Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Frozen - Elsa


I'm an Ariel girl. That really isn't news to anyone who has frequented this blog, but if you are a new visitor - there you go! The Little Mermaid landed on my lap when I was very small and deeply and profoundly changed me. Everything about her was everything that I wanted to grow up to be, and it thoroughly annoyed me for most of my life that I did not have luscious red locks with anti-gravity bangs. Or fins.

Final Elsa design

And then Elsa. When I initially started working on Frozen, Elsa was a very different character. She was moody, more jealous, and the only part of her that I could really relate to was the fact that she was an older sister. The more the story team finessed her and her motivations, though, the more I realized that I am more like Elsa than I ever was like Ariel. When you have fancied yourself as a bubbly mermaid for most of your life, the realization that you are actually more of a snow queen kind of hits you like a ton of ice-bricks. 


The images  above illustrate the transformation in Elsa's silhouette and palette.

Thus the experience of working with her throughout the making of this film was an extremely personal one. Elsa walks a fine line between being a distant and a sympathetic character, and I wanted to contribute in any way that I possibly could to make sure that audiences would love her and understand her the way that I already did. In a weird way working with her was an exercise in self-preservation.



One of the first assignments I received on Elsa was a redesign of her hair. She had initially been designed with a sharper silhouette, but as her character changed it became apparent that her style needed to be refreshed. We wanted something for her that was more approachable, more romantic, but that still retained some Norwegian ethnicity. Oh, and magical - it would be great if it was magical, too.


First pass at Elsa's braid.

Final braid design.

After many passes and many meetings spent discussing what hairstyles say about personalities, the above braid emerged as the winner. There is a flame-like quality to it that I loved when put into juxtaposition with her ice-powers. It is fragile but sharp (like she is), and also no-nonsense. Elsa doesn't have time to fuss with her hair - she just freezes it in place and gets on with the show.




And then there is that dress. What I wouldn't give for someone to ice-magic me that dress. Just like Elsa herself, her dress went through many, many iterations until it finally felt right for our girl. When this dress materializes, Elsa is at her most confident. She is open and free after years of controlling and containing all of her emotions. Since costumes should be designed to support the character, this dress needed to be a glorious breathe of relief.





Once we had snow queen Elsa figured out, we had to work backwards to establish who she is when we first meet her. Before her coronation, Elsa holds everything in. She is controlled and contained. Her initial braided bun reflects that, as well as her coronation dress and cape. She is quite literally the pillar of strength that the people of her kingdom need her to be, and yet she is completely closed off from them.


All images are property of Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Two years passed from the first time I worked on Elsa until the actual release of the film,  and she went through a tremendous amount of changes during that time. I am so happy about where she landed and so honored to have been given the chance to work with her.  Ariel still holds a special place in my heart, but if I am honest with myself... I am an Elsa girl.

More Frozen and other posts to come. Have a wonderful week!

53 comments:

Miss-Manitas said...

So identified with you... Elsa and Ariel

Kristen Reeves said...

I love these so much! I never want them to end. :)

Manelle Oliphant said...

This is a great post. I know a few little girls that are now having the same experience with Elsa that you had with Ariel. I love that artists can create things that change people's lives in such a great way.

Holly Fedderman said...

Gorgeous! I really love the design choices that went into her and seeing how she evolved is really special. Thanks for showing!

karolina foligowska said...

Your drawings are just breathtaking! So wonderful! I am Elsa girl too. And also have wanted to work for Disney since I was a little girl. Maybe someday this happens;)

Lilly Durrant said...

Beautiful concept art! And great explanations about how the character's personality influenced the designs :)

lala said...

Thank you for sharing your work on Frozen, it's very intersting to see all the process and the evolution of the designs.
(and my name is Elsa, so i'm glad you line me ;) )

Chelle said...

Gorgeous. Hey maybe you're a bit of both of those royal ladies. Reckon you will make any paper art of frozen? I sure miss those!

Fernanda Dias said...

You did it Brittney !! My dream to see you making something wonderful for a movie like that, came true ^^! You are an inspiration for all of us!

Nathan H. Boyd said...

Amazing work! I can honestly say that I'm an Ariel and Elsa GUY! :)

Roberta Tedeschi said...

Thank you for sharing all these wonderful art, it's great to be able to have a look at this material :)

arliz3 said...

yo puedo leer el ingles pero me es un poco complicado escribirlo, la gramática, espero que puedas leer mi comentario aun en español.
Eres un gran artista tu estilo de arte me encanta, el sorprendente ver la transformación de Elsa hasta su diseño final y como cada objeto contribuye a su carácter. Creo que también soy una chica Elsa jeje :)

Andrea K Haid said...

Even though Elsa's ice queen shoes are on screen for a limited time, I noticed them and they are gorgeous! I love her design, it really fits her character. Beautiful work!!!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GDkitty said...

Absolutely beautiful and breathtaking! Brittney you are so lucky to have been able to work and help bring Frozen to life.

Anyone else looking for more of Brittney Lee's Frozen work, try to pick up a copy of the children's book:

A Sister More Like Me

Fully illustrated by Brittany, with some WONDERFUL drawings!

linnette from paperglitter.com said...

It is quite an honor to view your posts about your fabulous contributions in this film. I have a daughter-she's 5. She is in love with Elsa. often speaks about her design and the way she looks (I am a designer so she is familiar with these kinds of observations/terminology). She carries her Elsa doll everywhere we go . I showed her your posts and her eyes lit up with excitement. She wants to draw characters just like you :) Thank you for this wonderful post Brittney and for inspiring my daughter.

xo


Linnette

Meridth Gimbel said...

