not help but sing. “The scenes that worked in these films with singing, [there was] no other way for the character to convey the emotion they felt,” said DiSalvo. The dynamic duo of Tony Award winning scribes Kristen-Anderson Lopez and Robert Lopez enabled that vision to become a reality.

“They were awesome,” said DiSalvo.

Adventures in Compelling Storytelling – Elsa’s Journey 

Two of the other great challenges when creating the film were crafting the story and dealing with a tight production schedule. The Snow Queen remained on Disney’s radar for years, but it was not until Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee signed on as directors and Lee hemmed the version of Frozen that is now in theaters that the film truly clicked. One of the toughest parts was getting the story right. Their goal was to create a compelling narrative devoid of cliché. One major issue was that Elsa, the snow queen herself, played too much like a villain. This made it difficult for the staff to want to root for her by the end of the film.

“It’s a 90 minute film and you want to like the characters,” said Wayne Unten, supervising animator for Elsa. “To get her to the mountain top for ‘Let It Go’ you have to show what she’s been through. The villain part wasn’t working.” The story came together when Lee showed the staff the bond that needed to exist between Elsa and her sister Anna, and how that bond would ultimately save them.

“The film is family love, not romantic love,” said DiSalvo, crediting Lee with bringing to light the theme of the film. “Everyone in the room said that’s the film we have to make.”

To further illustrate the importance of this point, the directors held a “Sister Summit,” said DiSalvo, where every woman on the team brought in their sister to sit and talk about what it was like living with a sister. This provided a wealth of information to everyone on the crew and helped solidify in their minds the type of relationship they wanted Elsa and Anna to experience.

Time Waits For No One 

Another major challenge was the release schedule. Originally slated for a 2014 release, the studio made the decision to release the film a year early in order for Frozen to be released for the Thanksgiving season, and to give Disney’s next animated release, Big Hero 6 a chance to shine during the following holiday season.

“When we went from 14 to 13 everybody freaked out,” said DiSalvo. “When we calmed down, we figured out how we were going to do this.” They succeeded in finishing the film by being efficient, said DiSalvo, solidifying the story, making solid acting choices, and overall working with some of the most talented individuals in the industry.

Life at Walt Disney Animation Studios 

Audience members got a rare look into the inner workings of the Disney studio in Burbank, including photos of the story room, animator’s offices and the coup de resistance, a giant ‘A’ where animators who have completed their first film sign their names alongside revered Disney veterans like Glen Keane.

“The building says animation but it should say collaboration because that’s what we do,” said Unten.

DiSalvo explained the process of filmmaking at the studio, starting first with the three touchstones of what Disney strives for in all of its films: compelling stories, believable worlds and appealing characters. He also touched on five aspects of the making of Frozen that were crucial during the visual development, story and animation processes. These five enabled the artists to stay true to the character of the film and create a compelling story.

Truth in Acting 

“Truth in Acting, “ said DiSalvo, “was the most repeated phrase during the entire production.” Disney brought in an acting coach who helped the staff delve into what defined each of the characters on screen. This included imagining the lives of the characters before and after each incident in the film. By pulling the bits and pieces from the characters lives, the artists were then able to achieve a stronger emotional core for Elsa, Anna and the other characters.

Along with working with an acting coach, the staff also hosted “Inside the Actor Studio” sessions with the voice actors, taking notes and recording how they sang so they could infuse the same level of resonance and emotion in the animated characters. The acting sessions with the acting coach along with working closely with the voice actors, as well as the animators acting out and thumbnailing character moments themselves, allow the heroines, heroes and villains of the film to be fully fleshed out characters instead of caricatures.

Casting and the Emotional Crescendo Board 

The film crew created a “crescendo board,” said DiSalvo, a literal board mapping out the conflict and resolution of every scene in the film. This allowed them to track the highs and lows experienced by the characters so that they could build to pivotal sequences in the film without giving away too much information early on. It was crucial to follow the board to ensure that the artists build up the character to a specific emotion.

