“Frozen 2” picks up where the original “Frozen” left off. For those unfamiliar with the film, I highly recommend it.
“Frozen 2” finds Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Sven and everyone’s favorite snowman on another adventure into the ancient and enchanted autumnal forest to find out why Elsa has her magical powers. This is, of course, needed to save their beloved kingdom, Arendelle.
The magic of Disney takes the skills of more animators and artists than we can imagine, but I had the opportunity to sit down recently and talk with Chicago native Donna Lee, one of the story artists. I learned a lot about the making of the film that certainly will add to the overall wonderment of watching “Frozen 2.”
Pamela Powell (PP): What is a story artist?
Donna Lee (DL): What I do is I create the story boards for the movie. … I work with the writer and the director, and they will come up with the concept of the movie. Once they figure out the story, they’ll write out the script and they will give the script to us.
We’ll take the written form and create the visual storytelling form that you would see on the screen. We would compose the shots; we deal with cinematography, choreography and acting, basically the blueprint of what you would see on the big screen. And with our storyboards, they’ll take that down the pipeline … to the animators, to layout, lighting, effects. They’ll all look at our storyboards and build off that.
How many story boards are there?
There are a lot of storyboards, but they’re all broken down by scenes, and I can’t tell you how many scenes there are in the movie, but the drawing that goes into the storyboard is almost infinite [until] the directors feel like this is what they want to see on the screen and [they] put that into production.
So, that means incredible detail in every single story board, right?
Yes, sometimes they can be. Sometimes they aren’t. It depends on the directors. … For example, if they want to focus on the emotion of the scene then we would really have to draw out the facial expressions of these characters. Sometimes if there’s a very important background element then they’ll tell us to spend more time on the background and figuring out the layout of things.
What is your background?
I went to Rhode Island School of Design, and I studied film, animation and video there for two years. My mom always tells me she’s seen me draw ever since I could hold a pencil. She even told me I would kind of outline blanket patterns with my fingers so I think I always was intrigued by drawings and art. I really got into drawing at 4 or 5.
What was your favorite medium when you were younger?
I think when I was very little, it was probably crayons and colored pencils [laughs], and then gradually I gravitated toward pencil drawings and inks and water colors.
Which scene in the film were you most pleased?
I think the greatest scene is the moment when we discover why Elsa has her powers. It was something that I expected, but it surpassed what I could have ever imagined it to be. Honestly, with this movie, everything we’ve put in as storyboards, I feel that every artist, the animators, the lighting artists, they just really pushed the movie and everything surpassed what we thought this movie could be. We were even blown away by how beautiful it was.
Why is story artist a pretty specific job?
Originally I actually wanted to be an animator specifically a 2-D animator because I loved drawing and I wanted to keep that in my career. I remember in college [taking] an animation course and I thought this was something that I always wanted to do, but when I did it, something didn’t feel right.
I loved telling stories, the whole story for that matter. I think with animation you just focus on 30 seconds, and those 30 seconds can last you three weeks to work on. When I took a storyboarding class, that’s when I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness, yes, this is exactly what I wanted to do.’ Everything just clicked and I’ve never felt so sure in my life that I wanted to pursue this.
What advice would you give kids who are interested in becoming an artist for filmmaking?
If there is something you are passionate about, follow it. I think for me when I was little, I watched a lot of television and I watched a lot of movies, growing up watching the Disney classics, “Snow White,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Lion King,” and because I watched it so many times, I was able to absorb things that I might have not understood when I was little.
Now that I’m older, I can feel the pacing of the movie, I can understand things on a subconscious level. The other important part of it is that I got so much encouragement and support from my mom, and I seriously couldn’t have do it without her. I wouldn’t have gotten where I am without her.
What did you learn from being a part of such an iconic company and film?
The most important thing that I learned was to be able to communicate with the directors and to work as a team. When we’re building our portfolio before we apply, we’re able to practice our techniques and drawing skills, but I think the thing that you can’t be prepared for is to work with people.
Working with the director is so important because you really need to be able to understand what movie they’re trying to make and you need to understand that your role is to support them and to support their vision and be able to bring out the movie that they want to make. For me, it was learning how to ask the right questions just being able to explain what I’m going for, being patient, how to pitch my ideas.