While I was in Los Angeles last month on my latest Disney press trip, I had the opportunity to sit down with Renato dos Anjos, head of animation, and Chad Sellers, an animation supervisor for Zootopia, which is coming to DVD/Bluray/Digital on June 7!
Writing a story, I get. Performing lines, I also get (although actor, I am not). But animating an animated feature film? It still astounds me how much time, talent, and detail goes into that. Talking with two of the head Disney animators that worked on Zootopia was fascinating!
The Inspiration for Zootopia
One thing that both Renato and Chad mentioned was that Zootopia was a very complicated (and unique) movie to animate because of the large number of species that they had to animate. Instead of making each of the characters move and act like humans, they spent quite a bit of time and energy researching how each animal moved and behaved. In fact, they said that they chose to use life (ie, real, live animals) as their main source of inspiration.
Renato dos Anjos said, “When we were working on Tangled, for instance, and on Frozen, once you learn to animate a person, you can use some of that knowledge when you’re animating that. But when you’re animating a mouse, and then you have to animate…
Chad Sellers broke in, “An elephant.”
Renato agreed, “An elephant, for instance, is very different, and there’s not much that you learn from one character that you can use onto another. So, it really became a very complex film from an animative perspective because, you’re constantly having to learn something new, and you can never really use something that you learned on one character onto another.”
Finding Direction in Kenya
The 11-night research trip that the entire team took to Kenya was a huge key to developing the vision for Zootopia. They thought they had done a lot of research before their trip (watching video footage, spending time at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida, and more), but once they arrived in Kenya, they realized that they had only scrathed the surface.
Renato explained, “One thing that I wasn’t expecting is how this trip changed our vision for the film. This really set the tone for the movie. We were the working on the movie for about a year and a half (at that point). We thought that we had seen everything that we could see. We watched every documentary we could find, we went to all these different places, and we really thought we had done our homework. But as soon as we landed, within days of being there, it really felt that we were really only scratching the surface.
These animals are free – they’re going to move differently, but there’s a certain aspect to their behavior that’s very, very different and unique, and also the fact that they’re interacting with different species, as well, is something that you don’t see (anywhere else). So that really set the tone and changed our perception on the movie.”
It Takes a Village To Make a Movie
There were about 75 animators in the animation department working 60-68 hours per week. Chad mentioned, “You’ve gotta like the people you work with,” because they end up eating breakfast, lunch and dinner together most days. It’s a big commitment to work on a film like this. They both said that you end up becoming like a family (although it does stink that you don’t get to see much of your actual family while animation is at its peek).
We were curious about how the story evolved – and which came first, the animation or the voice acting. Renato and Chad shared with us that it was a constantly-evolving process. of course, they always start with a story and they build around that basic story.
Renato explained that what happened a lot with Zootopia was that, “the schedule to be so hectic where the story kept evolving, and as the story evolved, some of the work didn’t really apply anymore; some new characters needed to be built like the yak – he came in very late. He’s super funny but, you know, it was totally worthwhile, but he came in kinda late.” Other characters that they thought would have a larger part in the movie just didn’t end up working right, so they were either eliminated from the story or moved to more minor characters.
Chad said, “I feel like (animators are) observers for a profession. We really are. We get so lost in something. We look at the interesting way that something moves. It could be a person; it could be an animal, whatever. The weirdest things can inspire you.”
John Lasseter’s Tiny Cake
I wish that I had the clip that we watched to share with you! Chad and Renato told us the story of how John Lasseter acted out the scene at the wedding where Nick ate a tiny piece of Shrew wedding cake. John had a very specific vision for that shot, and his portrayal was hilarious. They used the footage of John acting out that scene to animate what we see in the movie. How cool is that?
Zootopia is coming to Disney DVD, Bluray, and Digital download on June 7, 2016, but you can preorder it HERE!
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