“The goal is believability,” said DiSalvo. “We don’t want it to be real. We want it to be believable.”

Research 

Every film requires hands on research, especially one set in a world of snow and ice. Disney sent the animators to Wyoming to explore what it would truly be like to live in a snow-covered kingdom. This led to crazy scenarios, including the animators tromping around in full length wool skirts to see just how difficult it would be for Anna to maneuver around. They also held races in the snow and soon discovered that it is incredibly difficult to run in knee-deep snow without falling on your face.

Hand-drawn and CG Tests 

Collaboration with hand drawn artists, according to DiSalvo, is one of the most fun things about the film-making process.

The story team, visual development artists and animators worked closely together to flesh out the character arcs of the characters in the film. Among the many artists who helped flesh out the characters were Bill Scwab and Jin Kim, who DiSalvo credited for helping to bring some of the great expressions of the characters to life.

Elsa character designs by Jin Kim

 

Anna character designs by Jin Kim

The animators then went on to create screen tests to show the emotional range of the characters. These tests were later used as teaser trailers, including the ones below for Elsa, Olaf, Kristoff and Sven.

Acting in Animation 

“If you can capture that little truth you’re on your way to something honest there,” DiSalvo said about the acting process. Each day the animators gathered in a room to watch the dailies, where the supervisors and directors watched their shots and gave notes. It was in dailies where DiSalvo and the team could analyze the acting, subtext and gesture of the characters to make sure that they flowed well within the story. “As animators we flesh out what the character is thinking and feeling,” said Unten.

“If there’s no heart behind the animation, then you’re just animating for the sake of animating,” said DiSalvo. For this reason the analysis went beyond the typical animation critique, which often focuses more on mechanics, such as fixing pops and improving arcs, and more about the acting.

Bringing the Characters to Life 

The high attention to acting and drama paid off for one of the most pivotal turning points in the film, the ‘Let It Go’ sequence, when Elsa transforms from Queen of Arendelle to the Snow Queen herself. Unten spent five weeks animating the sequence, spending his days supervising his animation team and his nights animating the sequence.

“Each of us has different methods,” said Unten, “but the goal is the same, to create amazing characters.” His method included watching recording sessions with Tony award-winning actress and voice of Elsa Idina Menzel, acting out expressions himself, thumbnailing his ideas, animating the sequence, receiving notes from COO of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios John Lasseter, and animating again. It is a painstaking process, but one deserving of the time.

“It’s not just a music video, every line means something,” said Unten.

Parting Words 

The evening ended with DiSalvo and his team fielding questions from the eager members of the audience, who included everyone from students and professionals to small children.

DiSalvo gave a particularly good piece of advice to students, who are often inundated with cynicism from the industry.

“These movies are a hard journey,” said DiSalvo, and he credited the talent of his staff for making Disney a great place to work and make films.

“I think Frozen is a great example of artists believing in each other,” said DiSalvo.

And it is this belief that will continue to inspire future artists and animators the world over.

Special thanks to Walt Disney Animation Studios, the Walt Disney Family Museum, Head of Animation Lino DiSalvo,  Animator Amy Smeed, Animation Supervisors Wayne Unten and Jason Figliozzi and Walt Disney Animation Studios Director of Talent and Development and Outreach and Women in Animation Secretary Dawn Rivera-Ernster for this excellent event.

And for more info on Women in Animation San Francisco visit our Facebook Page at:
https://www.facebook.com/wiasf

and Twitter at:
https://twitter.com/WIASanFrancisco

 

Pixar Storyboard Class ANM 499 – My Story

Storyboard Class, Storyboarding, Storyboards

This semester I am taking ANM 372 Drawing for Features Storyboarding with Disney Story Artist Tamara Lusher-Stocker. I am chronicling my experience on the blog for myself and for those interested in learning more about storytelling. I highly recommend trying your hand at the assignments we were given. Happy boarding!

