Marlon West: Beyond the Effects of Frozen

I have recently sat down with Marlon West, who is the Head of Effects Animation for the upcoming Frozen II. He has served in the role for the first Frozen and Moana. West has worked on several Disney films over the years including The Princess and the Frog, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and The Lion King.

It has been twenty-five years since you worked on your first film for Disney, The Lion King, and you’re now with Frozen II, what are some of the biggest changes that we can look forward to in this sequel?

Well, there will be some changes since The Lion King, but from the last Frozen like six years ago, the scope of this film is much bigger than that one.

That was like the biggest effects film that I ever worked on. I think that the studio had ever done. And then I went off and did Moana and it seemed bigger than that. Then we got together and did Frozen I which seems like Frozen we teamed up. The scope is bigger and there are more variations to this film.

Speaking of the years since your first film, how has the animation changed from hand-drawn animation to the CGI.

I feel that there are always new tools coming down the pike, we created like a snow solver for the first Frozen called the Matterhorn. We did like a fluid solver for Moana called “Splash” and all the time we are doing new tools bade on the technical and creative needs of the movie.

What are some of the biggest challenges from the first Frozen to the second?

For me, some of the biggest challenges were some of the characters that experience. The audience will experience as an effect, like Gale, this wind spirit. We had to actually kind of provide character animation, some tools, to be able to actually perform because this is a character and it has to be wrathful in some scenes and playful in other scenes and all these emotional ranges in between. They like this supervising animator on Gale and Olaf. Some did some down and dirty, just keyframing leaves himself which gave us a great guide but we also gave them the kind of tools to be able to suggest where Gale is were also use by tech cam to move Elsa’s hair and clothing to let you know where Gale is. So we come from behind add and kind of add leaves and things to that as well.

When it comes to the animation, I take it that takes a lot of research. I remembered from the presentation that the research was taken place in Norway and Finland. How long does a research trip take and what does that entail to create that visual imagery we see on film?

Just so you know, to be on the search trip, and I was on trip when the directors and producers went to Norway and Finland, they came back with literally thousands of photographs and footage but we also have people come into the studio and tell us about the plant life in Norway or we go out and do our own research to filming waves breaking in Southern California are there some spots where the waves are breaking pretty hard like they do in the dark sea. So we went and did some measurements there and shot some footage so we can kind of replicate that based on the real world.

So what are some of your favorite Disney films since you mentioned The Jungle Book was the first Disney film that you saw which is my favorite Disney film?

Any movie that I ever saw in theatre is still a favorite of mine.  I love seeing and working on The Lion King. You know that I worked on some films before but nothing that like people have fired up about as they were The Lion King.

I am proud of everything that I have done but you know that I worked on The Princess and The Frog. I was really thrilled to work on this African American princess film. Actually, if you don’t count Pocahontas, the first princess film period. And that was really cool because it was bringing back a lot of hand-drawn artists that have been in the studio for a while. So it was like bringing the band back together again.

I was super proud of working on the first Frozen which is the first skilled CGI film that I was Head of the Effects on. and super thrilled with this one.

I bet you are. Where do you see CGI films going let’s say the next five to ten years?

That’s a good question. I really like what we’re are always kind of looking for is actually trying to get more on the screen and quicker time as far as actually computation with faster computers and being able to render these images faster because there are a lot of kind of waiting for things especially when you get further down the pike with lighting renders when you got all the character performance all the textures and models, all the layers and layers of the effects, the hair, the cloth. All the lights that they put in. Those final renders take a really long time to do. When you get to back and make changes, it’s really a hit for them. Where I can see in both in our effects renders and lighting renders, if we can turn those around faster, we could probably jam more production values into the movies. It’s what we do with every technological advance.

Disney Plus just launched recently, do you have any upcoming projects with the service?

Not really. I know that Disney plus has a Making-of Frozen II. I’ll be in it. We would like to have active participation in Disney plus because we would actually like to see our own work coming.

What do you want to say to the person who would like to become an animator and they want some advice from you?

I would say try to be really good at it and that sounds like a very simple thing to say. It’s simple but not easy which is why they got two different words. Do some research as to like what you are trying to do, what it takes you’re trying to do on whatever art form that you’re trying to do or the company that you’re trying to get into. Find out what they are looking for so that you can tailor to what you’re offering to that position.

See Marlon’s work in the new Disney film, Frozen II, IN THEATRES NOW!