Zootopia – Created For and Designed by Animals Not by Humans

Disney disclosure

Anyone who knows John Lasseter knows that he is a huge fan of talking animal movies. I have heard this over and over again directors and producers talk about him. Therefore, it should be no surprise that he literally got fired up and even jumped up and hugged Byron Howard, Director of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Zootopia.”


Zootopia – Created For and Designed by Animals

Producer, Clark Spencer, recently talked to us about the “Story Trust” that puts film making back into the hands of the film makers — and not the executives. It’s a mixture of veterans and new talent, with directors, writers and story artists who “each and every day challenge each other and push our films to a new level of excellence.” With a team like that working behind-the-scenes we can see how they keep putting out incredible pieces of work.

ZOOTOPIA Clark Spencer
Photo by Debby Coleman. ©2014 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

In fact, Spencer also mentioned the 4 key ingredients found in each of their stories:

  1. They strive to tell timeless stories for today’s audiences.
  2. They make movies to be entertaining for people of all ages around the world.
  3. Their films must contain a combination of great humor and deep emotion.
  4. The films absolutely must live up to the standard of Walt Disney — whose name is on each and every film.

Spencer also found it important to note that they are “experiencing a Renaissance at Disney Animation” which is a great segue into Zootopia!

ZOOTOPIA - (L-R) director Rich Moore, director Byron Howard, co-director/writer Jared Bush, producer Clark Spencer.
©2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

And after finishing “Tangled,” Byron was thinking about what kind of story he wanted to tell next and he kept finding himself coming back to classic animal films. He kept drawing animals over and over again and eventually came up with the idea of an animal city he called, “Zootopia.” After pitching the idea to John Lasseter, they were “charged” with the challenge of “creating an animal movie that no one had ever seen before.”

ZOOTOPIA Byron Howard
Photo by Debby Coleman.

In order to do this, the team did just as every team has done before them — they gathered lots and lots of research. First, they went to Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom to learn as much as they could about the animals there. But, they still wanted to see the animals in their natural habitat. Therefore, they made the trek to Kenya to study animals on the Savanna. Inspired by the animals they were able to get up close with there, they came back changed. Yet, they still wanted more. They spent 18 months gathering research to create 50 different species in the film!

ZOOTOPIA - (L-R) Animation Supervisors Kira Lehtomaki, Bobby Huth and Jennifer Hager.
©2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

They even began researching fur at a microscopic level. Each and every piece of fur for the animals they were going to be animating. Fun fact: Polar Bears’ fur is not actually white. The individual strands of fur are clear that you can see here. It’s actually clear and hollow. (I STILL think of this every time I see a Polar Bear now. Simply fascinating to learn). Therefore, it’s actually the light reflecting off each of those clear strands that makes the Polar Bear have a yellowish white coloring.

ZOOTOPIA – Character CG Model Lineup
©2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Additionally, “Zootopia is a world created for and designed by animals not by humans.” This meant that every animal from a small mouse to an oversized elephant to a towering giraffe needed to have their own place in the city. They had to consider how each of these different animals — of different sizes — would move within this world. And then Zootopia had to be built for everyone in its world. Basically, everything from public transportation, restaurants and hotel beds have to accommodate all of the inhabitants of Zootopia. Even the various regions of the world represent the animals and their natural habits and/or size (i.e., Little Revencha where all the mice and which is like Greenwich Village but only about 2 feet tall). Every detail was thoroughly thought through!

ZOOTOPIA rodent subway
©2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Honestly, it’s incredible the amount of work the team put into the animal world. From making the world of Zooptopia “feel alive” to each and every strand of fur on each and every animal. The passion and work is simply unreal — yet I would expect nothing less from Disney Animation.

Zootopia Rich Moore
©2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

One of my favorite parts of our interview with Clark Spencer, Byron Howard and Rich Moore (Director) came when asked about the biggest takeaways from the film. Byron’s response was perfect:

“I would say the big one for me is the theme that we define ourselves… 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.”

Love that! Definitely something I tell my kids often and a great lesson for all of us to learn. I cannot wait to see more of this film when it treks into theaters on March 4, 2016.


Meet Cast of Zootopia