For our final Pixar Storyboard Class, we told a personal real life, true story. This is a crazy tale that comes directly from my experience in Elmhurst, New York circa 2007. It’s also the reason why I have no interest in watching Breaking Bad.
Enjoy!

Pixar Storyboard Class ANM 499 – Toy Story Wildflower Round Up Short

Storyboard Class, Storyboarding, Storyboards

This semester I am taking ANM 372 Drawing for Features Storyboarding with Disney Story Artist Tamara Lusher-Stocker. I am chronicling my experience on the blog for myself and for those interested in learning more about storytelling. I highly recommend trying your hand at the assignments we were given. Happy boarding!

Hello all you find storyboard fans out there.
Today I bring you the boards from my Toy Story short I created for my Pixar Storyboard Class – Wildflower Round Up.
When Buzz and Rex set off to find a beautiful flower in Bonnie’s backyard, they get more than they bargained for!
Enjoy!

Pixar Storyboard Class – Toy Story Beat Boards

Academy of Art University, Pixar Storyboard Class, Storyboard Class, Storyboarding, Storyboards

This semester I am taking ANM 499 Digital Storyboarding for Feature Animation with Pixar Story Artist Kristen Lester. I am chronicling my experience on the blog for myself and for those interested in learning more about storytelling. I highly recommend trying your hand at the assignments we were given, as well as watching the films assigned. Happy boarding!

For our second to last assignment, we were tasked to create our very own Toy Story short. I greatly enjoyed this assignment, as Toy Story is my favorite film of the Pixar Canon (Wall*E and Monsters U are in a close tie for second).

We had to come up with five short ideas and five beat boards for each.

Camp Out
In the story Camp Out, Bonnie and the toys are camping in the backyard. Trixie decides to go on an adventure and ropes Rex to come and join her. They are captured by a band of toys who were left outside too long and have gone feral as a result. After Rex and Trixie defeat the leader in a series of challenges, they become the rulers of the backyard.

 

A Very Potato Head Christmas
Mr. Potato Head hates everything to do with Christmas – the lights, the sounds, the wrapping paper, everything gets on his last nerve. He heads up to the attic for some peace and quiet and to wait out the holiday. While up there, he stumbles upon the Christmas toys, who share with him how fortunate he is to get to spend time with Bonnie, her family and the other toys all year around. Once Potato Head realizes how fortunate he really is, he comes to love Christmas.

 

Summer Showdown
Bonnie and Buttercup are enjoying a day at the beach, but start arguing with Bonnie’s cousin Troy and his Seahorse toy. They both enter a sand castle building contest, but realize that they can only win if they work together. Once they join forces, they build the best castle on the beach, and Bonnie, her cousin and her toys learn a great lesson – two heads are better than one!

 

Super Chop!
Hamm is tired of always being the villain and decides to be the hero for once by becoming Super Chop! Along with his sidekick Rex, the Dino Wonder, they play out their fantasies as super heroes. But when Dolly and Buttercup are accidentally thrown in the washing machine, only Super Chop and the Dino Wonder can save them.

 

Wildflower Round-Up
After listening to a gallant and romantic story about a magical flower, Buzz decides to venture into the backyard to get a flower for Jessie to show her how much he cares. What he doesn’t count on though is the giant rabbit guarding the treasure.

After presenting our ideas, our classmates voted on the two I liked best. The consensus was Wildflower Round-Up. I personally liked the Christmas Story better, but Wildflower proved to have more comedic opportunities. Tune in next time to see the full story!

Drawing for Features ANM 372 Final Weeks: The Weather Assignment

Academy of Art University, Storyboard Class, Storyboarding, Storyboards

This semester I am taking ANM 372 Drawing for Features Storyboarding with Disney Story Artist Tamara Lusher-Stocker. I am chronicling my experience on the blog for myself and for those interested in learning more about storytelling. I highly recommend trying your hand at the assignments we were given. Happy boarding!

