Wednesday, February 10 2016 08:00

A Zootopian Society: Creating the Characters of Disney's ZOOTOPIA

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For Walt Disney Animation Studios' ZOOTOPIA, there was an entirely new set of challenges created by the sheer size and scope of the film. In fact, nothing about ZOOTOPIA was "business as usual," because unlike other "talking animal" movies that we've seen in the past, this film was done with great attention to both detail and scale. When I met with the filmmakers, there was a lot of talk about how the city itself had to be able to accommodate different sizes of animals (like a subway that serves mice and elephants), as well as consideration given to how different species would move, should they begin walking upright on two legs. With so many elements at play, Art Director of Characters (and fellow MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE enthusiast) Cory Loftis,  and a team of animators had to design over 1,000 unique characters, and during a visit to Disney Animation's temporary campus, he took our press group through a little bit of the process... and gave us a lesson in drawing the Ginnifer Goodwin-voiced Judy Hopps.

Cory Loftis
Cory Loftis explains scale, while rockin' a fine Skeletor T-shirt.

It's one of the most-viewed pieces of development art that's been shown for ZOOTOPIA, but the reason is that it's a very important one - a size chart, a lineup of sorts, that gives the team an idea of just where Hopps and Nick Wilde (a fox voiced by Jason Bateman) fit size-wise into their world. For each character, it had to be decided not only what their overall look would be, but how they would emote and show expression, how their hair or fur would move (new software was created just for that), and how clothing would hang or rest on each. 

Zootopian Characters
Just like real life: There's plenty of diversity in Zootopia, with characters of every size, shape and color.

So how does Judy Hopps take shape? She needs to have balance between "cute and edgy," and ahead of the film's release, Loftis gave 25 writers a shot at following his lead and putting pencil to paper... which he makes look effortless. Mine looks okay (I think)...

THE ROCK FATHER draws Judy Hopps

But in the end, it's the work of the talented artists like Loftis that have given real personality to folks like Officer Clawhauser and the crew... citizens (and cops!) of many different shapes and sizes.

I won't be quitting my writing gig for a job in animation any time soon.

About ZOOTOPIA: The modern mammal metropolis of Zootopia is a city like no other. Comprised of habitat neighborhoods like ritzy Sahara Square and frigid Tundratown, it’s a melting pot where animals from every environment live together—a place where no matter what you are, from the biggest elephant to the smallest shrew, you can be anything. But when rookie Officer Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin) arrives, she discovers that being the first bunny on a police force of big, tough animals isn’t so easy. Determined to prove herself, she jumps at the opportunity to crack a case, even if it means partnering with a fast-talking, scam-artist fox, Nick Wilde (voice of Jason Bateman), to solve the mystery. Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Zootopia,” a comedy-adventure directed by Byron Howard (“Tangled,” “Bolt”) and Rich Moore (“Wreck-It Ralph,” “The Simpsons”) and co-directed by Jared Bush (“Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero”), opens in theaters on March 4, 2016. Get tickets now via Fandango.

James Zahn

James Zahn is best-known as The Rock Father™, a media personality, commentator, adventurer and raconteur. He is the Owner, Publisher, and Editor-in-Chief of THE ROCK FATHER™ Magazine. In January, 2019, after nearly a decade of publishing The Rock Father™ Magazine, he joined Adventure Media and Events as Senior Editor of The Toy Book—the leading trade publication for the toy industry since 1984, as well as The Pop Insider — a destination for all things pop culture, and The Toy Insider — the leading consumer guide for toys and games. He is also editor of The Toy Report, a weekly newsletter published by The Toy Book each Thursday. Zahn has over 27 years of experience in the entertainment, retail and publishing industries.

He regularly serves as a Brand Ambassador and spokesperson for several Globally-recognized pop culture and lifestyle brands in addition to consulting for a number of toy manufacturers. 

Creatively, James has directed/edited music videos, lyric videos, and album trailers for bands such as FEAR FACTORY, has appeared as an actor in feature films and commercials, written comic books, and performed in bands. He currently serves as an artist manager and video director for PRODUCT OF HATE, whose debut album was released by Napalm Records in 2016, distributed by ADA/Warner Music in the U.S. with Universal Music handling global. A new album has been completed and is set for release this year.

Zahn and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, NBC, ABC, WGN, CBS, GCTN, G4, The Chicago Tribune, Forbes, MarketWatch, Reuters, BusinessWire, Fangoria, Starlog and more. He's appeared as a music expert on CNN's AC360 alongside Anderson Cooper, and has been interviewed by Larry King. In the past he served as a writer for the Netflix Stream Team,  Fandango Family and PBS KIDS, penned articles for Sprout and PopSugar, and was a contributor to Chicago Parent.

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