Disney’s Frozen has released multiple stories surrounding the world of Arendelle and its people since the release of the original animation in 2010. Now, Disney+ is about to release the VR Short, Myth: A Frozen Tale, which transports viewers to a vibrant and mystical world where the elemental spirits (inspired by Frozen 2) come to life and the myth of their past and future is revealed. It serves as a prequel to the second film.
Directed by Jeff Gipson, who previously directed the studio’s first VR short film Cycles, Myth was inspired by the stories Gipson grew up with as a child and knew he wanted it to start with a family telling their children a story. He wondered what kinds of stories would be told in the world of Arendelle.
“So I started thinking about what were some inspirations that really connected with me growing up?”, Gipson said during the virtual press conference last week. “And I love bedtime stories; when you go to sleep and your parents tell you a story, your mind just wanders.”
Gipson was inspired by the graphic looks of shadow puppets and pop-up books and wanted the story to look like a pop-up book surrounding the Frozen world. He drew from Disney’s rich history of animation with films like Fantasia, Dumbo, Make Mine Music, and Peter and the Wolf.
“I just loved how the animation was married to that music,” Gipson explained. “It almost moves exactly with that music. And I thought, how can we bring traditional animation or heritage of Disney Animation into a new medium, like VR, with real-time engines, and create something where we bring this kind of feeling.”
Alongside producer Nicholas Russell, Gipson reached out to production designer, Brittney Lee, who has been with Walt Disney Animation Studio for over a decade. Lee was excited at the pitch.
“I immediately really wanted to work on this project and was so happy to get the opportunity to dive into this Myth world,” said Lee.
Lee and Gipson looked at the Frozen world and found it was heavily influenced by the art of Eyvind Earle and his work on Sleeping Beauty. Focusing on the forest scenery, they began the framework for Myth. Since Frozen 2 already had its own color palette, they wanted to expand on each spirit.
“This is the emotional arc of the film, but also we thought of this as the color palette art as well as this arc for the score,” Gipson shared. “You can see in purple we have the Wind Spirit where there are these protagonists show characteristics of the sweet song summer winds, but then that’s balanced out by the more antagonistic kind of feel of those the cold winter winds. You can see how each element begins to balance one another out and we do this throughout this film emotionally through the color and score.”
Lee wanted to showcase the duality of each of the spirits and what happens when the spirits are no longer balanced. “Things can get a little bit dramatic,” Lee explained. “So we used that palette to start to build up this color story through the film so that you can see the ebbs and flows of where things get emotional.”
The four initial elemental spirits from Frozen 2 were the Nokk, the horse-shaped entity that represents the element of water; Bruni, a blue salamander that represents the element of fire; Gale, a gust of wind that represents the element of air; and, the Earth Giants, a race of mountain-sized rock creatures that represent the element of Earth. Each spirit was given their own aesthetic and stylization, and how they were represented in the diamond design.
Gipson wanted the streaming version to have a ‘sense of presence’ of being with these elemental spirits, “This is a moment from the Earth Giants portion of the film where this huge giant stomps down toward you when you look up in VR, but we also wanted to bring that sense of presence, and what that feeling was, to our streaming version as well.”
As for the music, Gipson worked with composer Joseph Trapanese to create the soundtrack heard throughout the short. Trapanese referenced Fantasia and Peter and the Wolf to find the balance for the elemental spirits by using sounds from nature. Lee found it great working with Trapanese early in production and able to work on design elements while listening to the first tracks he came up with.
“We went through multiple times, just finding what the feeling was,” said Gipson. “You know, you think about winds: do you use air instruments? Or do you think about Earth – are these drums? I remember Joe showing Nick and [me] a video of one of the percussionists actually using rocks and earth and things to make the drum beats for the section of the earth giants score. So there are cool little fun things like that I think even in the fire salamander portion there are flames and there’s like kind of fire sounds he was using as well. So this is a really fun unique process to go through.”
Although Myth: A Frozen Tale was originally meant to be explored using VR technology, Gipson feels confident in the conversion from VR to Disney+ streaming and that fans will still feel the Frozen world.
“A big part of the VR version is that sense of presence you get with all these characters,” said Gipson. “I love when the wind is swooping around you and you’re hearing it in the headphones moving from left to right to. Or even the salamander, it’s small and you come close, the Nokk, the giants… just how do we translate that sense of presence and scale and power that each one of these elemental spirits had. [Cinematographer] Terry Moews did an incredible job. Working with him was really collaborative. That was all about this, how do we make this feel like our VR version? I’m just so proud and really excited about what we achieved for our streaming version of the film.”
Myth: A Frozen Tale premieres on February 26 on Disney+