Do you want to build a snowman? For Trent Correy, the Animation Supervisor at Walt Disney Animation Studios working on Frozen 2, that was actually his job, and the Canadian artist and animator has helped build that snowman since the original film.
Correy graduated from Algonquin College’s Animation program before going on to work as an animator for Disney’s Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, Moana, Ralph Breaks the Internet, before stepping up to work as the animation supervisor for Frozen 2.
Correy spoke with me about working on the films, how he got started in animation, and what it took to bring both Gale and Bruni, the wind and fire spirits, to life for the new film.
Frozen 2 is out now on Blu-ray and Digital. Scroll to the bottom of the story to see Correy’s work come to life for the post-credit scene featuring Olaf and Marshmallow.
It’s such a pleasure to chat with you about Frozen 2. It was such a fun, gorgeous looking film.
“Oh yeah, I couldn’t agree more and it is breathtaking when you see it all up on a big screen, all put together, and everyone’s hard work up there.”
So when did you start on Frozen 2?
“Funny enough, I actually started at the studio in 2012 on the first Frozen so this is a little bit full circle for me. In terms of Frozen 2 I started in the summer of 2017 so I was on the movie for just over two years.”
What do you start with? When you guys are coming in and you’re getting the team ready what’s the initial stage like?
“A movie like Frozen 2, and most animated films, can take four to five years to go through a production and that’s the directors and writers working together for a couple years at a time, and by the time the animation supervisors come on we basically have some character designs that our biz dev team have done, and led by Bill Schwab at Disney, and we have a lot of writing and thought that the directors have put into the characters.”
“So it’s our job as soon as we jump on-board to start trying to figure out who this character is, how he might move, how he or she might move, and just do tests.”
“And really, the first year of production as animation supervisor is really just doing tests and kind of throwing spaghetti at the wall and just seeing what sticks. There’s a lot of time to try things out, show the directors, and sometimes those tests can work their way into the movies too, so it’s a really nice time in production to influence the story a little bit.”
Because you came from the first film, are there certain things that you’re already obviously familiar with that makes it easier?
“Oh, yes. So on the first Frozen, that was my first film at Disney, and I animated Olaf most of the time.
“So coming into Frozen 2, and then I got the position of supervising the character of Olaf, so that’s why it’s been a full circle because he’s literally my first character I animated at Disney and now I get to supervise this character.”
“So I was definitely familiar with Olaf and had a lot of fun working with him, and our team at Disney is so good with him that we just had so much fun animating him in Frozen 2. And then, the unknown characters I had were Gale, who’s the wind spirit, and Bruni, who’s the fire spirit, so these were two new elements and that’s where a lot of the experimental animation upfront and just trial and error in pre-production worked out.”
When you’re developing a character like Bruni or Gale, how much are you trying to tease their abilities or roles later in the film?
“With the fire spirit specifically, I remember seeing these early drawings from our biz dev team, and he was just so cute. Bruni was just the cutest ever. So really, the way Bruni plays in the movie is that the first time you see the fire spirit, to the audience, it is supposed to just be fire attacking Elsa and everybody, and then you’re supposed to be hit with this adorable creature. So there was no alluding to it. We really wanted to play the audience there and put these characters in danger with the fire spirit and then hit them with that cute adorable character.”
“It was so fun, honestly. My job was just trying to get the character to look appealing and cute as the drawings. When in doubt, just make those eyes big and get that tongue hanging out.”
The animation has also come so far since the first film. It’s amazing to see what has changed that Elsa and all the characters look so much more lifelike now. How does that impact you developing the characters?
“Oh yeah, that is a tremendous effort, and I’m always surprised actually just looking back. The first Frozen was only five or six years ago but a lot has changed at this studio in terms of tool developments, and people working together, and all of our experience building on top of what we did in Big Hero 6, Zootopia, and Moana, and other shorts in between.”
“I get equally impressed as everyone else in the public because we get to watch our shots go down the pipeline and we get to see these effects artists that are developing new tools and tech animation artists, the hair, or the clouds. So it’s a joint effort.”
“There’s no secrets out there except everybody in their discipline is just developing these amazing tools. We have great staff, from computer scientists, to engineers, to amazing artists just kind of working together to get that there.”
“So it is amazing. I honestly, with the fire salamander, I’d animate him running through the forest and then I’d check in with effects a week later and just–the most gorgeous fire interacting with the trees. It’s just incredible to watch.”
Did anything surprise you in developing through things like even from the first year or close to the end?
“I don’t know if anything was surprising but there were a lot of things you learn along the way with Gale. I think that was the big one for me… I was given this character, Gale, the wind spirit, and how do you show wind? That was a lot of trial and error, and working with different artists and effects, and lighting and tech anim to really make this character read.”
