While in Los Angeles for the Alice Through the Looking Glass premiere event, I had the opportunity to sit down with two of the animators of Zootopia, Renato dos Anjos & Chad Sellers. It was amazing to hear the process of animation and they told us a lot of cool facts about animating Zootopia that I couldn’t wait to share with you. Here are 9 Things You Didn’t Know About Zootopia.
We loved Zootopia. In fact, as a family, we actually saw it twice in the theaters. And as soon as I got home from the Disney In-Home Zootopia DVD Release event with a copy of it on DVD, it was being downloaded and watched on various devices all over my home.
We spent some time with 2 key animators of the film – Renato dos Anjos and Chad Sellers while we were at the event and they showed us how many aspects of the film were developed. We saw how certain characters’ mannerisms were created, what inspired the animators & even a scene where John Lasseter himself helped create.
9 Things You Didn’t Know About Zootopia
Renato dos Anjos: There was a lot of different characters, a lot of different species. And for us as animators, when you’re working on a film, once you get used to animating humans, it kind of makes your life easier as you go. But Zootopia had so many different varieties of species that it made that very difficult for us – in a good way because we want to be challenged, but you can never really apply what you learned from a mouse onto an elephant, for instance.
Robin Hood was a Big Inspiration for the Zootopia Animators
dos Anjos: We looked for inspiration everywhere, like on our films of the past. Like Robin Hood, which is one of my favorite animated films because I loved the design animation in that movie. It’s done by several of my all time favorite artists and I love that movie so much. But one thing that we wanted Zootopia was unique and so we didn’t just want to copy what was done in the past.
Seeing Animals in the Wild in Kenya Changed the Animator’s Perception of What the Movie Could Be
dos Anjos: We’d been watching all sorts of documentaries and going to different facilities to see animals in person, but once Clark (Spencer) told us that we’re going on to Kenya to (see the animals), I didn’t expect to learn that much more because we had the access to everything that we could think of here. In a few days of being there, my perception for what the movie could be really changed.
We saw the animals behave normally without restrictions. They really act differently. There’s a certain kind of strange kind of peace to everything. The way they react around each other is very different.
Chad Sellers: And you definitely see them new in the natural habitat rather than seeing a fox on a leash.
dos Anjos: I was really expecting not that much to change in my perception, so when I got back to the studio, everybody was working on different tests and everything that I saw just looked off. It looked off for some reason because we were just there.
It Was Important for the Animators to Keep Each Animal Unique to Their Species
dos Anjos: (While in Kenya)…..this elephant that passed us by. There was several of them, but this one got really close to the truck and then kind of walked off. And it had a very gentle sway to the movement of the head and it was just kind of grazing. When I was working on an elephant test, it just didn’t really quite look like that. We worked really hard on trying to get that spirit of that movement because they’re animals, even though, they’re on two legs… (in the movie). We wanted them to feel like what we see in the wild.
The elephant looks like an elephant. The giraffe looks like a giraffe and Nick Fox looks like a fox, although they’re walking on two legs, it just felt really unique to their species.
Even Animal Behaviors & Mannerisms were Added Into the Film.
Sellers: We were trying to figure out what makes each animal specific to that animal, and ways that we can make our characters feel that way. We wanted the animal traits that sort of sell that animal. We just wanted to make sure we got the animal behavior, so like looking at the way a moose eats.
Humans bring the food to our mouths. That’s how we eat, but the animals always go towards the food and just that subtle little thing made it feel more animal like. Just that behavioral things that were a constant thing we looked for. Bears can’t really scratch their own back, they use the tree, so we wanted to find fun moments to actually put in the film, so this was a scene from the film with that kind of. (Remember the scene at the nudist colony?)
John Lasseter Acted Out a Scene to Help the Animators
Do you remember the scene in Zootopia where Nick eats a tiny piece of cake at Mr. Big’s daughter’s wedding? Here’s what Sellers had to say about the help they received in animating this scene:
We get inspiration from everywhere even John Lasseter, our boss. He was very passionate about this film and he had ideas that he had wanted things very specific. In this one scene where Nick eats this little piece of cake, he wanted something very specific, so I asked if I could record him acting that way so we can pass it on to the animators, so and he acted it out for us.
