Movies, Books & Disney+

“Zootopia” Press Day Brings Filmmakers out to Talk About Animating Animals & More (How Many Mice Equal One Giraffe?)

Hi everyone!

We sent one of our California reporters to the Zootopia press conference, which brought together the filmmakers to talk about different aspects of the film that centers around animals. If you haven’t seen the trailer for the film (posted below), it is hilarous. I really can’t wait to see Zootopia!

Usually I type up an article based on notes or a recording. But in this case, the notes read like an article and I made few modifications. I enjoyed reading how our reporter was unsure about his “Bunnier in the Burrows” group at first, but was happy to have the name by the end of the day.  And really, what is here is just a drop in the bucket of the Press Day. He’s been to many of them, and so much is learned at these events – for me, it is like having bonus features for the film, adding layers of depth. I’ll write up another article or two with information we learned about the film, which is scheduled to arrive in theaters on March 4th, 2016.

On October 27th, 2015, our day started at the Frank G. Wells building. We enjoyed a continental breakfast and then were broken into groups of 10 or so. I was in the Bunnier in the Burrows group, and initially thought why I couldn’t have been in a cool group like Tundra Town (cold weather animals) or Sahara Square (desert animals). We were ushered into the theater, and producer Clark Spencer introduced the directors, Byron Howard of Bolt and Rich Moore of Wreck-It Ralph. They introduced us to the characters of Zootopia: Nick Wilde, a con man fox voiced by Jason Bateman, and Judy Hopps, a bunny voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin. So I found out that Bunny Burrows is a place where one of the main characters come from, and my bunny tag was already feeling better.

We were shown a clip where Judi comes to the big city to start her job as the police officer, only to discover she is just a meter maid. But she is determined to be the best meter maid on the force.

She encounters Nick Wilde, the sly fox con man and is duped into helping him. There were scenes that emphasize the difference in size between all these animals that have to live and work in the same area. The directors told us that giraffes are the biggest animals and mice are the smallest. It would take 97 mice standing head to toe to equal the height of a single giraffe. Separate entrances for the different sized animals are built into the subways and buildings. It brought to mind The Rescuers, and the scene where the humans are entering the United Nations building. In Zootopia, the idea is that humans never evolved to be the dominant species. There are no monkeys or apes in Zootopia either.

Byron Howard apparently draws bunnies all the time. When he pitched Zootopia to John Lasseter, John hugged him. John had always wanted to make a pure animal picture, but told Byron to make sure it was something we hadn’t seen before (Denise’s note: this reminds me of something we had been told about Big Hero 6, and I think both films will be equally unique).

Someone asked if the animals were just animal heads on human bodies, but no, the filmmakers took great care to make sure the giraffe ran like a giraffe, and yet do it on only two feet. They found the answer partly in that giraffes run in slow motion. Other solutions were found for each animal so that they look like they are running or walking like the animal that they are, but are only on two legs.

Even the motivation for animals was kept as close to the real animal as possible. Wildebeests were studied and photographed, and the filmmakers found that one wildebeest will somehow start to lead, and all the others will follow – like lemmings, which are also in the movie. When Nick scams one to buy a popsicle, they all buy a popsicle. The wildebeest are used to show a crowd waiting at a red light to cross the screet, and hesitate before crossing in a large group. Sloths are behind the counter at the DMV, and the filmmakers joked that they would never be able to get their drivers licenses renewed after the movie comes out. The scene with Flash, Nick’s sloth friend is one of the funniest bits of the film.


A suprising scene involving the end of the first day for Judy Hopps was shown. She comes in the door, turns on sad music from her clock radio, and pops a “meal for one” into the microwave. She gets a call from her parents, who are overjoyed to find out that she has the safest job on the force – meter maid, and ends with her neighbors yelling at her to turn off the depressing music. At that point, I realized it wasn’t bad to have a “Bunnier in the Burrows” tag around my neck. I really loved that scene, so imagine my amazement when the story people showed the pitch reel of that very same scene, and it looked the same but had a totally different tone. It was almost depressing to watch Judy in this version as she was putting on a brave face, and I was rooting for her in the final version we had seen earlier. I hope the comparison version is included on the DVD extras as it is a beautiful example of how a scene can be improved for the better. That was kind of the theme of the story guys as they emphasized that they had to put aside their egos to develop a really tough skin to be in that job. Hurray for them!

Our day was split between the Disney Studios in Burbank, and the Tujunga Facility in North Hollywood. It is a temporary home for Disney Feature Animation while the Burbank Animation Building is being refurbished. They are sharing the building with Imagineering, and we even heard the sounds and music of Star Wars at one point. The Zootopia team is making the building their own by painting an entire wall in the manner of Sahara Square, while another area had an archway reminiscent of the entrance to the Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank.

My favorite display was the art gallery where the elephant art was for people size viewing, and the mice height viewing was for smaller animals. The artwork looked like pre-production art, but displayed was also the name of the artist, which is a nice touch.

Zootopia is still a work in progress, but it looks to be a fun and worthy addition to the pantheon of Disney animation.