6 Things You May Not Know About Olaf
Olaf, the lovable snowman from Frozen, has become a favorite Disney character, ranking right up there with the Genie from Aladdin as one of the great “comic relief” characters of all time. Even though Anna and Elsa are the real stars, it’s Olaf who steals the show with his hilarious antics. In fact, early trailers for Frozen featured Olaf and Sven in a comical scene involving a hilarious scramble for Olaf’s carrot nose (which Olaf “sneezed” off atop a frozen lake), and for a while (before the true plot of the film was revealed), I for one thought Frozen was going to be all about the antics of this fun-loving snowman and his reindeer sidekick! Of course, Frozen would go on to become one of the most beloved animated films of all time, with Anna and Elsa becoming two of the most popular characters in Disney history. (So popular in fact that, even though they’re often considered to be honorary Disney Princesses, they actually have yet to be officially added to the lineup, precisely because they’ve proven to be so incredibly popular on their own!) But Olaf’s childlike innocence and hilarious persona has endeared him to fans all over the world, so join us as we explore some little-known facts and origins of everyone’s favorite snowman!
1. Bringing Olaf to Life
Olaf was drawn to life by animator Hyrum Osmond, who had previously worked on characters such as Rapunzel and Maximus from Tangled, and Ralph and King Candy from Wreck-It Ralph. Osmond wanted to instill a childlike persona into the lovable snowman, so he based many of Olaf’s mannerisms on that of his son.
But even beyond Olaf’s personality and gestures, his very design was intended to convey a childlike innocence. After all, Elsa creates Olaf when she and Anna were very young. To that end, it was important that Olaf looked like a child had created him. To accomplish that, Osmond was careful not to make Olaf overly complex. As co-director Jennifer Lee explained, “When you’re a child, the awkwardness and the funny shapes you make with the snowmen [explain why] the heads are never perfect” which is why Olaf is rather misshapen.
2. How to Build a Snowman
Several pieces of software were developed to create the snow effects in Frozen. These included Flourish (used for animating the many leaves and twigs), Snow Batcher (which helped preview the final look of the snow), and Tonic (used to sculpt their characters’ hair). Elsa’s hair alone contained 420,000 computer-generated strands, more than four times the average person! Fifty lighting and effects artists worked together to create the scene in which Elsa builds her ice palace, and the scene was so complex that it took 30 hours to render each individual frame. As far as Olaf was concerned, animators made use of a new software tool called Spaces, which allowed them to break apart and rebuild Olaf’s body parts, just like a real snowman!
3. Eyebrows and Elbows
When it came to the actual look for Olaf, many design concepts were considered and discarded. Olaf’s eyebrows posed a peculiar challenge. Artists tried several ideas, including grass and twigs, trying to find just the right look. Eventually, the team landed on the bark-like brows that you see in the final film.
Even though the eyebrows took some time to get right, one concept was set in stone right from the start – that of Olaf’s elbows. If you watch carefully, you’ll note that they never bend, except during his fantasy sequence “In Summer.” Astute Frozen fans may have also noticed that Olaf’s elbows bend (ever so briefly) in the aforementioned trailer.
4. Giving Olaf His Personality
The voice of Olaf was provided by Josh Gad, who would go on to play the part of Lefou in the 2017 live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. (In a curious “animation connection,” he also played Apple Computer’s co-founder Steve Wozniak in the film Jobs, a biographical drama based on the life of Steve Jobs, who was also the co-founder and CEO of Pixar.)
Gad’s comedic talent played a large role in shaping Olaf’s final persona, particularly since he first became involved with the film very early in its development, when the plot was still relatively close to the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Gad improvised quite a bit during the recording sessions, and as the directors explained, “Olaf was very much a sketch until we had Josh Gad, and then we would just get in the room and play and we’d have a lot of fun and that’s really how we found his voice specifically and how he looks at the world. It really was working with Josh that did that.” The animators even went so far as to use Gad’s videotaped studio performance as a reference for Olaf’s facial expressions and movements.
5. He Wasn’t Always Going to Be a Snowman!
The character of Olaf went through many iterations before he became the cuddly snowman we all know and love today. In fact, “lovable” wasn’t even his original persona! When the story was in its early stages, Olaf was actually going to be one of the guards in Elsa’s palace. (Quick aside: even though the story went through many changes, the character of Marshmallow – the giant snow monster who guards Elsa’s palace – stayed on as a reminder of this early variation.) Co-director Chris Buck compared that version of the character to a trial run of someone’s first pancake, where the cook throws out the pancake after they find out that it is burnt on the bottom. Early versions also depicted Olaf as Elsa’s obnoxious sidekick. One of co-director Jennifer Lee’s first acts was to change up the character of Elsa, who was originally intended to be evil. Once Elsa was changed to the character we know today, Olaf was free to become Anna’s comical sidekick. Olaf’s evolution was no easy feat. As Jennifer Lee later said, Olaf was “[by far] the hardest character to deal with.” But believe it or not, it could have been worse! Long before it was decided that Olaf would be a snowman, early concepts had him as a penguin!
6. Olaf Out and About
Today, you can find Olaf in Animatronic form in the “Frozen Ever After” attraction in Epcot’s Norway pavilion. Over in the Magic Kingdom, Olaf appears with Anna and Elsa in Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire, and can be seen on the opening float for the Festival of Fantasy Parade. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Olaf makes an appearance in Fantasmic!, and often makes meet and greet appearances.
In 2016, you could find Olaf in (naturally enough) Blizzard Beach, when he and Kristoff were the hosts of the Frozen Games. But Olaf’s biggest honor would take place a year later, when he made his debut as a giant balloon in the 91st Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Not bad for humble heap of snow!