Step into a universe of mystery and magic with Myth: A Frozen Tale, a new VR short film set in the world of Frozen 2, out today on Oculus Quest. From Walt Disney Animation Studios, and featuring the voice talent of Evan Rachel Wood (Frozen 2), Myth is an immersive journey through Arendelle lore that blends traditional hand-drawn animation with the latest in VR technology.
The new short, directed by Jeff Gipson (Director of Disney Animation’s “Cycles”), takes the form of a bedtime fairytale that completely immerses audiences in the sights and sounds of Frozen 2. What starts as an ordinary evening inside an Arendellian home transforms into an adventure, where elemental spirits of Air, Fire, Water, and Earth reveal themselves through a whirlwind of 2D hand drawn effects, 3D animation, and original music.
Myth debuted at the world premiere of Frozen 2 in Hollywood, screened Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, and was later nominated for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Real-Time Project by the Visual Effects Society. Now, audiences all over the world can experience the new film for the first time at home on Oculus Quest.
We spoke with Myth director Jeff Gipson to hear more about the new film and learn how Disney is helping advance immersive storytelling.
How would you describe Myth to audiences who’ve never seen films in VR?
Myth is a film where you’re in the middle of the action, and where the story unfolds around you, giving you the feeling of being with the elemental spirits in the enchanted forest.
Can you tell us how Myth fits within the greater Frozen story and mythos?
Myth came from a personal place for me, and was inspired by my family’s tradition of telling bedtime stories. There is power in this kind of storytelling that I always found appealing, and I love that everyone can bring their own imagination and interpretation. I imagined this film as a bedtime story or a tale you’d hear if you grew up in Arendelle (the setting of Frozen), and that this story is passed down from generation to generation in their world.
What inspired Disney to explore Arendelle and the Frozen universe through VR?
I directed Cycles, which was Disney Animation’s first VR short film, and we were blown away by the positive reception at film festivals and even received some awards. Internally, our studio executives and leadership began thinking about how to continue exploring storytelling in the medium.
Jennifer Lee (Chief Creative Officer/Director and Writer of Frozen & Frozen 2)) approached me and asked if I wanted to create something for Frozen 2 in VR. I was extremely excited but also pretty nervous because I wanted to create something that would do justice to the storytelling in Frozen and leverage the unique capabilities of VR. It’s pretty incredible that Jenn Lee, Chris Buck, Peter Del Vecho, and Clark Spencer not only trusted me to create something for the world of Frozen but also allowed me to have complete creative freedom.
Tell us about the experience itself: What can audiences expect in Myth?
Audiences can expect to start in the world of Frozen with a family of Arendelle as they settle in for a bedtime story about the elemental spirits. You’re then transported into the enchanted forest where this particular Myth unfolds around you. This world is like a pop-up book, designed by Brittney Lee, who is well-versed in the design language of Frozen. You’ll see an intricate balance of CG, hand-drawn animation, and effects bring this unique world to life.
Music is critical in films, especially in Frozen. How’d the team approach music this time?
Music is a huge part of the storytelling in Myth. I was inspired by the Frozen films and the films from our studio’s rich heritage. I love the way the animation is synched to music, like in Fantasia, creating a poem from visuals and audio. In Myth, each elemental spirit has its part of the score, much like “Peter and the Wolf.” The music also serves as a metaphor in storytelling, but I’ll let the viewers discover what that means for themselves when they see it.
It was an incredible experience working with our composer, Joe Trapanese. We pitched him early in the process. He was excited to work in VR for the first time, and about the power the score would have in the film. He started creating compositions before we had animators roll onto the project, so when the animation team did come on, they were able to animate to the score.
How does VR help artists of all kinds tell new and different kinds of stories?
I think VR is incredible because it allows viewers to be a part of the story and step into it. You can be a character, and you can feel the environment. Scale, proximity, flow, and light - they all feel different in VR than on a film on a screen. However, some principals are relevant across both mediums. I think VR also challenges the sense of a traditional linear narrative. It can be played by creating a different way of telling stories.
What are the key differences when making films in VR versus more traditional mediums?
There are many technical differences between them; the approach to modeling, shading, effects, lighting, and animation is different. A team that deeply understands each on a sophisticated level is crucial. Shout out to Jose Gomez, Ed Robbins, Mike Anderson, Ian Coony, and Jorge Ruiz for pushing each part of the film to be amazing.
The principles of story and character development are most important, no matter what medium you are working in. However, proximity to characters, composition, the flow of action, lighting, sound, and environment design -just to name a few- all take on a new meaning when you are in a film. Guiding the viewer’s attention is something that can be taken for granted when making a film in a traditional medium, but becomes a unique challenge in VR.
Can you talk about any technical challenges in bringing Myth to Oculus Quest?
We initially showed Myth at the world premiere of Frozen 2, at Sundance, and other festivals on the Oculus Rift S. It was a challenge creating the Quest version; the assets, animation, effects, and lighting all had to be optimized. There was an incredible team (all working from home) that made the Quest version possible: Mike Anderson, Jose Gomez, and Nick Russell. This is the first film from Walt Disney Animation Studios that is being released in VR for home viewing, and it’s humbling and really cool to be part of something that’s a first for a studio that’s been around for nearly 100 years.
What are your thoughts on the future of VR as a tool for filmmakers and storytellers?
VR is powerful as a medium to “feel” film. An audience can experience a situation or world they may not otherwise get an opportunity to, allowing for the possibility of viewing the world from someone else’s perspective.
It is also an incredible tool that can be used in creating non-VR films. It has become another way our filmmakers can explore environments, animation, and visual development for feature films. Lead Software Engineer, Jose Gomez, has worked with the technology team at Disney Animation to create several tools allowing directors and artists to be in VR to create.
What’s something in Myth you feel would surprise people most?
What I love about Myth is being inside a Disney animated film. The appeal we hold so dear is all around you, and the beautiful quality of animation in the characters. I hope that the film feels familiar with the way the story, music, art direction, and animation all work together, but at the same time feels new and different using technology and VR as a medium.