Behind the Scenes of China's Magical City of Ice

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Behind the Scenes of China’s Magical City of Ice Feature China / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Every year, a magical illuminated city of ice rises on the banks of a frozen river in far northern China. Thousands of blocks of ice are sculpted into crystal palaces and glittering towers that attract over a million visitors a year to the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival.

Award-winning photojournalist Kevin Frayer spent several days in Harbin documenting the back-breaking work that goes into constructing the shimmering city of ice.

For weeks ahead of the festival's opening day, around 10,000 laborers worked day and night in temperatures that could plunge as low as minus 35 degrees Fahrenheit (-37 Celsius).

Hired workers cut blocks of ice from the frozen Songhua River and transport the blocks, which can weigh up to 1,500 pounds each, to the site. Most of the cutters are farmers from nearby villages who start work before dawn at bitterly low temperatures to earn about $35 per day.

The blocks of ice are carved with chainsaws and then sculpted into temples, animals, famous landmarks and ice slides. Computer-controlled LEDs bring the icy architectural wonders to life.

The ice sculptures in the festival's Ice and Snow World area will open to the public on January 5, 2019. Two other areas feature monumental snow sculptures and around 1,000 smaller ice and snow sculptures for children.

The annual Harbin Ice and Snow Festival usually runs for around one month, depending on weather conditions.

Read more: Enormous ice and snow sculptures go on public display

Following is Frayer's look behind the scenes of the world's largest ice festival.

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Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Workers use a machine to cut large blocks of ice from the frozen Songhua River in preparation for the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival.

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Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Working in temperatures that can plunge as low as minus 35 degrees Fahrenheit (-37 Celsius), teams of workers use ice picks to dislodge large blocks of ice from the frozen Songhua River.

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Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Workers pull a large block of ice that will be used in the making of ice sculptures from the frozen Songhua River. The blocks can weigh up to 1,500 pounds each. 

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Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

A worker uses a chainsaw to carve the ice blocks. 

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Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

The city of ice in Harbin, China, begins to take shape.

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Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

A laborer uses a tool to shave ice blocks to create a smooth arch. 

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Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Workers construct the central ice tower at this year's Harbin Ice and Snow Festival.

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Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Workers gather lights that will be placed inside ice sculptures.