While I (along with the rest of the world) am very familiar with Frozen, I’d never really looked into how they animated the movie. I knew it was CGI, and I knew the basics of how they created the people in the movie, but I had ignored one major aspect: the snow.

Since their creation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in 1937, Disney has studied movement in order to create realistic-looking animation. With Snow White, it was studying the movements of a young woman, like walking and dancing; with The Lion King it was studying how lions move; and with Frozen, it was the movement of snow.

There was no software ready-made that would create the visual effects with snow that they wanted, so they had to start from scratch. They assembled a team of people (led by art director Michael Giaimo) to go study snow and figure out how to recreate it. Not only was it a new concept to tackle, it was a complicated one – snow comes in a huge number of varieties: powdery snow, wet snow, icy snow, etc. They had to figure out things like how snowballs looked when thrown against a wall and what it looks like to walk through the snow in a long skirt. While they didn’t have much time to make the deadline, Giaimo and his team put in considerable effort in making the snow look like it belonged in “a believable world.”

The art team also went to Quebec, Canada to visit the Ice Hotel as part of their research.
The art team also went to Quebec, Canada to visit the Ice Hotel as part of their research.

The above video includes an explanation of the algorithms used (which I fully admit I do not understand at all) as well as shots of the animation in action. It even includes formulas above some of the animations, often side-by-side, to show how changing certain variables effects how the snow looks.

Frozen was released in 2013 and was produced by Peter Del Vecho.

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