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!