I've been following your blog since before your Disney days. Your work is incredible and absolutely inspirational. Thanks for all the posts!

Petra van Berkum said...

SO pretty :D

Jazzyfizz8 said...

I was already thinking of you every time I see that character, from seeing the art in the art book and this is awesome information. I actually prefer the character of Elsa because she's complex, and I really love the character traits in this movie, you guys have done such an amazing job, the characters seem more human. Plus I love that she is blonde! This blog is brilliant!! Thank you for sharing! :)

DoReDani said...

This is sooooo interesting to read and beautiful to watch! Thank you a lot for taking us behind the work of FROZEN!

I totally can understand your inner fight with Ariel and Elsa! But for me there's no one who can keep up with Ariel. =)

Looking SO forward to more posts!

Matt Hunter Ross said...

so so good

Martha Balieiro said...

Wonderful! I love when you talk about the creation of frozen! Very interesting!

Sui said...

Hi Brittney, loving your work and I just want to know something. You mentioned that Elsa was more jealous, I didn't felt she seemed jealous but what part did she conveyed that in the movie, I just want to understand it more, thanks.

Lynnetta said...

Love your Frozen posts! I own one of your prints (Paris Print) and your Confetti book, and I am so proud of your accomplishments. Is that weird to be proud of someone you've never met? Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us!

Joni said...

I think my heart sighs and dances and grips whenever I come across another one of your posts. BEAUTIFUL art. Also, you sharing about your personal attachment to the pieces makes it all the more moving- and relatable. Thank you for posting these! I'm looking forward to more! ^^

Anonymous said...

Me maravillan tus dibujos, la manera en que reflejás cada aspecto de los personajes y el talento sorprendente que dejan tus manos (y, evidentemente, tu alma)
Gracias por la oportunidad de conocer más a Elsa y conocerte un poquito más a través de ella. Un abrazo emocionado desde la Patagonia Argentina! Vanina

Jennie said...

Your art is amazing and I've always been an Ariel fan too. Until Elsa that is. I'm happy to have a new Disney character that I adore above all others and I thank you for this wonderful peek into your world. Fascinating.

Heather Holden said...

Such gorgeous artwork of Elsa! I can relate to this character so well. Kinda makes me wish I had Frozen growing up!

Ella said...

your job is just amazaing ...

Nicolette Davenport said...

It's so wonderful to read about your experience on the film and seeing your beautiful development pieces. Such an inspiration, thank you for sharing.

And I hope I can one day buy those ice crystal slipper heels.

Aelfeth said...

I'm definetely an Elsa girl too. I'm 25 and this movie made me sync again with the little disney girl I was/am.

I draw a bit too and I just can't have too much Frozen concept art, and I'm especially in love with your work. How hard should have been to choose among all those gorgeous hair does! (wish the image was a bit bigger).

Keep up with the good work and inspiring others.

Erelief said...

Hi Brittney, I'm a Chinese animator and I want to translate this post into Chinese and post it on a Chinese website. May I get your authorization? Hope for your reply.

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Fishing Rod Holders said...

Great post. It really beautiful photography. I love that. Its very charming for us. Thanks for your nice post.

Monica Grue said...

Beautiful work!! So inspiring.

Marion Parajes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marion Parajes said...

I bet it would feel just absolutely amazing to be a huge part of something that had touched so many lives!

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to more about Elsa -- she is now my favorite Disney character. So glad I stumbled onto your blog. I love it! Thank you.

Oh, Dinosaur! said...

you've probably seen this, but here is elsa's dress in real life - this young designer/dress maker's work is awesome.

http://doxiequeen1.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/elsa-the-snow-queen-photos/

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kapperbeast said...

there wouldnt happen to be a higher resolution version of this image?
http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-y8rguKXWvno/UvFPrV9FytI/AAAAAAAABFw/irWQId-4Vb4/s1600/Elsa_01.jpg

Lorena Stone said...

That is incredible! I love it! It's good to see how much effort you guys put to bring Frozen to life and I thought it wasn't possible but I'm falling in love with it deeper and deeper :)

Annie said...

nice collection~~

http://www.ccchinachic.com/products/home-products/toys/tv-movie-character-toys/disney-movie-frozen-character-pattern-pillow-two-side-pattern-5377.html

Brittany D. said...

Thank you for the comment on Ariel's gravity-defying bangs! It's not just me! I remember striving for that look all through elementary school.

Blakeney said...

Hi Brittany! Seconding Fernanda Dias' comment...congratulations are well deserved - how exciting to be a major part of Disney history!

I'm embarrassed to ask this but I'm really curious...how do you keep the creativity fresh? After the 5th or 6th revision, I think I would be fresh out of different ideas for how to shape the hair or style the clothes. How do you keep coming up with new ways to tweak the concepts?

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Lucas Ting said...

Wonderful post! Gorgeous! Amazing! If you are a fan of Frozen, do purchase the book Frozen at the right side at my blog!

hopy said...


the pictures are lovely, it's the characters very young favorite, the lovely princess in gorgeous dresses glamorous, youthful with compassion, compassion. That is what in my eyes when I think about the fairy tale.

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Hi! I´m from Norway and in case you didn't know Rosemaling can actually translate into "Painting of roses". "Maling" means painting :) i don´t know why you don´t translate it (they don´t do it in the behind the scenes from Frozen either) but anyway, that´s what it means!

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lilyjoy said...

Elsa is now my favorite Disney character. Frozen the snow queen Elsa Cosplay Costume is one of the most beautiful cosplay costume that I ever seen...