Disney on Ice's 'Frozen' costume designer brings kingdom to adoring fans

Published May 12 2015
Updated May 13 2015

Eighteen months after the world's children learned the icy tale of Arendelle, kids in the Tampa Bay area have the chance to seen Queen Elsa and Princess Anna in action. • Setting Frozen to ice skates was so obvious, Feld Entertainment started planning Disney on Ice presents Frozen before the movie even premiered, said Gregory Poplyk, an Emmy-nominated costume designer who helped bring the show to life. • "They brought me in to a screening in June (2013) and it was just such an amazing film," Poplyk said. "And it was so natural to make it an ice show." • It became the highest grossing animated movie ever, according to Forbes magazine, doubling down the pressure on Poplyk to do it justice. • "I've been designing costumes for almost 30 years from Broadway to the circus, but I'd never done an ice show before." • Now in its ninth month touring the country, Poplyk can share a bit of the magic that makes Frozen on ice the hot ticket for parents. Pro tip: You want your snowman to be a really good skater because falling down is a lot easier than getting up.

Just because a movie is set in a deep freeze doesn't mean it automatically translates to ice skating.

Whatever century Frozen is set in seems to be before the advent of those sparkly miniskirts ice skaters are used to wearing. "Those floor-length gowns and capes from the coronation day scene were especially difficult to translate because of their weight," Poplyk said. "If a dress is too heavy, the skaters won't be able to stop their spins, and it throws off the balance." Disney wanted the costumes true to the animated form while still respecting the skaters safety. Poplyk wanted the costumes to play to an arena and while making sure everyone remained upright. The compromise: Arendelle with added sparkles. "We kept very close to the original drawings but for some of the costumes, especially the people of Arendelle during the coronation, we added things."

Sven: one reindeer, two skaters.

A reindeer on ice skates presented a different kind of challenge for the Frozen cast, but Poplyk said great casting helped turn a butt of a job into a can't-miss performance. "There are two guys in the Sven costume and I swear, they're like best friends now," he laughed. Months of skating together and constant viewing of the film has turned Sven on skates into a facsimile of Kristoff's moral center in the film. "They've even got the gestures down because they've been doing it so long," Poplyk said. "It's like you're really seeing him."

Elsa's transformation during Let It Go may be just as magical as the movie.

When Poplyk first saw Queen Elsa form her beautiful snow gown out of thin air, the wheels began turning as to how to make it happen in the real world. "At first I was going to have skaters dressed as snowflakes come out and skate around her to help with the change," Poplyk said. "But the director envisioned Let It Go as a solo skate because it's a moment when she's really shedding everything and accepting her abilities." Tasked with the idea that Elsa needed to change herself, Poplyk came up with the idea that her cape from the coronation needed to light up with electric snowflakes in a ripple effect to make it look like her dress was forming out of the ice. "When I first saw it, I knew the director was absolutely right. It's magical."

The learning curve on trolls is steep.

Making trolls looks easy on paper. But trolls come with caveats. They are smaller than the rest of the cast, look like stone and travel by rolling into small boulders in the film. Poplyk created some neat cheats to work around that. "The troll is a one-person costume but it's made to look like two trolls, one standing on top of the other," he explained. "We didn't want the arms to be lifeless on one troll — moving on top but like a statue on the bottom — so we tied them together so that the bottom arms mimic the top's movement." But the coolest factoid is that the glowing crystals that determine the trolls' gender (blue or green for boys and red or pink for girls) will really light up during their big number. "There's a lot you learn when working on project like this," Poplyk said.

Prepare for it to be loud.

If they aren't screaming, you're doing it wrong. Poplyk saw it firsthand at the very first Frozen on ice in September 2014. "Each time Hans or Anna or Olaf or anyone comes out for the first time they were screaming," he said. "For them, it was like they were seeing friends." Friends with a great soundtrack, apparently. "They know every word to every song and will sing along the whole time," he said. As a costume designer, Poplyk's favorite part of the atmosphere was seeing an arena full of tiny costumed Annas and Elsas oohing and ahhing at the real thing. "It was a real honor to be able to work on this show," he said. "I'd do it again in a heartbeat."


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