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No Business Like Snow Business for Alum

Animation Work on Disney's 'Frozen' a Dream Come True

March 19, 2014

Alumnus Wayne Unten was the animation supervisor of "Elsa," the snow queen of Disney's Oscar-winning animated film, "Frozen." Image Courtesy of Disney

For Cal State Fullerton alumnus and Disney animator Wayne Unten, it will be some time before he "lets go" of the Oscar-winning Disney movie "Frozen."

Unten '03 (B.F.A. art-entertainment art/animation) was the animation supervisor on "Elsa," the snow queen, for the $1 billion-grossing hit movie that won Oscars for best animated feature and best original song for "Let It Go."

"For me, 'Frozen' winning the Oscar was the confirmation that we, at the Walt Disney Animation Studios, created a film that entertains and resonates with audiences. We've created characters that audiences love," said Unten, who joined Disney in 2005 and has worked on other films such as "Tangled" and "Wreck-it-Ralph."

"'Frozen' is my favorite project to date. I loved every moment bringing Elsa to life, and my two girls, ages 2 and 5, love 'Frozen' as well."

Unten helped to supervise the animation and acting performances with his primary focus on Elsa, who is described by Disney as "poised, regal and reserved, but in reality, she lives in fear as she wrestles with a mighty secret — she was born with the power to create ice and snow."

"I made sure her performance was consistent and specific to her character," said Unten, adding there were 70 animators animating various characters in the movie.

Other Titans worked on "Frozen," including Joy Johnson, a character technical director (digital puppet-maker); and Miyuki (Kanno) Long, an animator. Both Johnson and Long earned B.F.A.-art-entertainment art/animation degrees in 2008. Unten and Johnson won the Visual Effects Society award for Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Feature Motion Picture for their work to bring Elsa to life.

What has it been like to work at Disney?

Working at Walt Disney Animation Studios has been a dream come true. It has been a privilege to entertain audiences — making them laugh and cry. It's the most satisfying feeling ever.

What was your role as a "Frozen" animator?

As the animation supervisor, I worked with a team of artists from different departments to help create Elsa, including Joy, an artist who builds digital puppets of characters. It's important for animation to work closely with digital puppet-makers, so the animators have all the necessary articulation controls at their disposal to create a believable, engaging performance for audiences to enjoy.

What does it mean to you to create a character like Elsa?

Aside from the Youtube videos of fans covering the song "Let It Go," there have been several emotional stories that have made their way back to us at the studio. Hearing people relate to Elsa's story and how the message of "Let It Go" has literally made an impact on their lives, just overwhelms me.

What effect has Elsa and the movie had on people?

Songwriter Kristen Lopez shared a story with us she had heard of a child receiving chemotherapy treatments and being comforted by the whole family singing "Let It Go." In a interview with the directors, a parent thanked them for making their daughter, who has cerebral palsy and rarely shows emotion, laugh at the sight of "Olaf," the friendly and funny snowman. The family posted a video and you can't help but well up with tears. So after hearing those stories, winning the Oscars, and the fact that "Frozen" passed the $1 billion-dollar mark in worldwide box office sales on the same day as the Oscars, feels like confirmation that audiences love the film.

How did your CSUF education prepare you for a career in animation?

I'm so thankful for my experience at CSUF. The faculty has a passion for animation and I learned so much from them — both artistically and professionally. They taught me how to transition from an art student to a professional working in the animation industry. But what I'm most grateful for during my education at CSUF is the relationships formed with fellow classmates who also love animation. It was a great bonding experience as we were all helping each other out as we were learning our craft. Many of my classmates are currently working in the industry and most of us still keep in contact.

What advice can you give to student animators?

My advice to future animators is to soak up the knowledge that CSUF faculty and other students have to offer — and make the most of that experience. Work together on projects, form relationships with fellow passionate students, critique each other's work and grow together.

Media Contact:

Debra Cano Ramos 


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