I have written about all that has gone into the making of Zootopia. All the details that the animators had to study to create hundreds of animals to make up the world where only animals live. It is mind-boggling to think of the amount of hours that went into the making of this film. Helping us get our brains wrapped around the process, Zootopia Animators Renato dos Anjos and Chad Sellers sat down and shared what it was like to research and create some of Zootopia’s most memorable characters.
Renato dos Anjos has worked on a few Disney animated films. Bolt, Prep & Landing, Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, and his latest, Zootopia as Head of Animation.
Chad Seller worked on a few Disney movies himself. He is known for his work on Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph, Tangled and now Zootopia.
They both worked on Zootopia for 2 or more years. They were excited to share their experiences with us.
Renato: Yeah it was an amazing experience being there from the beginning and seeing the movie become what it became. For us as animators, when you’re working on a film, for instance on Tangled, once you get used to animating humans, what we learn to draw for one person it’s similar to what we do to someone else. It makes your life easier as you go. Zootopia had so many different varieties of species that it made that very difficult for us, but 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.
They shared a video of some research done at a rescue facility.
Renato: Everything that you see in the movie was based on something that we saw in the real world and the studio was kind enough to send us to different places and different facilities, including some places around town. There’s this animal rescue place that we were able to visit, and that was my first time seeing a fox in person, which is amazing.
The off to Africa.
Renato: Seeing this animal behave normally and without restrictions. They really act differently.
Chad: And you definitely see them new in the natural habitat rather than seeing a fox on a leash.
Renato: 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 fresh out of the airplane, everything that I saw, it just looked off. For some reason because we were just there, you see things. A good example for me was this elephant that kind of passed us by. There was several of them, but this one got close to the truck and then kind of walked off. It was a very gentle kind of like, sway to the movement of the head and the way; it was just kind of grazing. When I was working on an elephant test, then it just didn’t really quite look like that, so we worked really hard on trying to get that, that spirit of that movement because they’re animals, you know, even though, they’re on two legs, they were also like, bipedal animals. We wanted them to be what we see in the wild.
Chad: We were just trying to figure out, again, like what makes each animal specific to that animal and ways that we can make our characters feel that way and these animal traits that sort of sell that animal. This was something like a constant thing, and we just wanted to make sure we got the animal behavior, so like looking at the way this moose eats and we have our characters up on two legs, but if we were to do a test with that, basically what we wanted to try to do and we found that if we have the hands static. Which humans, we 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 thing was a constant thing we looked for. Bears can’t scratch their own back, so of course, they use the tree, so we wanted to find fun moments actually to put in the film, so this was a scene from the film with the naturalists.
Do you have to go back and change characters after the actors come in?
Chad: Model-wise, maybe not as much. It’s more of like, how they perform. How they carry themselves, she’s a lot more contained and just trying things like doing the earlier tests where she’s doing broad stuff, it affects it that way, I think, and it’s less about the actual model, but more about the acting and the performance and what fits.
Renato: Yeah, as soon as we know who the actor is, we study them a lot, and we watch their films. Anything we can get our hand on and we study that and try to get familiar with how they make the movies that they do unique. When we’re working on the film, we don’t look at it as much because I think by the time the movie starts production-wise, we are so familiar with it that we know everything that we need to know basically. It becomes more of an instinct to know how the character would behave. Because you study the personality of the actor and also the animals that we needed to study and we do have specific people in charge for each character. Like, Chad was in charge of Mr. Big. Kira, she’s one of our supervisors. She was in charge of Judy, and she was studying everything she could find on Ginnifer and rabbits. By the time movie started, she had so much knowledge that any shot on the film, she had a really good perspective on where to take the shot and how to guide our artists.
Was Mr. Big always a mole?
Chad: He’s actually an elephant shrew. Which they’re extremely vicious, but he was always that. Also, he was written a little bit later as well right?
Renato: Yeah. Koslov used to have that part. You know, that big polar bear. He used to be the big boss in that one world. Eventually, the story changed, and Mr. Big became that, I mean, super funny.
Chad: Doing the research for that didn’t feel like work. We watched a bunch of mobster films. We had American, Italian-American animators that I was like, just make your family’s dish. Just make them something and bring it and so we had like, real Italian food. It was awesome.
What’s your favorite thing about the animation process?
Renato: There’s so much. It’s very intense. Since I’m supervising, I don’t animate as much anymore. Actually on this movie more than when I’m animating other movies I’ve worked on as a supervisor just because, you know, the story had some changes and the schedule got a little difficult at the end and everybody has to just roll up their sleeves and help. I’m very proud of that because I got to do a lot but normally when we go through this process where it really feels like to become a family of artists. And this movie becomes really part of you, and these characters become part of you, and I don’t think of these characters as characters I’m working on. You’re bringing his story to, to life and with a group of people that you really admire and, and that you know very well. It’s intense in a way that we work a lot of hours. We’re here very early and we stay very late or literally we’re having breakfast, lunch and dinner together for months.
Chad: Yeah, like along the way, each department, each artist like, adds their magic and just once it touches, it goes through everybody and everybody touches it. It’s like, you really feel like the family that created this thing. Everybody did their part and everybody’s like a master at what they do and just, at the end, it’s like, super rewarding to see people like, respond and love the film.
And it did and is still doing so well!
Renalto: Yeah, you never know that. That opening weekend, that’s the worst weekend. I cannot sleep. It’s a very stressful weekend for me, but I’m so happy that people liked it.
ZOOTOPIA will be out on Blu-ray 6/7/2016
*I attended the #ZootopiaBluray press event to share my experience with my readers. All opinions are my own.