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"Zootopia" Press Day, Part 4

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So as you might recall from our first, second, and third installments, we took a visit to the Walt Disney Animation Studios Tujunga Campus to get some exciting details on their upcoming 55th animated feature, "Zootopia."

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[Photos provided by Disney.]

The next department to speak to us was Animation with Head of Animation Renato dos Anjos and Animation Supervisors Kira Lehtomaki (Judy Hopps,) Nathan Engelhardt (Clawhauser, Gazelle,) Jennifer Hager (Chief Bogo, Gazelle,) and Chad Sellers (Mr. Big.)

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"Our great challenge was that our guys were walking around on two legs, and the real animals are walking around on four legs...We did a lot of testing, a lot of trying/figuring things out and we kind of figured that if you could capture, like, the movement of their head or the cadence of their walk then it really felt like the animal, even though it didn't really look like the animal."

--Although they looked at some of the classic Disney animated films, they wanted most of their animal modeling to reflect real life.
--While they had some animals come into the studios, they also went on a research trip to Kenya.
--An effort was made to reflect how prey animals tend to move in herds, almost like one large organism.
--Wildebeest turn out to be not the brightest animals on the Savannah.

"The African Cape Buffalo...we learned that these guys are one of the scariest, meanest animals in Africa. They're really nasty. They have a horrible temper, and we learned that if they see somebody coming...they'll just stop and turn and stare you down. It's very creepy."

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--Cheetah have strong, piston-like legs and keep their heads relatively stationary as they run...which was a challenge to implement into the less-than-athletic Clawhauser.

"Another animal found in Zootopia is the weasel...You can see in the reference...this really erratic quality to the movement style and it's almost like it's very broken, too. We have a weasel in Zootopia and he's a thief, and so you see him running with this duffel bag over his head and really found fun areas to pepper in that erratic, ropy quality into his lower torso/hip area. You can see him bouncing all around while his upper torso is remaining isolated."

--John Lasseter, in order to illustrate something specific he wants in a scene, will occasionally film reference material of himself.
--Rabbits turn out to be relatively athletic, with a specific jump mechanism called "binky" in which they jump in the air and flick their head around. This was incorporated into Judy's movements as part of her police officer physicality.
--The character of Judy Hopps changed when Ginnifer Goodwin was cast, from a more seasoned, sarcastic, disillutioned police veteran to an optimistic, genuine personality.

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After the main presentation, Renato dos Anjos and Kira Lehtomaki gave us a few minutes for some individual discussion.

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On what was some of their biggest challenges to animate:

"Nick was a challenge with his long muzzle, because we're used to having human characters with the mouths more on the front of the face, but then suddenly we had this character that had this big long muzzle...and I think that's where "Robin Hood" came into it as a big help, looking back at it because you'll see as he opens up his mouth, his jaw is receded back because you don't want this kind of crocodile-look...where it's just hinged here and it just opens. But it was really tricky to kind of design all the mouth shapes around that long muzzle because it's so different from what we've got."

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On whether the acting in animation is different for a more contemporary story:

"I think Disney always, regardless of whether it's more contemporary or classic...there's always sincerity, and there's always heart and that's always present so that's always what we're trying to communicate through our characters."
"What drives me, as an animator, is making our characters believable. My hope is, when people watch the film, they're not thinking 'oh, that's an animated movie," I want them to just enjoy the movie for what it is and the characters for the situations they're going through..."
"We want them to think it's all real."
"Because it is in my head!"

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The last department was Story, with Writer and Co-Director Jared Bush, Writer Phil Johnston, Story Artist Marc Smith and Head of Editorial Fabienne Rawley.

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The panel illustrated the process they go through revising the movie by showing both an older version of a scene and then the scene as it plays in the finished film.

--They took us through a scene at the end of the first act where Judy faces disappointment and showed how the initial pitch would have been acted, and then the fully animated and voiced track.
--Then they said they threw the whole thing in the toilet, because the movie had developed so that Judy was a stronger character and the scene didn't work anymore.
--They reworked it to be funnier to give it more energy as the story flows into the second act.
--New small actions give Judy more agency.

An example of the progression of a scene from a different part of the movie:

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On what drew them to the project:

"I...was really attracted to the comedy...and then the themes of the movie. While it's not, in no instance...it's not a message movie, it's not preachy--it's a comedy, but it is about something. It deals with bias and the way we prejudge each other and I like that I'm going to be able to talk to my kids about that, using this as a tool to do that. And that to me was very attractive."

Finally, the day ended with Producer Clark Spencer giving us a few minutes to discuss how he came to be involved with "Zootopia."

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"So what happens is, when you finish a film (I finished 'Wreck-it Ralph') you come off and there are lots of projects in development and they always want a team of people who are going to work well together. I had worked with Byron on 'Bolt,' and I love him. I had worked with Byron all the way back on 'Lilo and Stitch' when he was a supervising animator and I was producing that movie and I have always thought that I wanted to be able to work with him again because of the fact that he is so talented. He's got such a great sense of humor and a real warm heart so I know every story he tells is going to have all those elements in it, and a real sense of appeal because there is nobody who draws like Byron. His designs are unbelievable.

"Then he pitched me this story and when I thought about this incredible mammal world and this incredible city I was immediately drawn to it. But the most important thing was I loved the message of the film. I thought 'how bold to go out there and tell a story about predator and prey, two groups that assume something about each other and then realize that they're actually wrong.' I thought, in today's world, that was a really profound thing to tackle. And I knew it would be super hard--very hard to figure out the balance of it throughout the film--but I thought it was a really important idea that I wanted to be a part of."

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"Zootopia" opens in general release March 4, 2016.

The previous post in this blog was 2016 Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend - Part 1.

The next post in this blog is 2016 Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend - Part 2.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 1, 2016 2:41 PM.

The previous post in this blog was 2016 Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend - Part 1.

The next post in this blog is 2016 Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend - Part 2.

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