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How Zootopia was made, talking with Disney’s animation team


Earlier this week, we got to meet and talk to the voices of Nicke Wilde (Jason Bateman) and Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) from the new animated feature from Walt Disney Animation Studios – Zootopia. It was fun learning about their experiences and the talents they brought to the big screen. But this is animation and the lion share of the work is done by the animators and the production team.

As part of the press junket for Zootopia that came to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we got to speak with Directors Byron Howard & Rich Moore along with Jared Bush (co-director), Clark Spencer (producer) & Phil Johnston (part of the story team and voice of Gideon Grey).

Holding the press junket at Disney’s Animal Kingdom actually makes a lot of sense because early on the team from Walt Disney Animation made the trek from Burbank to Kissimmee to meet with Disney’s animal experts and to study a wide variety of animals up close. When you’re making a movie about a world where humans never evolved, you have to populate it with other creations.

Disney’s production team spent a lot of time trying to get the animals just right. They studied everything down to looking at animal hair under microscope so they could develop 64 individual mammal hair styles for the 64 different species of mammals in the movie. For each species there are male, female, and child characters too each with their own variations of clothing and color. That sort of detail is evident throughout the movie and helps immediately immerse the audience in the story.


One mammal you won’t see is simians or apes. “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. And we wanted all these mammals to seem like more or less equal intelligence, more or less,” said Byron Howard.

The production team also spent a lot of time developing the world the story takes place in before they even really started to get serious about the story. In the movie we mostly see the modern metropolis Zootopia where mammals live together. Although we only visit a few districts of the town, they created as many as 12 unique environments for the town (including Nocturnal District and Cliffside).

Each area we do see (like Tundratown, Sahara Square, and Little Rodentia) are well-developed completely unique districts. And yet, it seems perfectly natural that they’re all co-existing in the metropolis of Zootopia.


As you’re watching the movie, keep an eye for the small pond outside of City Hall. According to Zootopia history, that was the watering hole where animals first realized that predator and prey could live together and evolve beyond their natural instincts. From there, the rest of the city developed in an organic, almost spiral, format.

However, even beyond the city of Zootopia is a whole continent that is home to the mammals of the planet. There are no birds or reptiles in the movie, but the production team outlined what life would be like on their continents too. They even figured out what animals in a post violence world would eat. Mostly they eat fruits, grains, and vegetables, but for the animals who need a certain amount of animal protein (wolves for instance) they make delicious bug out of insects.

I think it helped that Rich Moore was brought on board the project. He did such an amazing job with the world building for Wreck-it Ralph. With Zootopia, he took that dial and just whipped it up to 11.

I’m selfishly encouraging everyone to go see Zootopia multiple times, not because it’s great (which it is), but because I want a sequel that explores more of the planet, perhaps even another continent. Maybe Judy joins the equivalent of the United Nations?

Are you planning to see Zootopia this weekend?