Creating the Citizens of Disney’s ZOOTOPIA
During my time in Los Angeles last December I had the opportunity to sit in on a few presentations for Disney’s upcoming film ZOOTOPIA.
Zootopia is a city like no other that’s comprised of neighborhoods that celebrate different cultures. There’s ritzy Sahara Square for desert animals, Tundratown for the polar bears and moose, the hot and humid Rain Forest District, Little Rodentia for the the tiniest mice, and Bunnyburrows for the millions and millions of super cute bunnies. The downtown area, Savanna Central, is a melting pot where a wide array of mammals from every environment come together—a place where no matter what you are, from the biggest elephant to the smallest shrew, you can be anything. But when rookie officer Judy Hopps arrives, she discovers that being the first bunny on a police force of big, tough animals isn’t so easy. Determined to prove herself, she jumps at the opportunity to crack a case, even if it means partnering with a fast-talking, scam-artist fox, Nick Wilde, to solve a mystery.
By now, you have surely seen the trailer (if not, check it out at the end of this post), but you may not realize just how challenging it was to create the world of ZOOPTOPIA. I spent some time learning more about the process of creating the characters in the film during my visit.
Filmmakers conceived and built the vast and detailed world of Zootopia, populating it with 50 different species of animals that retain what makes each animal so amazing in the real world, but these animals talk and wear pants. “The team spent 18 months just researching animals,” says producer Clark Spencer. “We met with animal experts from all over the world, including Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World. We traveled 9,000 miles to Kenya, Africa, for a two-week deep dive into animal personality and behavior. We wanted each species of animal to be real, to feel authentic and to be based on their real behavior.”
As ideas for the film took shape, filmmakers realized that the elaborate world they imagined had legs—of all shapes and sizes. “We have tiny shrews living among rhinos and elephants,” says producer Clark Spencer. “We wanted to be true to the real scale of the animals—something rarely done in animated animals films. So our world has to accommodate animals of all sizes in a clear and creative way.”
For example, foxes are naturally bigger than rabbits in our world and thus, they are in the world of ZOOTOPIA, too. As you can imagine, this was quite a challenge for animators!
The team of artists, technicians and storytellers came together to build a multifaceted city that features tiny transport systems within larger ones, and a network of interlaced tubes, ramps, escalators and entryways big and small. The city is home to animals of not only varying sizes, but also varying needs. “Zootopia is made up of many different environmental districts,” says director Byron Howard. “Each district is designed for a specific type of animal—the look, the climate, everything reflects the habitat the animals need to thrive. And by bringing all these environments, all these different kinds of animals together in one big melting pot of a city—we create opportunities and relationships between animals that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.”
I had the chance to draw Judy Hopps (see above) ourselves and it turned out…interesting. I’m not even sure I can make out a rabbit, much less Judy, but it sure was fun trying!
The Official Trailer
ZOOTOPIA opens in theatres everywhere on March 4th!
Disclosure: Disney sponsored my travel, accommodations and activities during my stay in Los Angeles.