One thing I have always noticed when I head down to Disney Animation Studios and meet filmmakers – they LOVE their jobs and Disney. The talent behind Disney’s new animated feature Zootopia (in theaters March 4, 2016) are no exception.
The Zootopia Film Makers
Byron Howard (Director) started at Disney as a Tour Guide at Walt Disney World. He always dreamed that one day being part of Disney Animation. He finally got his chance on the film “Pocahantas” where he was a clean up artist. He was an animator on “Lilo & Stitch.” He went into the Story Artist ranks and then eventually made his Directorial debut on the Oscar Nominated Film “Bolt” and on the worldwide hit “Tangled.”
Rich Moore has an incredible and long story past in TV animation, creating some of the best and most iconic episodes of “The Simpsons” and “Futurama” and his directorial debut at Disney Animation was on the Oscar nominated film “Wreck It Ralph.”
Producer Clark Spencer is an American film producer, businessman and studio executive, best known for his work at Walt Disney Animation Studios. Spencer joined Walt Disney Feature Animation in 1993, most well-known for his work on Lilo & Stitch and Bolt.
The first thing the film makers talked about was the legacy of Disney Animation, regenerated by John Lassiter and Ed Catmull.
10 years ago today, John Lassiter and Ed Catmull joined Disney Animation and everything changed. One of the first things they did was they put film making where it belongs. They put it back into the hands of the film makers and not into the hands of Executives. So John had created what we call the story trust. This is a mixture that’s very trusting. Today it’s a mix of veterans and young talent. It’s directors, it’s writers, it’s story artists, who each and every day challenge each other and push our films to a new level of excellence. It’s a really important route and so we always ask ourselves, what makes a Disney Animation Film and if you look at that montage, there are so many things. (Clark Spencer)
When it comes to telling a modern story in animation, whether it’s animals, humans, or both there are 4 main ingredients:
- Strive to tell timeless stories for today’s audiences.
- Make these movies to be entertaining for people of all ages around the world.
- The films must contain both a combination of great humor and deep emotion.
- These films have to live up to the standard of Walt Disney.
Zootopia has all of these elements to create the “perfect storm” of a modern classic.
“We finally came up with this idea of an Animal City called “Zootopia” and John Lassiter loved the idea so much, he literally got fired up and he hugged him because John is also a huge fan of talking Animal Films so for him, we’d be going back into this realm”, said Spencer. “And he charged everyone on the Team with creating an Animal Movie that no one has ever seen before”.
The concept of Zootopia is one that hasn’t yet been done, but is so nuanced you may not be aware of the void – this was to make the animals as true to their size and general personalities as possible. So they went to Africa to study animals in the wild and learn about the subtle differences in each species.
“We went to Kenya to study animals on a Savannah, get a sense of their movement and their natural environment. Now to find out what a real animal society is like, we needed to go there, see them all around us. And when we got out of that plane, we saw huge birds and giraffes and zebras way out in the distance. And as we got closer to the animals, the animals got closer to us”.
This trip inspired them to make these animals perfect, down to the stands of hair, to make them as believable as possible. For example, an individual strand of fox fur is dark at the root and it gets lighter as it goes to the tip, and that’s what gives it its overall coloring. Another thing they learned – Polar Bears’ fur is not actually white. The individual strands of fur are clear and hollow. It’s actually the light reflecting off those clear strands that makes the Polar Bear have a yellowish white coloring.
“We had to tackle the natural dreadlocks of the yak and the filthy wool of your average sheep and softness of the arctic shrew. And animals in Zootopia have completely different fur groomed based on their actual individual strands of Fur. That detail the look teams are putting into fur, skin, and textures is absolutely astounding”.
Little unnoticed things about animation is a huge part of making it great, such as the technology created by their team called “Keep Alive”, which created natural movement to fur, leaves, and other “light” objects, things that the average viewer may not notice but will enhance the experience.
Questions like “How would a tiger dance?” and “how would a camel walk on 2 legs?” were posed, which was then followed by a year of research on anatomy and movement.
