Disney’s FROZEN – Do You Want to RIG A Snowman?

FROZEN has won two Oscars (Best Animated Feature Film and Best Original Song for “Let It Go” and earned over $1B worldwide (nearly $400,000,000 domestically and over $600,000,000 overseas).  This post (second in a series of three about the making of FROZEN) takes you through a rigging demo.  Click here for Part 1 of the series, and follow this link for my spoiler-free review of Disney’s FROZEN.

Disney's FROZEN Rigging

Do you know what rigging is?  I thought I did.  When I first learned that I’d be involved in a rigging demo, I imagined myself strapped into a harness and soaring over a stage like Mary Martin in Peter Pan (for younger readers, think Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible; for even younger readers, think ziplining), so you can imagine my surprise when we were all seated at desks covered with computers and monitors.

Disney's FROZEN Rigging

Walt Disney Animation Studios rigging animation team for Disney’s FROZEN

It turns out that rigging is the term for manipulation of 3D animated characters – giving boneless creations the structure (rigging) for movement.  We learned about skeletal rigging (moving the body parts) and facial rigging (moving the face).  Frank Hanner, Character CG Supervisor, gave us an introduction on the process.  For FROZEN, there were 312 character rigs, 245 clothing rigs (more than twice as many clothing rigs as all other Disney animated films combined) and 63 hair rigs.

Disney uses a software program called Flourish to do character rigging.  It allows them to give life to even small details like tassels, stirrups and even the small branches that make up Olaf’s hair.  To give you an idea of just how crucial rigging is, this is what happens if you try to move a character across the screen without rigging:

Disney's FROZEN Rigging

Disney used a hair grooming software called Tonic to rig the hair for FROZEN.  Rather than having to rig hair strand by strand, Tonic allowed riggers to clump the hair, enabling them to make braids and that fabulous scene of Anna with bed head.  We learned a fascinating fact about Elsa’s hair, too.  She has 420,000 hairs.  For comparison, the average human has 100,000 hairs.  Rapunzel, she of the 70 feet of hair, had a mere 30,000.

Disney's FROZEN Rigging

Keith Wilson, Character TD Supervisor (aka Character Simulation Supervisor), took us through the clothing rigging.  For the clothing, they used a pattern-based approach, starting with foundation garments and working their way out.  The software allows them to replicate the movement of the different textures and types of fabric, giving a more realistic appearance in the films.

Disney's FROZEN RiggingDisney's FROZEN RiggingDisney's FROZEN Rigging

Now for the fun part!  It’s demo time!  It wasn’t quite as fun as zipling across a stage would have been, but we were seated at computers for a reason.  We were presented with Olaf on one screen and a complicated Olaf-shaped schematic on the other screen.

Disney's FROZEN RiggingDisney's FROZEN Rigging

Gregory Smith, Rigging Supervisor, gave us a brief explanation of how clicking this makes that move and clicking that resets it, we were given control of our own little Olaf.   I tried to make Olaf wink and came up with this.

Disney's FROZEN Rigging

One of the riggers saw what I was doing and suggested some subtle little changes.

Disney's FROZEN Rigging

Can you see the difference?  In the second image, Olaf’s left eyebrow is raised, giving the wink a more realistic appearance.

Disney's FROZEN Rigging

See?  Even Olaf is amazed!

Side note:  the Studios were decorated all over with FROZEN images – one of my favorites was the set of banners hanging in the rigging room.

Disney's FROZEN Rigging

As we posted about previously, Adventures by Daddy was invited to Hollywood (where temperatures were well above freezing, a welcome break from the Polar Vortex ravaging New York!) for behind-the-scenes access to several Disney films (FROZEN, THE PIRATE FAIRY, and SAVING MR. BANKS).   In the first FROZEN post, we shared the story behind the story of FROZEN via the storytellers.  In the next FROZEN post, we’ll share our voice-over experience.

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Disclosure: Disney Home Entertainment has invited Adventures by Daddy on an all-expenses paid press trip to Los Angeles, California to tour the Walt Disney Studios and learn about their upcoming home releases.  Disney has provided for transportation, meals, and lodging, but all opinions expressed are those of the author.

About George Gensler

George Gensler is a copyrights specialist during the week and a runner on the weekends. She lives in New York City now, but has lived in five countries on three continents. She grew up traveling the world, but her official residence was in Southern California and every visit home included a trip to Disneyland. She has also visited every Disney Park around the world and sailed on board two Disney cruises. She threw in a visit to the Disney Family museum in San Francisco for good measure, and has had the Premier Disney Park Pass since its inception.