Sellers then goes on to show us what he filmed that day – complete with Lasseter eating with a tiny fork, a pice of cake off a nickel.
Sellers: He’s a great actor, very dedicated and very focused on the film and we pretty much just used exactly how he’s acting on this. Even down to the little nod of his head.
Animators Adopted Rabbits to Fully Grasp the Bunny Behavior of Judy Hopps
dos Anjos: Even some of the animators adopted rabbits they would bring them into departments for us to see. We wanted to test how much animal behavior we would add to these characters versus human behavior, so in this test, if you look at the one on your left, she’s very much like a rabbit. And the one on the right, she’s still going through a similar kind of action, but she’s acting a lot more like a human.
Sellers: You probably have seen bunnies do this, but when they play or fight, but they sort of jump up and kick their feet out kind of all crazy. So we thought, if she had to do something where she opened a door, how can she do it like a rabbit? Again we wanted to try to stay true to the animal, you know, and try to do something unique that way.
dos Anjos: And we came to this place where if she (Judy) is in high alert or she’s threatened, she becomes a little bit more like a rabbit and then she backs off of that and becomes more herself. There is an actual shot from the film where she’s about to stepped on by this rhino and she becomes a lot more like a bunny and then back into her own self. It was a tricky film because we couldn’t really find formulas to things. Every shot dictated what needed to happen.
Animators Take A Lot of Character From the Voice Actors
Sellers: Ginnifer Goodwin’s voice just brings so much, so when she was cast she brought a whole new take to Judy. There’s a sweetness and she does a lot of gesturing even when she’s reading the lines, so we tried to combine that animal along with the voice actor.
dos Anjos: As soon as we know who the actor is, we study it a lot and we watch their films. We try to get familiar with what they do that make them unique. It becomes more of an instinct to know how the character would behave.
Mr. Big is NOT a Mole
Sellers: He’s actually like an elephant shrew, which they’re extremely vicious. He was written a little bit later as well. Coslove, the big polar bear, used to take that part. He used to be that big boss in that one world, eventually, the story changed and Mr. Big became the boss, but it’s super funny.
Doing the research for that character didn’t feel like work.
dos Anjos : You know he is really funny and inspirational. He (Sellers) threw this whole party with Italian meals and we watched a bunch of different Italian films.
Sellers: A bunch of mobster films. We had a few Italian-American animators make their family’s dish. It was awesome.
It was a pretty cool opportunity to hear more details of how Zootopia was developed from the actual animators who worked tirelessly on the film for several years. I was also just as impressed by the camaraderie and respect both of these gentlemen spoke of about working at Walt Disney Animation Studios:
And every shot and every character, everybody can have a say in it and we welcome input from all different departments. We give input to other departments which is very unique. Normally, no one wants to hear. They want to get their job done and move on. Here you have everyone affecting the outcome of the story and the outcome of the look of effects or the outcome of the look of the animation. If you have a vision for it, people welcome that vision.
I’ve never really been anywhere that gives you that kind of freedom to affect a movie that much. One example for me is the movie is screened several times along its journey. About seven to eight times and in each one of those screenings anybody is able to actually send a director notes about what they see working and what they see that could be improved. You really feel like you can have a say in the film.
Zootopia Blu Ray is Available Tuesday, June 7, 2016
Other Articles from the Alice Through the Looking Glass & Zootopia Blu-ray Event you may enjoy:
My Alice Through the Looking Glass Red Carpet Premiere Experience
Get to Know Alice’s Mia Wasikowski
5 Reasons Why Alice Through the Looking Glass is Better than Alice in Wonderland
Exclusive Interview with Suzanne Todd, Producer of Alice Through the Looking Glass
Zootopia’s Clark Spencer, Rich Moore, & Byron Howard
9 Things You Didn’t Know About Zootopia
Exclusive Interview with James Bobin, Director of Alice Through the Looking Glass
Disclaimer: Disney sent me to Los Angeles on an all-expenses paid press trip, in exchange for my coverage of the in-home Zootopia movie release. All opinions are my own.