Every animal in Zootopia is also scaled as they would be in real life. “Zootopia is a world created for and designed by Animals not by Humans. And because this city has animals of every shape and size from jumbo to itty bitty, from the elephant all the way down to the mouse, this city was going to be a very important ingredient, and from the beginning, we all agreed we wanted to be able to have the true size of each Animal”.
The wildebeast is the same size as your average human. But the scale of a wildebeast to a mouse is 1:24. In other words, it’s the height of 24 Mice to equal the same height as a wildebeast. And the height of a giraffe, that same Mouse is 1:95. Zootopia had to be built for everyone.
Things like newspaper stands have to have magazines for the elephants and the mice as well. And one of the coolest things about the City is how it’s designed. Zootopia has different neighborhoods that celebrate different climates and cultures. Desert animals, there’s Sahara Square which is huge and hot and dry. It’s this really kind of upscale area like Dubai or Monte Carlo, all kind of rolled into one. You’ve got these really high end shots, these beautiful hotels. Very sunny. There is beautiful and chilly Tiger Town where the cold weather animals live like polar bears, moose, and arctic shrews. And in Tiger Town, they have coolers under the sidewalk to keep everything frozen and they’ve got what they call a 3:00 blizzard every day.
How exactly did this type of story come about?
Rich Moore: So very early on we found out that we really needed to become experts on how cities evolved and how people interacted, how these cities get built. When we went to Africa, one of the things we noticed was around the watering hole during the day, we filmed those giraffes. There were literally about 30 feet from us. They were very, very close to us and during the day, the lions and leopards and the giraffes, everyone got around the watering hole so we figured out that this city is the place where people come together and live together and they have to agree on certain types of behavior, to make living work.
And that’s where we really got interested in this idea of predator and prey and how these different groups have evolved to get along and it’s been a fascinating journey. We always try to become experts as much as possible,so that the story is fed by the research.
How is Music in this Movie? What should we expect? Is there a lot of singing? Is there any singing at all or is it?
Rich Moore: Shakira’s song is a big, it’s a huge part of the film. There’s also the score is very unique. Michael G. Kino, who scored “Star Trek” and “Jurassic World” – we went and talked to him about doing this Movie and he was the best choice for us because Michael needed to do something very, very diverse because every time you go to a new district, it needs to have a certain flavor, there’s an exotic feeling to Sahara Square and a different feeling to Tundra Town. The characters actually don’t break in to song. Shakira is the one character who does, so you’ll see her singing but it’s not a musical from that standpoint. The music is a huge component of establishing this world.
What do you want families to take away from this movie?
Byron Howard: Well I would say big one that I really take from it is the theme that we define ourselves. You know the world may have an opinion of us but it is up to you to define who you are. The world does not define you, you do, and that’s the theme that I went away with. Yes because both of the Characters, both of the lead Characters Nick and Judy lived their whole lives with people and animals telling them who they should be, and struggling against those limits. It’s all threaded throughout the whole film.
You’ll see as great as the City is, it has a lot of barriers that Judy runs into because of her size because of where she comes from, because of what people believe she knows or believe she’s capable of and to see her overcome that is really the journey of the movie. And it’s that will that idealism and that determination to survive, and I think as we’ve shown the film around the world, I think that’s what people really seem to key in on with Judy and that’s why Ginnifer Goodwin did such a great job in bringing that to life.
Rich Moore: Sometimes films are, it’s very clear, there’s just this one message and it’s very clear what that is. With this idea of don’t let the world define you, it can be interpreted in so many ways and I think that’s been the amazing thing for us to watch with the Audiences, is that people talk about is it about Stereotype or Bias? Is it about letting yourself be defined? Is it about being determined? Judy’s a very determined character? Is it about a woman trying to show that she can do something? Is about somebody who’s small and saying I can do something even though you see me as a small character, I can big too. All these things come from your own personal point of view as to what you yourself may have experience and I think that is kind of a surprise for us to see how people are interpreting all this one idea in different ways depending upon what their, um, own experience is and it’s been really fantastic to hear back from audiences all over.
Zootopia is in theaters nationwide March 4 2016