I was invited on an all expense paid trip by Disney to attend the Zootopia In-home Release Press Junket for an exclusive interview with Directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore and Producer Clark Spencer in which I learned 6 really cool facts about Zootopia.
These cool facts about Zootopia really gave me a difference perspective on the film. To really get to know the animals that would be used in the film Zootopia, the team was flown into Nairobi to take a tour and see the animals in their natural habitat. John Lasseter, Disney’s Chief Creative Officer of DisneyToons Studios, a division of Walt Disney Animation Studios, believes that the best stories come from research. And while zoos may be a great place to see animals, Africa was definitely THE place to see animals for real. The Lion King research team had gone on the same tour – and there really does exist a Pride Rock, which now has an animatronic installed on it and is a tourist attraction. It’s nice to learn about the real effort Disney puts into making a movie. Today I get to share with you 6 really cool facts about Zootopia I learned during my interview with Directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore and Producer Clark Spencer.
6 Really Cool Facts About Zootopia
Visiting Africa and the Watering Hole
A research team was sent to Africa to see how animals behave in the wild, including prey and predator living side by side.
When you step out of the plane, everything is quiet. It feels different. The air feels different. It’s just open. And the places visited in Africa haven’t changed in like 40,000 years. The environment is the same. And the animals have a society that’s actual and it exists. Like these groups move together like human beings do. So it’s like being in their version of a city. That’s where the whole bias idea came from us watching these animals around this watering hole.
One of our camps was about 30 feet from a watering hole where we would watch these animals kind of all come in during the day in herds of anywhere from 20 to 500 animals. And wildebeests came in and giraffes. And we saw that antelope and lions would drink right next to each other at the watering hole – no funny business. No one was attacking each other, there’s no aggression. They just got their water, they kind of looked at each other and then they went their separate ways. And we thought, that’s very much like our own society. Like groups don’t always get along.
We have these cities where we all have to figure out how to live together without killing each other. And it was a great experience. That first camp next to the watering hole I think was a real eye opener for all of us because we had no idea it was going to get into us that much. We had all our leadership on that trip. We had our lead of animation. We had our art director. We had our character designer. And those folks all came back with this desire to make the movie so much better because of what we had learned.
Using the watering hole as a basis to create the fabric of the movie was very similar to how the Jungle Book was created.
The Detail and Humor
In one scene an animal is running on a treadmill and eating a little donut at the same time. In another, Judy is wrapping carrots in newspaper and the newspaper contains a photo and article of her grandfather. If you pause the movie you can actually read the print on the paper – it’s not just chicken scratch or “greeking” as it’s called in the film industry.
One of my favorite, and I love this because someone in animation had to think about this. In the opening sequence with the Judy on stage with the tiger and the little sheep. The tiger’s there, he delivers his line, which is what you would expect. Now, the camera goes over to Judy, but you still see the tiger. The tiger moves, ‘cause he knows he’s supposed to move according to the director of the stage, right? And then looks down and realizes he’s not on the tape. And while you’re watching Judy, he moves to the tape, and then he looks out to the audience and looks for his parents and does this little wave to his parents, just like what a kid would do. He’s done his part, said his line, he’s off the hook. But even though he’s off the hook he realizes he didn’t quite go to the right spot. Ah, gotta figure out where my parents are. But that they would think about that, when the shot really is about Judy who’s continuing what she’s saying. I just love that kind of detail that people think about. What everyone needs to be doing in the shot, not just the main character.
There’s an animal running on a treadmill but also eating a little donut at the same time. When Judy’s wrapping the carrots in the newspaper at the vegetable stand. There’s a picture of an old rabbit in the newspaper, and it’s about a local man, her grandfather in this small town newspaper. And if you pause the movie, you can actually read all that copy (on the newspaper) that someone wrote. When I was on Simpsons, we would do Greeking, it was not even real writing And then sometimes we would cut out actual parts, newspaper articles, and make that part of a prop newspaper. But this one someone went in and wrote all the articles. It’s pretty amazing.
He stole it so slow, in slow motion..
