HUNTINGTON — Beginning with its release Friday, the new Walt Disney Animation Studios movie “Frozen II” has opened around the world with record-setting numbers. This music-filled follow-up to the first “Frozen” movie took in $358 million globally and $130 million nationally at the box office, which is a record for an animated film.
There is a local connection to “Frozen II,” and it comes in the form of Disney production assistant Jillian Carney Howell, who grew up in Scott Depot, West Virginia, and was a student at Marshall University. She continued her education at the University of North Carolina — Wilmington and then set her sights on the film industry in Los Angeles, California.
By January 2019, Howell was working at Walt Disney Animation Studios in the 3D Stereo Department, which was the last group at the studio to get their hands on the final cut of “Frozen II.”
In “Frozen II,” the characters Princess Anna and Queen Elsa make another appearance in the new story, with actors Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel bringing them to life once again.
The premise of the movie is described this way: “Why was Elsa born with magical powers? The answer is calling her and threatening her kingdom. Together with Anna, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven, she’ll set out on a dangerous but remarkable journey. In ‘Frozen,’ Elsa feared her powers were too much for the world. In ‘Frozen II,’ she must hope they are enough.”
Directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, with new music written for the film by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the hit movie is a collaboration among many creatives who worked for years to make the project come to life.
On Sunday, Dec. 1, Jillian Carney Howell and national podcaster and former Marshall University student Justin McElroy will host a special presentation titled “From West Virginia to ‘Frozen II’ — Jillian Carney Howell’s journey to Disney Animation.”
The event will take place at the Marquee Cinemas in Pullman Square following the 3 p.m. screening of “Frozen II.” The presentation, free for those with a movie ticket and open to the public, is being sponsored by the Video Production Program at Marshall College of Arts and Media and Marquee Cinemas.
McElroy is the co-host of the “My Brother, My Brother and Me” podcast, and he is one of the voices in the upcoming “Trolls World Tour” movie.
Howell said she hopes the telling of her journey to the world of Disney animation will motivate young kids and older folks who want to pursue their creative goals.
Howell’s true tale is one of acquiring a curiosity in something at an early age and pursuing it.
“My interest in film started when I was 7 years old when Santa brought me a Barbie video camera,” Howell said. “I continued to use that camera until the audio quit working. I also grew up during the YouTube boom, and when I was in middle school, I learned how to edit using Windows Movie Maker and began to put my creations on the internet with my friends. I knew I would make this love of film my career in the eighth grade when I won two national video competitions around 2008. When I attended high school in Winfield in Putnam County, there was not a lot of opportunities to study a career in the arts or in film there, so that caused me to learn how to be resourceful. And the best thing that you could possibly be in this industry is resourceful.”
It took a while for Howell to get hired by the Walt Disney Animation Studios, but once she was on board, she was working on “Frozen II.”
“I became a production assistant who supported the Stereo Department, which are the people that make the film 3D,” Howell said. “These days, making a movie 3D is not a conversion process. They are actually using artistry to decide exactly how far images come out of the screen and how far they go back. It is the process of building a camera for your right eye. Then, when you put the 3D glasses on, it converges the two and creates the illusion of depth.”
The Stereo Department at Walt Disney Animation Studios was the last to get to work on the final version of “Frozen II.” That timing was in Howell’s favor as she quickly became immersed in the intensity of the movie’s deadline as the release date neared.
“The team is like a family, and they truly greeted me with open arms,” Howell said. “Spending a lot of hours in a dark room and working with them, I was never bored as there was always something exciting happening. Because a film like this works on a pipeline system, we were the last to finish. We call it crunch time because everyone is working their hardest to get it done and out. Then the studio throws a big wrap party for us, and everyone seeing the finished movie together for the first time is so magical. In a normal theater-going experience, you don’t see people cheering for the amazing special effects. But when we watched it together here, everyone was celebrating each other’s artistry and work.”
Howell’s presentation Sunday will highlight the above and more with the intention of motivating her fellow Mountain State friends to go for their dreams.
“When the movie premiered last Friday, I woke up with texts on my phone of people taking pictures of my name in the film’s credits, and that is surreal. Despite what people might believe, my time growing up in West Virginia is the reason I was able to pursue this career because it taught me how to be resourceful and how to foster meaningful relationships and to build a community,” Howell said. “It is important to me to share this with others who are on the edge of taking a big leap in their career, or maybe a kid that is like me who is daydreaming in their class about making movies. A career in the arts is not easy, but it is possible to see your name in the credits of a hit movie.”