For our final assignment we were challenged to tell a story about the weather. Prior to coming to school, I had an idea about a group of characters who band together to find the missing princess of their realm. One of the characters, Echo, the future leader of the group, meets one of the other characters, a Hamadryad, when she is saved from a group of ruffians.

In order to have my much larger tale work for this class assignment, I changed the seasons so that I could draw the forest during a snowstorm (hence the weather part) and shortened the sequence so that I could finish in three weeks.

The result is Winter’s End, one of my most ambitious boards to date. Enjoy!

Drawing for Features Storyboarding ANM 372 Week 8, 9 and 10: Scene from Quest from the Soul Stone

Academy of Art University, ANM 372, Storyboard Class, Storyboarding, Storyboards, Thesis, Thesis Project

This semester I am taking ANM 372 Drawing for Features Storyboarding with Disney Story Artist Tamara Lusher-Stocker. I am chronicling my experience on the blog for myself and for those interested in learning more about storytelling. I highly recommend trying your hand at the assignments we were given. Happy boarding!

Our assignment for three weeks in November was to create an action adventure story.  One of the great things about taking a directed study class is that you can use your thesis project for some of your homework assignments, as long as it fits the requirements. I chose one of my three thesis ideas which is chock full of action – Quest for the Soul Stone, an original live action adventure film I wrote prior to coming to the Academy.  It tells the story of a young priestess Elomere who, along with her dragon/human friend Arek, set off to find the cure for a supernatural plague that besieges their empire.

In this sequence the intrepid Elomere and Arek are flying through the Crags of Navor when they are attacked by a pair of bloodthirsty Gryphons. I will be working on this story and drawings throughout this semester, as well as creating an animatic for it.

Here is the latest version of the story. Enjoy!

Pixar Storyboard Class Weeks 8 and 9 – Red Samurai

Academy of Art University, Storyboard Class, Storyboarding, Storyboards

This semester I am taking ANM 499 Digital Storyboarding for Feature Animation with Pixar Story Artist Kristen Lester. I am chronicling my experience on the blog for myself and for those interested in learning more about storytelling. I highly recommend trying your hand at the assignments we were given, as well as watching the films assigned. Happy boarding!

For this assignment, we were given the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and tasked with creating our own version in a different genre. As I saw thinking about what version I wanted, two ideas came to mind: spy films and samurai. Originally I intended to create a Little Red Riding Hood spy caper, but the more I thought about it, the more I envisioned a great film a la Akira Kurosawa.

To prepare, I watched the following amazing films:

Machiko_Kyo_in_Rashomon

Rashomon

ran

Ran

sanjuro

Sanjuro

 

throneofblood2

Throne of Blood

If you want to watch films with great cinematography, story and emotional depth, these are your films. They are also quite dark — darker than I anticipated. Basically, they chronicle the folly of man. Definitely not feel good movies of the year. But great films don’t have to be!

Using that as my template, I created my version of Red Riding Hood I call — Red Samurai. Sherrie Sinclair, the director of the 2D grad program and my mentor Rosie gave me some great advice after I showed them the finished product, and I look forward to revisiting this story in the future.

Until then, enjoy!

Film images courtesy of:
www.filmsondisc.com
www.filmschoolrejects.com
www.cvltnation.com
www.dvdactive.com

Pixar Storyboard Class Weeks 6 and 7: Indiana Jones Returns!

Academy of Art University, Storyboard Class, Storyboarding, Storyboards

This semester I am taking ANM 499 Digital Storyboarding for Feature Animation with Pixar Story Artist Kristen Lester. I am chronicling my experience on the blog for myself and for those interested in learning more about storytelling. I highly recommend trying your hand at the assignments we were given, as well as watching the films assigned. Happy boarding!

