Disney animator Wayne Unten ’03 (B.F.A. entertainment art-animation) admits he had trouble letting go when he completed his work on the 2013 hit film “Frozen.”
Years later, the opportunity to revisit Queen Elsa of Arendelle in a sequel left him somewhere in the zone of elated.
“When production on the first film ended, it was hard to say goodbye to a character that I spent years working on,” he says. “So it was a joy to spend more time with her on this new journey and see how she’s matured and grown.”
In “Frozen 2,” which hits theaters Nov. 22, Elsa and friends embark on a new journey to discover the origin of her magical powers. The film follows the success of “Frozen,” which garnered Golden Globe and Academy awards for “Best Animated Feature Film” and is the second-highest grossing animated film of all time, after Disney’s 2019 “The Lion King.”
Letting the Film Grow
Reprising his role as animation supervisor for the character Elsa, Unten worked with character technical directors to build rigs, or digital puppets. He established guidelines for how Elsa should move, including a library of character poses for the animators to use, and was in charge of the “Elsa-centric” sequences.
“As animators, we’re always trying to improve our skills from project to project,” says Unten. “In order to create the illusion of life, we’re constantly studying and analyzing from life.”
In preparation for “Frozen 2,” Unten’s team worked with vocal coaches to learn proper singing techniques, visited an equestrian center to study horse mannerisms and invited a professional dancer to teach them about the Martha Graham method of modern dance.
“Learning what the body does while singing helps inform our choices when we animate the characters during their songs,” explains Unten. “We studied modern dance as inspiration for when Elsa casts her magic.”
Building an Animation Career
Unten credits his alma mater for giving him the tools and experiences necessary to develop a career in animation.
“I’m so grateful for my education at CSUF,” he shares. “I gained a well-rounded experience, as the curriculum exposed me to the many specialized positions of the industry, such as story, layout, character design and character animation.”
Through CSUF’s Pencil Mileage Club, Unten and aspiring animators would study films frame by frame, critique each other’s work and help each other grow.
“I met so many good friends with a common love for animation within that group. We learned so much and had fun doing it,” he reminisces. “When you find a job at a studio, you later learn that collaboration is an important aspect of an animation production, so in a way, the PMC prepared me for that spirit of camaraderie.”
Heartfelt stories from people who love the “Frozen” characters make Unten especially excited for the sequel to debut on the big screen.
“I can’t wait for audiences to laugh and cry with these characters again,” he says. “For me, the anticipation is similar to you knowing there’s an amazing present you’re going to give someone, and you can’t wait for them to open it.”