Frozen II: Effects Supervisor Erin V. Ramos on the Development of Animated Water Effects [Exclusive Interview]

Anna and Elsa are going into the unknown.

In that unknown, there will be a wondrous world filled with forests, rivers, and even an unexplored part of the ocean.

The anticipated sequel Frozen II, audiences will follow the sisters to save Arendelle from something beyond the mists. Like always, the Disney animation team will push the limits of animation on to the audiences with memorizing visual effects.

Here’s the synopsis:

Why was Else born with magical powers? What truths about the past await Else as she ventures into the unknown to the enchanted forests and dark seas beyond Arendelle? The answers are calling her but also threatening her kingdom. Together with Anna, Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven, she’ll face a dangerous but remarkable journey.

The film features the voices of Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, and Josh Gad. Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck direct it with the music and songs from Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.

LRM Online had a phone interview earlier this month with effects supervisor Erin V. Ramos from the animated studios. She specialized in the water effects of the film and also worked on other effects alongside other animated teams.

Erin V. Ramos is an Annie-Award winning effects artist for her work on 2016’s Moana. She started in the world of entertainment with the Rhythm & Hues Studios as a pipeline technical director for The Cat in the Hat and Garfield. Her career eventually took her to Tokyo, working for Digital Frontier and in New Zealand for WETA for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. She joined Disney for Moana, in which she was responsible for developing FX rigs for the shoreline water and breaking waves. Her other Disney credit, also including working on Ralph Breaks the Internet.

Frozen II is in theaters nationwide tonight.

Read the exclusive interview below.

LRM Online: For some of us who don’t know, what is an effects supervisor?

Erin Ramos: We should know what effects animation is first. The definition of effects animation at our studio is that animation of anything that isn’t a character. There are trees in the scene that are moving. The character is holding a prop. There is a boat in the water and to animate the water. That was the definition back in the 2D days. Now that we do 3D effects, we split that up into different teams.

Now we’re in charge of stuff like the water simulations, the wind characters, the magic, tornados, and all the volume metrics like mist, fire, and suction. All those things interact with the environment. That’s the effects team, and I am the effects supervisor. I was mainly in charge of the water, as you had seen the movie, there’s just so much water in this movie. When I do the water effects, there’s just so many moving parts to it, such as the whitewater and all the spray that comes off of it. We have characters made out of water in this movie. It was quite a bit of stuff to take care of.

LRM Online: The water scenes are quite amazing for this film feature. If I recalled, there were two main water scenes–the river and the ocean. Could you talk about the different approaches of those two water scenes?

Erin Ramos: We’ve done oceans scenes before in movies like Moana. Frozen II is going to be very different because we want a stormy sea. The big challenge is to create these large breaking waves. These waves are three to four times Elsa’s height. They are giant barrel waves crashing on the surface. We had to blend a simulation geometry to generate endless rest of the ocean of choppy seas with the barrel waves. Those two things are meshed together.

For the river, that entire thing is a fluid sim. That was interesting too. We had to start kind of choppy and then calm down a little bit. There was a lot of art directing with these water simulations that we’re doing in this movie.

In the ocean scene, we had to have Elsa as a character running on top of this stimulation that is dynamic and moving. Every time you run it, you get a different result. It just took a lot of coordination with the other departments to make sure that all the performances are in sync.

LRM Online: Was it difficult to add the mist and the wave crest to these water movements?

Erin Ramos: It’s not terribly difficult. It just a lot of work. That’s what I like about the job with the effects because there’s a lot of physics involved. Maybe a little bit of math even. In a scene, you’re out of the sea, and seeing like the crest come off the top of waves, the myths come off the top of these crests. In CG, we had to figure out where crests are and determine where the mist coming off like when the waves do this and make the mist come off of it. It will blow off in that way and in a certain direction.

We have to keep visual continuity, of course. Everything has to stay the same from shot to shot. We’re constantly trying to give it that like believability. Not necessarily reality, but believability. It needs to feel like a stormy, stormy ocean.

LRM Online: Did you also have to handle the underwater scenes too?

Erin Ramos: We had to deal with a lot of all those too. It was with the horse underwater and anything splashing into the water. We want it to give it the scale and that impact. Anything that hits the water and you want to create bubbles around the object and create what we call churn. To get those tiny bubbles out something splashes in the water. All of those elements are selling the impact of what’s happening.

LRM Online: And I thought that was probably the easiest part. It sounds so hard.

Erin Ramos: [Laughs] It’s funny. There are certain things that look easy. There’s an enormous amount of art direction, artistry or the scrutiny to get something approved. For this movie, we tried to like put in these kinds of details to make the worlds feel that much richer than other movies that we’ve ever worked on, especially with these water sequences. This whole movie just has like this amazing visual quality to the environment. In each shot, you can say, “Oh, wow! Look at the leaf. It’s moving too.” The wind is blowing softly through the trees. Our team did that too. It’s all amazing. We were able to get it done.

LRM Online: Before I let you go, what did you learn on this project that you didn’t learn before with Moana or Ralph Breaks the Internet.

Erin Ramos: It’s more than any movie that I’ve worked on at the studio. It needed so much collaboration between different departments. I think the biggest takeaway, honestly, despite the technological strides, there’s the biggest amount of coordination had to take place in between all the different departments touching the same thing. Such as the water horse where an animator is animating it. We have the technical animation people doing the simulations for the horse mane and tail. It’s what should be the hair, but it had to be turned into water.

It sounds cheesy, but I learned on this movie is just like how important it is to collaborate and communicate with other departments. I need to make sure that everyone’s on the same page. Without that amount of collaboration, there’s no way this movie would’ve gotten done. It was so big and has so many moving parts. That’s my biggest takeaway.

LRM Online: I can’t wait to watch you work on your next project. With all these water effects, it’s just starting to make me feel I was in the ocean. Well, thank you very much for this conversation. Thank you very much, Erin.

Erin Ramos: All right! Thanks.

Frozen II is in theaters nationwide tonight.

Source: LRM Online Exclusive

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