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Do You Want To Build An Olaf? An Interview With The Creators of Once Upon a Snowman

Have you ever looked at Olaf and wondered, what’s his deal? Appearing in both Frozen and Frozen II, the always positive and upbeat snowman created by Elsa has remained a true ally to the sisters, Kristoff, and even Sven. Sure he loves cuddles, summer, and hugs but who is Olaf, and what makes him so likable?

For directors Trent Correy and Dan Abraham, this was the question they wanted to tackle in Disney+’s newest short, Once Upon a Snowman —  to reveal exactly how he became the summer-loving, warm hugs embracing snowman he is by following Olaf’s first steps as he comes to life and searches for his identity in the snowy mountains outside Arendelle.

During a press conference for the upcoming animated short, director/writers Trent Correy and Dan Abraham, along with Disney Head of Animation Becky Bresee and Creative Consultant Peter Del Vecho, reflected on their time exploring Olaf’s nuances and what makes him an appealing player in the Disney franchise.

It all started with an idea when Correy began imagining what happened to Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad) in the time between his first appearance in “Let It Go” and when he meets up with Anna and Kristoff during his days working as an animator on 2013’s Frozen.

“I love Pinocchio, I loved Bambi and I’m like, I want to see what Olaf’s first steps are like and we don’t see them for another 20 minutes in the film. I actually found sketches last week when I was moving of original ideas from 2013, little deep boards and writing and ideas of Olaf taking his first steps and learning about who he is.”

For Correy, some of the appeal of Olaf as a character is the inherent ability to morph and shift. As a living snowman, he’s a natural character to play with in animation. Correy related how one of his earliest assignments at Disney was working on the first Frozen, and Olaf was who’d worked on.

“How on earth did this snowman fall in love with summer?” How did you guys arrive at that as an idea within this short? It’s wonderful.

“From an animator’s point of view, Olaf’s just everyone’s favorite character to animate because he can be very emotional. He’s connected to the sisters. But he’s also fun to just break apart.”

For Bresee, “Olaf is a reflection of the love between these two sisters [and it’s not] often we get to revisit characters. And so when Frozen II came up, it was just, we were like, “Yay! We get to visit these characters again.” And then to continue on with this story that’s very special and ties everything together from those first moments of Olaf, it’s a really unique way to revisit the scenes and think about the people who animated the scenes in the movie and then how it all ties in. One of my favorite parts on this was I got to animate the moment, the last scene where Olaf walks over the hill approaching Anna and Kristoff. It was amazing. But when you’re animating it and you realize this is the moment right before he walks into Kristoff and Anna’s life and changes them forever and changes all of us forever, really. So I think it was very special to me.”

“Well, when really diving into what the short was going to be and how it was going to weave in and out of the first film, we watched the first film, especially the sequence, from when Elsa creates him during Let It Go, to when Anna and Kristoff and Sven meet him in the forest. We watched that over and over and over and over and over again. And so, what little things can we weave in there that makes sense or that would answer questions or whatever? And, one of them I always had was like, “Well, he is obsessed with summer, yet he doesn’t know he would melt. How does that work? How does he know what summer is? He was just created and stuff.” So, there was a very logical explanation for that. And we see it in this little short. It just, it kind of wrote itself, it made sense that it would be in there,” said Bresee.

“And all these little ideas. And I love that Dan was the one coming up with a stereoscope. I thought it was genius. And Oaken being the one to teach him. And, I’ll speak for all of us here and say, we’re all fans of the Frozen franchise. So, it’s fun for us to go find those little areas throughout the short to say, “Oh, we could show Anna here. Or oh, we could have Kristoff singing reindeer are better than people,” continued Correy.

The 8-minute short explores the time between Olaf’s birth by Elsa’s magic and when he first encounters Anna and Kristoff as they trek to find Elsa atop the mountain. This gave artists like Bresee the chance to revisit their work on the original Frozen and explore Olaf’s journey from a different perspective in the Frozen story.

“Well, some of that stuff had to be reanimated and I’ll let, maybe, Becky talk to this because one of my favorite moments is Olaf walking into Oaken’s cabin and seeing Anna walkout. And Becky actually animated them moment from the first movie of Anna going to Kristoff’s barn. So it was fun to show that stuff from a new angle.”

“The whole project was neat in that we know who animated the first moments and then seeing those moments from a totally different angle, it’s just so interesting because I have it in my head who animated the shot, the movements they did, the acting and you have an insight to what’s happening next and before and all that. So it’s just really fun to see it all connect. Anna and Olaf narrowly miss each other. Except that all that gets smashed by the door, so she didn’t miss him. She got him. But yeah, it’s just neat to see these moments play out in a different way,” said Bresee.

“The story of what Olaf was trying to accomplish and discover who he was and all that sort of led us to these different locations. And then we’re like, “Oh my … You know what’s happening right here at Oaken’s right now?” So it sort of guided us. When we knew the story we wanted to tell, the story took us to these places and the sort of behind the scenes, putting the camera in a different place, it just mostly worked naturally, really, Bresee continued.

To learn more about Once Upon A Snowman including its fun Easter eggs and what it was like working with Josh Gad, check out the full press conference in the video above.

Once Upon A Snowman will debut exclusively on Disney+ October 23, 2020.

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