The modern mammal metropolis of Zootopia is a city like no other. Comprised of habitat neighborhoods like ritzy Sahara Square and frigid Tundratown, it’s a melting pot where animals from every environment live 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 (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin) 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 (voice of Jason Bateman), to solve the mystery. Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Zootopia,” a comedy-adventure directed by Byron Howard (“Tangled,” “Bolt”) and Rich Moore (“Wreck-It Ralph,” “The Simpsons”) and co-directed by Jared Bush (“Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero”), opens in theaters on March 4, 2016.
I found Zootopia Directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore to be both funny and charismatic. They were such fun to interview and gave us much insight into the making of the film that hits theaters on Friday.
We were interested to find out what it was like working with a co-director on Zootopia. After teasing each other about stepping on toes, they gave us their real answers.
Rich and I knew each other before this, but I don’t think you really get to know someone until you have this experience. […] The fact that we were there for each other as a sounding board because they asked us to make literally thousands of decisions every week for a period of about two years. To have someone you trust and someone who is looking out for the welfare of the movie just like you are, and some of the same priorities, I honestly think it makes it a much more pleasant journey. Because it’s like I have no desire to do these films alone.
We don’t have an auteur situation at the studio at all, it’s really a community of filmmakers that are all about teaming up and bringing everything we have to the table to make the films better. – Byron
Yeah this was my first time working with another director, everything I had ever done was just by myself and it was kind of out of necessity on this one because it took a big turn as you probably talked with some of the writers that our main character changed very deep into the life of the film. From the fox to the rabbit.
I had been associated with the film as part of the story trust from early on and John Lasseter asked me ‘would you jump on, just for practical matters of this one is really up against it’. It’s a two person job.
And, of course I said it would be my honor, and it’s a great a experience, and we didn’t really have to split up responsibilities as much as you would think. There was a few departments where we would kind of take the lead on, but most of the production, we were in just about every meeting together and it does help to be able to make the decision very quickly and then move onto the next thing, especially in a situation like we’re on in this one. – Rich
When you watch Zootopia, you will see all of these impressive backdrops and scenes. We wanted to know if they had to limit which scenes and/or backdrops when creating the feel of Zootopia.
No we never did less and less, it was always more and more. They keep getting bigger and bigger. We started off with sort of a complex idea of the city that has many sort of worlds within that city. – Byron
Tundratown and Sahara Square and Little Rodentia, all completely unique districts. I think this is the most complex animated film that Walt Disney Animation has ever done and it’s because there are just so many different environments. I think we have a hundred and fifty unique sets and they’re all built by hand, these are on computer but digitally but they’re modeled…No one is pressing a button and like, okay make Tundratown. – Rich
No, every brick is done by hand and it’s all in service to the story, nothing is in there just for show, even Judy’s train, the journey into the city at first is to introduce the audience to this idea of these environment wedges and how it all kind of fits together and you’re being introduced through her eyes. You’re getting this idealized version of what the city is through your protagonist. All of it is there to serve the story, we try to be as conservative as possible so we don’t kill our crew. – Byron
It’s a weird balancing act you want to give the audience everything, but there is a finite amount of things that you can do and we’re always pushing the envelope on that front. Even just like that train ride. We didn’t even storyboard that section, we decided why don’t we shoot lots of coverage of it and then give that coverage to our editor.
And it was a very low-res kind of version of the city at that point, but we felt really since it’s to a piece of music that it almost feels like a montage or a music video. Let’s just shoot lots of coverage of her train ride in and let our editor kind of take the lead on putting it together. And I’m really proud of what she did with that. – Rich
As you watch the movie, you see all these animal families and species. How many exactly are represented?
Sixty four different species of animals, all with different fur. Of those sixty four we have male, female and child. So you do all these multiplying then you have like that times three and then you have of those maybe like twenty variants clothing and color wise first. By the time you’re done you have tens of thousands of individual images. – Byron
Depending on the groom and the clothes, the amount of uniquely different characters that they can generate is yeah in the tens of thousands. – Rich
And all sixty-four are mammals! There are no birds, reptiles, or simians. As to why, Byron explained “…apes are too much like us, so as soon as we put them in the story, everyone goes, oh the ape is the smart one. We wanted all these mammals to seem lime more or less equal intelligence.”
In doing research into animals, there are some animal breeds where you go is that a prey animal or a predator. Racoons are tricky because they’re predatory, they kill and eat smaller animals but they also get eaten. We tried to pick animals, mammals, that were clearly either. – Byron
The directors did mention that this is not the only city in their world and that there may be opportunities to expand to other animals in the future.
When they went in to pitch John Lasseter, they pitched a few different ideas. Some were a little out there, but it was fun to hear where this concept originally started. They had one idea called Pug the Bounty Hunter about anthropomorphic animals in space. Another one called The Island of Dr. Meow that was like an animalized version of Three Musketeers. Fun, right?
John Lasseter looked at all the ideas that both Byron and Rich brought in and he thought that the world (of Zootopia) was interesting, but he loved the anthropomorphic animals. So, that’s where they started from and went off to start their research. The research? Yep, lots of fun and exciting trips. They did mention that the research took almost a year before they even dove into the story!
Okay, I’m going to throw this out there. Flash is my favorite character in Zootopia and his scenes are hilarious. Although, if it was my DMV I may not be as happy and would probably act like Judy Hopps. 😉
When talking with Byron and Rich about the DMV scenes and how the entire DMV is run by sloths, we were interested into how that worked out.
We made it the Department of Mammal Vehicles and we weren’t sure how it would play overseas, because not everyone has DMV’s overseas. But what we found out was, we just came back from Europe, we were in Europe for two weeks. And no matter where you play that sequence, red tape in bureaucracy is universal. – Byron
I want to say how much fun we had with these gentlemen and I’m grateful for the time they were able to chat with us last week. Also, be sure you are at the movies on Friday night to see Zootopia in theatres! Watch for Flash and let me know what you think.