Gravity

This week’s assignment was to watch the film Gravity. I LOVE THIS MOVIE. Hands down this film and Frozen were the two best films I saw in 2013. Sandra Bullock gives the performance of her career as Dr. Ryan Stone, who along with Matt Kowalski (played by the always marvelous George Clooney) are installing a device of Bullock’s creation when everything goes horrifically wrong. The story, visuals and especially the sound are particularly compelling. In fact, the soundtrack is perhaps the best part of the show. The music entertains and frightens at the same time.

I saw the film both in 3D and 2D. I highly recommend that you see it before it comes out on DVD. It’s not going to the same experience on a television set as it is on a gigantic screen.

BullockThe reason why this film works so marvelously well in my opinion is because of the excellence of the drama — it leads the audience and draws you in and forces you into the excitement. You are also compelled by Sandra Bullock’s story — you realize that she doesn’t even WANT to be in space, and she in a few short moments becomes the lone survivor who must put aside her personal demons to save herself. External and internal conflicts abound. ASTOUNDING.

Story + Where It’s Set + How It’s Shot = Great Movie, and Gravity fulfills all of those requirements.

And now for the main event, the lesson for the day. And this day we learned about
The Tools of Composition

  • Subject Size
  • Point of Focus
  • Contrast
  • Location within frame
  • Clear Silhouette
  • Horizontals
  • Verticals
  • Diagonals

I bold the last one because it is something that I remind myself of constantly. If you want some terrific examples of how to create a clear silhouette, watch any film by Akira Kurosawa.

All of these are important because they are used to lead the eye to where you want your audience to look. Compositional tools also help the audience know what is happening and help you as an artist make sure that the background is not competing with your characters.

Getting into more detail, Horizontal lines typically mean that everything in the scene is in statis and calm.

Diagonals imply that there is a dynamism to the shot, because it mimics motion.

Verticals imply stiffness, or formality. For example, a la Gilbert Huph from The Incredibles:

GilbertHuph

 

 

 

 

image from doblu.com

The Golden Ration — the epitome of showing people where you want to look. According to LiveScience.com:

“The Golden ratio is a special number found by dividing a line into two parts so that the longer part divided by the smaller part is also equal to the whole length divided by the longer part. It is often symbolized using phi, after the 21st letter of the Greek alphabet. In an equation form, it looks like this: a/b = (a+b)/a = 1.6180339887498948420 …”

– See more at: http://www.livescience.com/37704-phi-golden-ratio.html#sthash.ebdNnsOm.dpuf

Visually, the Golden Ratio looks like this:

goldenratioImage from underpaintings.blogspot.com

And to see real examples from nature of the Golden Ratio, check out io9’s site: http://io9.com/5985588/15-uncanny-examples-of-the-golden-ratio-in-nature

Basically, the Golden Ratio and the Rule of Thirds are quite similar, so think of them when you are creating your boards to create interesting and easy to read shots. As long as you ask yourself “Where do I want viewers to look?” you will have a better time creating the types of shots that you want.

In short, the tools of composition will show you WHAT is important and WHAT the scene is about.

Finally, the best thing I learned from weeks 6 and 7 was a concept called the Area of Action.

That and the Indiana Jones boards coming to you soon…

 

Gravity poster from horrornews.net
Sandra Bullock picture from johnnoshark-reviews.com

Drawing for Features Storyboarding ANM 372 Week 6 and 7: Emmeline Wilshire’s House

Academy of Art University, ANM 372, Storyboard Class, Storyboarding, Storyboards

This semester I am taking ANM 372 Drawing for Features Storyboarding with Disney Story Artist Tamara Lusher-Stocker. I am chronicling my experience on the blog for myself and for those interested in learning more about storytelling. I highly recommend trying your hand at the assignments we were given. Happy boarding!

This week our assignment was to create a horror story from a singular point of view. I’m not the biggest fan of horror story because they scare the crud out of me. But I do like suspense stories and ghostly/non-grisly stories. And it’s for a grade, so I’m not forfeiting my chance to do something new. So for my story, I decided to tell the tale about a camera crew investigating an abandoned mansion for a television documentary and being scared out of their wits.

Enjoy!