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The Art of 'Zootopia': One Hoppin' Event

Art By Byron Howard
Gallery Nucleus in Alhambra, CA played host to a panel on March 12 exploring the art and development of Disney's latest blockbuster animated film, Zootopia. Known for hosting events that explore the art and development of animated films and television series with past events including Frozen and The Legend of Korra, Gallery Nucleus continues to bring enriching and intriguing panels to all interested in animation and the recent Zootopia panel was no exception to Gallery Nucleus's consistency in quality events.
The panelists prepare to present at Gallery Nucleus.
No photos were allowed during the presentation.
The completely filled panel had panelists from Zootopia's crew including Matthias Lechner (art director, environments), Cory Loftis (art director, character), Fawn Veerasunthorn (story artist), Normand Lemay (story artist), Kira Lehtomaki (animation supervisor), Benson Shum (animator), and Trent Correy (animator). Moderated by Disney Insider's Drew A. Taylor,  the panelists discussed how they approached the challenge of creating the believable city of Zootopia, finding the story, and developing and animating the characters.

In creating Zootopia, much thought was put into incorporating environmental influences in order to make the city look believable and not just simply a city for animals. There were various city adaptations to the different sizes of animals, including cars and entry ways, and each had to be thought up. Furthermore, a great deal of thought and development went into the different environments of the city. The team even consulted a NASA engineer who advised them that putting the Tundra Town and Sahara Square sectors of Zootopia next to each other would create super storms. "We ignored that," Mathias Lechner cheekily remarked during the presentation with much laughter from the audience. The other intriguing thing of the design of the city was the fact that everything had purpose with the most impressive example being the the trees in the Rainforest District. If you look closely during the scenes that take place in that area, you will notice that there are trees made up of pipes. These trees expelled steam from their canopies to maintain the environment and the trees even contained sprinklers which produced the rain for the animals. Next time you watch the film, pay attention to the environments and you will appreciate all the functional details that the crew placed.

This scene went through quite a few changes. 
One of the most challenging aspects of creating an animated film is finding the story, and while ideally it would be a straight shot the journey ends up being a giant zig zaggy quest with the story a constantly moving target. Originally Zootopia featured foxy Nick Wilde at the center and it wasn't until later in the game that the crew truly found the heart of the story in optimistic Judy Hopps. Finally finding their story lead to a reworking of the film and the culmination of a years-long journey. In explaining how the film was different from finalized version and how ideas come and go, the elephant ice cream parlor scene was explored and dissected. Originally Judy never intervenes and comes to Nick's aide, rather Nick manages to manipulate the parlor goers to empathize with his situation in an extended version of the scene and they in turn pressure the parlor shop owner into giving Nick the jumbo pop for free since it's his son's birthday. One joke in particular that got the audience laughing was when Nick lamented about how all his son wants is to be an elephant, however he can't afford species reassignment surgery because he already spends too much on peanuts. While the final scene is still fantastic, it was intriguing to see how much the scene had changed during development.

Story is a constantly moving target,
thus many scenes and characters unfortunately
do not make it in to the final film.
Art by Byron Howard.
During the journey of discovering the story of a film, many scenes and characters are thought up and unfortunately never make it in. A fantastically storyboarded train chase sequence was one of the scenes that unfortunately ended up on the cutting room floor. In this scene Judy and Nick are being pursued on the train after discovering the truth behind why the predators are going savage. The train goes back through all the major environments of Zootopia in a reversal of Judy's arrival to the city. The scene included wonderfully choreographed action and a hilarious moment where Judy runs into a former classmate from her youth, a business cat whom she manages to get to hit the emergency stop button by having them chase a dot of light which led to a lot of laughter from the crowd. The chase included plenty of other comedic moments, but unfortunately the whole thing was scrapped. Other scenes that didn't make it in included a scene involving the giant palm tree shaped building in Sahara Square and one where Nick Wilde visits his father's now dilapidated shop in a not-so-nice area of the city.

The artists did a great deal of research in developing their animal characters, including viewing multiple reference videos, reviewing pencil tests from previous Disney films in the archives (including most predominantly Robin Hood), and even taking a life changing trip to the nature preserves in Africa. They primarily noted how the different animals moved and utilized these movements when they made the animals walk on two feet. The crew didn't want the animals to simply be furry humans walking on two feet, and thus they used what they learned in order to differentiate them and make them unique.

The wait for the signing was well worth it.
Thanks for the signatures and drawings! 
The panel ended with a signing of the art book for the film, with the entire signing taking nearly two and a half hours (thanks for staying and signing for everyone!). A great deal of insight into the process of creating Zootopia was provided to all who attended and it was wonderful to spend a few moments with each panelist during the signing thanking them for all of their lovely work. If you're ever in the area, attending a panel at Gallery Nucleus is well worth your time as well as viewing the art they have on display. You can check out their schedule of upcoming events here and see information regarding the Zootopia panel as well as purchase event exclusive prints here.