Laughter is timeless,
Imagination has no age,
And dreams are forever. ~Walt Disney
Walt was the original pioneer of technology in entertainment, and today John Lasseter and his team at Walt Disney Animation Studios sure are keeping that dream alive for fans young and old. After spending an afternoon with one of these animators, Darrin Butters, I am reminded that the Disney level of excellence is not an accident, and should never be taken for granted. For someone who has been absolutely enchanted by the Disney spell since the 1965 release of Cinderella, I should not have been surprised. Fifty-four Disney animated feature films later, the legacy continues. Shame on me!
Case in point: The making of the upcoming film Zootopia. While we may have heard that each of these “cartoon” features takes 4- 6 years of development, I personally was struck by the intensity, the research, and the mileage that fed the finished product. Knowing this, the release date of Friday, March 4th can’t come soon enough!
Humankind has long examined itself through the creatures of nature. From hieroglyphics, to fables of old, to literary classics such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, life lessons have been universally shared in the most loveable and non-threatening of ways. So where does the Zootopia conception begin? If you are creating a metropolis of walking, talking animals, you go to the Walt Disney Animation Studios vault; 1973’s Robin Hood provided a solid base for their anthropomorphic characteristics. (How would a fox smile??)
If you are part of the Disney family and need to study a working zoo, you take a safari to Disney’s Animal Kingdom park!! To complete the Disney attention to detail, you travel the planet in search of creatures big and small living in their natural habitat; Jambo Kenya. There, the creative team explored animal relationships, movement, and unique species traits; bears in the wild scratch their backs on trees, and so do the bears in this utopia- clothes and all. The observed African Cape buffalo is naturally a large, unforgiving animal, who locks eyes with its prey; enter tough and muscular Chief Bogo.
Next, it was time to study humans, and the Zootopia actors in particular. Voice talent Ginnifer Goodwin, the voice of protagonist Judy Hopps, is naturally perky and optimistic- the perfect embodiment of the pure-hearted bunny cop. In part, her personality and physical personality informs the animation.
Lastly, the animators get into the act. Literally! As an example, Darrin Butters shared that before the production of Frozen even began, animators interviewed Idina Menzel to gain insight into how her breathing and body mechanics create Elsa’s famous notes. Remember the research done to discover how a fox would smile? In the film, fox Nick Wilde tries to eat a tiny, weenie piece of cake. Animators wondered how would this wide-mouthed animal approach this. Enter John Lasseter! Butters played a clip of the master himself acting this scene out, and that is exactly what referenced what we see in the film. Darrin himself uses his own acting and improv chops in the formation of his animation. We were treated to a video of this artist twirling, whirling, and sashaying through his living room. A moment later, it suddenly made sense. We saw this same “happy dance” played out as Olaf frolicked through the meadow “In Summer!” Genius at work!
Darrin also animates what I believe is my favorite charter in Zootopia; the loveable sloth and Department of Mammal Vehicles worker FLASH. It is a work of complete irony and elicits the biggest smiles of the film. Can’t you just imagine him “attacking” his computer screen during this scene at the DMV?
This Cinderella-girl is in awe of the Walt Disney Animation Studios creative process. Still. And if uber-talented Darrin Butters is just one of the large team that brought the Zootopia characters to life, I am chomping at the bit to see it. I’m betting you’ll go wild for it too!!
|Thank you Darrin!|