Flash was created to poke fun at what it’s like to be at a real DMV. He was intended to be a show stealer and a poke fun at the DMV. Jim Reardon and Josie Trinidad, co-Head of Story, during a brainstorming session, Jim said, “You know, if there’s a DMV in Zootopia, it should be run by sloths. Ha, ha, ha.” And he thought he was just throwing a joke out in the room. He didn’t think it would land, and everyone just kind of went, “Oh.” Bingo. Immediately there was something there – how the DMV is run by sloths. Has that ever been done before? We’re just thinking, someone has to have done that. And we were looking around and it’s like no? I was like, oh, we should do that. So, we immediately got very excited about the idea. Sometimes that happens because we all get together in groups. It’s a very collaborative process where we bring other writers and directors and story artists into the room and, and we all talk for many, many, many meetings. At the same time, always at the same time and sometimes we listen. Sometimes, but not always. And when we hear a good idea the room kinda catches fire and that really was one of those ideas that happened like that. And it happened so fast, I mean, for a character that’s so slow, it’s like his creation, his genesis happened like a big bang. And literally the next day after talking about we saw John Lasseter. Then next thing we’re like, “We got this idea about a sloth running the DMV.” He’s like, “Oh my god.” So we spent the next 90 minutes acting it out, and acting the beats. Almost beat for beat, exactly what’s in the movie. We must’ve gone through it four or five times, and it was locked in everyone’s head.
Flash All Over The World
Flash got his name immediately. There were no other thoughts about it, it just worked. And not just in the U.S., but people all over the world could relate.
We thought to ourselves, “Well we’re the only ones who are gonna understand this concept.” Like it’s the United States. It’s the DMV. We’ve all been there. We know what this concept is. So we actually test our films around the world, and we weren’t testing it to see the flash piece. We’re actually testing it to see what the audience thought of the overall film. And we tested it in Japan, Korea, Russia, Australia, Mexico, Brazil, and China, I think it was 12 markets we tested the movie in. And every single market, the number one scene was Flash, because for everybody, even though they didn’t know what the Department of Motor Vehicles was, they knew what bureaucracy was. Something in their society, whether it’s the post office or getting a passport, or getting a driver’s license, there’s some aspect of their daily life that hit home so everybody can relate to. And we’re like, that’s a universal idea.
Sheep Bellwether, many people were sad to see her turn out to be a villain. Many didn’t see it coming – I know I didn’t.
She’s so sweet. But that was a cover. That was a façade. There’s very nice sheep in Zootopia. She’s not a nice sheep. That was a ruse that she was playing because she’s smart. I would think that she’s smarter than she is cute, you know? Because, she knows that most people in that world think of sheep as very kind of gentle and sweet. So she used kind of the stereotype that’s out in the world of Zootopia to perfect her cover. Who would ever suspect wolf in sheep’s clothing? I just thought it was pretty astute that Bellwether is kind of a dark version of Judy. Like Judy, they’ve had similar issues in their lives, they’ve had similar obstacles in their lives, and similar frustrations, but Bellwether went about solving her problems in a much, much darker way than Judy did. Judy’s very proactive. Bellwether took a weird turn somewhere, whereas Judy always stayed kind of on the high road. At some point Bellwether said, “I can’t take this path anymore. I’m going to veer off this way and get what I want.” I love her too and I love that it’s this very tragic villain that had high dreams like Judy, but at some point she got messed up and she took a dark, dark road. Jenny Slate’s voice is so charming. When she came in during a read for us that little crack that she’s got in her voice is so disarming and you want to love her. You want to sympathize with her. And so she’s a good villain in that way.
The meaning behind the Bellwether name
Unlike Flash’s name, which is meant to make fun of the type of animal he actually is, the name Bellwether for the “head” sheep really does have a strong tied in meaning for its character.
One of our story artists Lauren MacMullan, she’s very thorough when she dives into a scene, and she will just go comb through the internet and facts, and bring all this information to the story room and just put it out there. She discovered that in sheepery, in the world of sheepery that Bellwether is actually the sheep that actually has a bell on it that leads the flock. It’s the smartest sheep. It’s a sheep that is just a couple IQ points smarter than the rest of the flock, maybe a fraction of a fraction. It’s probably not very much. But it’s someone with the most incentive, the sheep that has the most kind of drive and that sheep wears the bell and leads the other ones. So any shepherds that went to see Zootopia totally saw it. Like, “I get it, she’s a villain.” The Falkland Islands, they’ve got it like that, we got a lot of emails from them.
Which of these 6 really cool facts about Zootopia did you enjoy learning about most?
Zootopia is coming to Bluray (including 3D) & Digital HD on June 7th and you can pre-order it now on Amazon (affiliate link) with a price guarantee. Be sure to look out for all the cool facts about Zootopia I shared with you.
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