Learning From “Frozen” Director Chris Buck

Frozen Chicago Disney Store

My daughter had a dance rehearsal about 30 minutes from home. It was a 2-hour practice, and I didn’t feel it would be a good use of my resources to drive home before picking her up again, so I needed something to do. She came up with an idea for me: she’d heard that “Frozen” director Chris Buck would be speaking nearby at that very time. I love it when plans line up like that!

So, I treated myself to 90 minutes listening to this interesting guy. I’ll fill you in on the good stuff. I hope this is all reasonably accurate, although I was taking notes (with a pen and notepad) in a dark auditorium.

  • Chris always loved to draw. As a child, he spend lots of time copying Peanuts cartoon figures before branching out to drawing and creating his own characters. During high school, a friend showed his portfolio to a Disney animator, who liked it.
  • After high school he went to CalArts, an arts school where he met many talented peers who he would later work with on various projects — Tim Burton, the head of Pixar, etc.  Be nice to people and make good friends, he emphasized. You never know who can help you later, or who you might offer an opportunity to.
  • At an end-of-year program at CalArts, Walt Disney’s widow Lillian told Chris that she really liked the movie he had produced for the program. Soon after, he landed a job working for Disney.
  • He left Disney after a while, wanting a less-structured schedule. He worked freelance for a time, mentioning that he worked on animation for the Keebler Elves and Sugar Smacks, to name a few. He later returned to Disney, helping design the Ursula, Flounder, and Sebastian characters for “Little Mermaid.” He worked on animation for “Pocahontas” too.
  • Chris was animation director for “Tarzan.” A few years later, he learned that three songs from the film were featured in his teenage sons’ high school choir concert. He was excited by this and mentioned to the boys how happy he was that their concert was using songs from “his” movie. The boys were unimpressed, saying, “But Dad, it’s not like you wrote the songs!”
  • He worked next as a director of the film, “Surf’s Up,” an animated film about penguins. However, he said the film didn’t do well. There was a bit of “penguin fatigue” as a result of “March of the Penguins” and Madagascar having both coming out shortly beforehand. The film did receive an Academy Award nomination, but lost to “Ratatouille.”
  • In 2008, Chris headed back to Disney again. He had to pitch three ideas to the higher-ups, and one of his was … The Snow Queen. They loved the idea, and it morphed eventually into “Frozen.”
  • Animated films take about 3-4 years to make. Originally, “Frozen” was slated to come out about now. But, another film fell out of the slot for last year, and when asked if “Frozen” could be ready then, Chris agreed. He was a little tired of working on it and ready for the finished product.
  • He said that snowman Olaf represented Anna and Elsa’s love for each other — beginning as kids and continuing throughout the film. Olaf is an animator’s dream — he’s a character who can come apart and reassemble himself!
  • Kristoff actor Jonathan Groff was the only actor to send a thank you note after auditioning. Buck stressed the importance of sending thank yous. It gets your name in front of the boss an extra time.
  • To grasp Anna’s personality, film workers were asked to read “Anne of Green Gables.” That does make sense to me — I can see similarities in outlook between Anne and Anna 😉

And there you have it! A very interesting talk by an interesting man.


3 thoughts on “Learning From “Frozen” Director Chris Buck

  1. Well you certainly did not squander your extra two hours! I am glad you used it in this interesting, creative way.

  2. Wow, that must’ve been so fun! I hadn’t made the connection with Anne of Green Gables, but it makes sense now. I don’t know if you watch Once Upon a Time, but they introduced Anna and Elsa as characters this season. At first I wasn’t sure if I liked the idea – it seemed like just capitalizing on the success of the film. But I like what they’re doing so far.

  3. I’m glad you got to do this, Susan. I haven’t seen Frozen, so have no idea of the intricacies, but it was an interesting read.

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