“That was a real challenge and she’s a very tough character to make sure you know when she’s on screen, how’s she’s feeling, how’s she’s acting. Gale was definitely a challenge and lots of surprises around the corners both technical and artistically.”
I would say you guys pulled her off because you can definitely feel her presence although it’s amazing that you don’t have to necessarily see her to feel that she’s there.
“Yeah. That was definitely… we had some worries upfront that we don’t want this to feel like a leaf monster, or just one thing, so Gale’s really represented by things she moves in the scene. It could be brush on the ground. It could be a tree branch.”
“But really, it’s all the departments, like tech anim does all of our hair and cloth simulation, so that was important in making Gale read, but also the character’s performance in the scene. If someone had a scene with Gale and Anna, Anna’s reaction to Gale was just as important to how you moved Gale.”
“There was a lot to learn along the way, and the crew at Disney just did amazing at picking it up.”
So what’s your origin story and becoming an animator?
“My origin story. Can I get a superhero movie?”
Yeah! Why not.
“Growing up in Ottawa, Canada, I went to Hillcrest High School. I didn’t really take art in the school at all. I took one year but then I switched over to a course called Com Tech which was taught by a great teacher named Mr. Leduc, and he introduced me to film, and I always loved art, and my mom’s an artist. She always influenced me and pushed me to do art. And really, it was Mr. Leduc that hinted that I could combine my love of filmmaking from his course and my love of art in animation.”
“I don’t think I put much thought into that before. In grade 12 I applied to Algonquin College, which is a local college in Ottawa, and I got into their 3D program, and it was such a great little school that really taught the fundamentals well. And I think what a lot of people don’t know about Canada, but specifically Toronto, Vancouver, and Ottawa, Montreal now too, is that there is such a huge animation industry, and Ottawa had this hidden industry probably of 3000 artists in the city that work on some of the greatest Disney TV shows, and projects that come along.”
“So I got my experience at Mercury Filmworks, that was my first job in Ottawa, working in TV on a show called Toot & Puddle, but really there I just started to kind of jump around studios and move around until I got into Disney.”
“So in 2012 I applied to Disney in their talent development program which they accept a few artists every year, and I was lucky enough to get in, so I moved down to California, and started doing my training at Disney.”
Ottawa to California, that’s a trip.
“Yeah. You know what? Actually, I worked my way there because I did go to Vancouver in between…”
That’s amazing. Do you have an aspiration, like something that you want to do, or work on, that is hopefully in the pipeline?
“Yeah, for sure. I feel pretty lucky at Disney because the movies we get to work on reach such a wide audience. I mean, as an animator and an artist that’s all you hope for, for your art to be seen, and to work with great people every day.”
“This is literally a dream job. Of course, the industry is amazing down here right now and I definitely have my eyes set on making my own project some day and just continue to work for great people.”
Have you had things that you’ve wanted to develop that have always been on your mind or do you feel a lot of that comes from being in the moment?
“A bit of both. I just actually directed and wrote a short that is on Disney+ now called Drop and that was part of a Short Circuit program at Disney. In that program basically anyone at the studio can pitch a short and get it made.”
“That’s a project I had on my mind for almost seven or eight years. I do have this inventory of ideas. I have a little sketchbook that I just keep notes in. A little dream book beside my counter that if I have a good dream I put it in there and who knows one day it might turn into a TV show or a film.”
The last thing that I’d like to know is what’s the best advice you would say you could give kids or even grownups who would like to take their animation or their art to the next level?
“The industry is so exciting to me. I remind myself all the time when I’m sitting at my desk that I’m getting paid to draw a snowman, which seems ridiculous. I mean, I would’ve never ever thought that when I was in high school that I could actually have a career like that.”
“I mean, really, my advice is just keep with it. It took me years to get into Disney even though I was quite young. I was 24 when I got accepted into the program. I started working in the industry when I was 19 and I applied to Disney two or three times a year, like borderline harassment. I was waiting for them to call the police on me or something.”
“So I would email them all the time. I would send them portfolios. And finally, my fifth year applying … they were watching the growth. What I didn’t know is that the recruiters and some of the artist in the studio were checking in and seeing the growth over the years. So it is important to persevere and stay consistent, and apply, and just actually being honest with yourself and working on critiques you get.”
“I mean, that is what I did in my career. I just had my eyes set on Disney and I figured I’m going to shoot for Disney and if it doesn’t work out I’ll still probably land somewhere close, but I’m going to shoot for the stars sort of thing, so I’m just lucky it worked out here.”