In what looks like a sure hit for Disney, the masters of animation have created an environment consisting of a modern mammal metropolis in their 55th feature Zootopia. In the film, there are 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.
Providing the New York Film Academy 3D Animation School with an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at this world was Darrin Butters, who has been an animator for all of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ top hits including Big Hero 6, Frozen and Tangled.
In front of a full house of animation students, Butters introduced the story, which focuses on rookie Officer Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin), who 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.
Perfecting the motion of each animal was the main focus of Butters’ and his team’s research before beginning to animate the production. “We’re not shooting for realism, but it has to be believable,” said Butters before adding a joke. “The most important animation problem we had to figure out—how does a tiger dance?”
Butters had the privilege of working on what could be the funniest moment of the film, where Judy and Nick enter a DMV run entirely by excruciatingly slow-moving sloths. As he was animating the slow laugh of one such sloth, Butters recalls going against everything he was ever taught in animation—he purposely dragged everything out to play into the humor of the situation. The risk paid off tenfold.
His best piece of advice for young animators working on an animation team: “Show your work early and show often,” said Butters. “You want that collaboration.”
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.