My New Respect for Animated Films: An Interview with the Directors of Zootopia

Guys, can I just tell you what a huge delight it was when I was invited for a brief interview with the Directors of Zootopia? I was ecstatic, especially after seeing the film and absolutely loving it! Even though I had dozens of questions I wanted to ask them, we only had a short time – but what we did discuss left me with a new respect for animated films, the people and the process that goes into making them. Check out some of the discussion and thoughts they shared!

An Interview with the Directors of Zootopia / My new respect for animation & animated films / by

Also there interviewing was James from Irish Film Critic – he started us off:

James: “You’ve both worked in the industry, primarily in animation. Is live action a field either of you would eventually like to move into or is animation your thing?”

An Interview with the Directors of Zootopia / My new respect for animation & animated films / by

Byron: “I would never do it. (Laughter) I’ve had friends who’ve gone into live action from animation. It is a totally different world and I think there are things … I don’t know that Rich feels this way too, I don’t want to speak for Rich. I think that we appreciate the fact that we have something that we’re so passionate about. I don’t know if I would be as passionate about live action film because we get to work with amazing artists.

The fact that movies are kind of like a repertory theater, in a way, because you have people that you work with again and again over a period of years on these films. Then they’ll bring in new people you’ll meet and kind of get inspired by. It’s such a tough job.”

An Interview with the Directors of Zootopia / My new respect for animation & animated films / by

I love how passionate Byron is for his work – and saying how inspiration can come from new people, working with people for years – it really does sound like a tough job! The time commitment and true desire to get the movie just right really shows the dedication these guys have for their career. Already I was looking at the behind-the-scenes of animation in a new way – then Rich said this….

An Interview with the Directors of Zootopia / My new respect for animation & animated films / by

Rich: “I don’t know if I would like it that much. This is going to sound weird because we work with up to 800 people, but something about (Laughter) the animation feels intimate to me. It’s so crazy to say when we work with that many people. But it feels like a little family. I don’t know if live action has that same dynamic to it. I went to school for animation. I’ve worked in it my entire career less a couple of story boards that I did for a live action movie a few times. I don’t know. I like the filmmaking style of animation. I like the stories we tell.

It offers us so much. I think, especially as directors, we have the best jobs on the film because we get to experience every step of this bizarre process. (Laughter) Everything from when it’s a nebulous idea, where it’s like a little spark that people are sort of lighting up to. Then it starts to kind of get ground and then this dev art gets done and then you kind of go oh, now I can see what this really is. There’s all these points where you start to get really excited about what’s going to happen.

Even to the fact that when we bring your composer on. Michael Giacchino is our composer for this film. When we got him to agree to do the film, and then when you step into the sound stage with a 100-piece orchestra, and you hear the first notes of the score of this movie that we’ve been working on for three or four years together. It keeps beating itself about how great as far as how great the experience is. It’s very, very enriching and I’m not sure if live action directors are as involved in every step of the way. It’s a longer process.”

An Interview with the Directors of Zootopia / My new respect for animation & animated films / by

For Rich to say that a group of about 800 people can feel like a family, because you’re spending so much time together working towards this amazing project, it’s incredible. I really think this is why animation tends to draw me in more, makes me FEEL more, than even live action does. I cry more in animated films than live action, can get more frightened/startled in them, and often feel more of a bond with these characters.

When asked about a combo-type film, similar to a Who Framed Roger Rabbit thing, Bryon said ‘Now that I could do’. 

An Interview with the Directors of Zootopia / My new respect for animation & animated films / by

Please tell me I’m not the only one who didn’t have a clue how much longer creating an animated film takes than a live action one! In this interview I learned that some live-action movies only take a handful of months or so. Byron and Howard worked on Zootopia hard for YEARS. They spent 18 months just doing research to make sure they got the animals right! From studying at the Disney Animal Kingdom, to a big trip down to Kenya, they really put the effort to get it right.

Byron: “That comes from Lassiter, our boss John Lassiter, has a love of research, kind of rightly so. I think we’ve kind of got the research bug from John. Because in his past when he was working on Pixar films the best ideas from real life facts and coming back to, not just some cartoony trope that we can invent out of our head, but real life that people can relate.

I still remember in A Bug’s Life my favorite moment is when the ants are walking along and someone drops a leaf in front of one of the ants. The ant is like “I’m lost.” That comes from real life. It’s the same way, we wanted to make sure we had this promise of this amazing city that could be incredible if we really did our jobs right. We really wanted to say, okay, if we really put ourselves in the minds of the animals and evolve those thoughts forward 50,000 years or whatever until they could form a civilization. What would it be like.

We really felt like we needed to go into Africa to see what real life animal society on the earth is right now. And it was like that. We stepped out of those planes. We had a camp right on the edge of the water hole where the animals all come to drink. The most telling thing for us was during the day lions would come to drink right next to gazelle and zebra that the normally eat.  (Laughter) 

It’s social contract. Of when it’s time to drink we drink we don’t kill you. And that’s how they’re able to co-exist. For the essentials they drop the hunting so they can drink. Then the go their merry way. Then later that night (Laughter)they might feed on that same zebra. But when it’s time to drink they drop it.

And that became the basis of, this is how a city works. It’s filled with people who don’t necessarily like one another. Who wouldn’t really imagine would be living next door to one another but due to the necessities of the essentials, shelter and community, we drop that. We drop the hostility towards one another. That became kind of the genesis of the movie.”

An Interview with the Directors of Zootopia / My new respect for animation & animated films / by

I can’t wait to see Zootopia again just so I can pay  more attention to the many little things I probably  missed the first time – the things they learned in Africa about the animals, how they interacted, their mannerisms and body language. How incredible that must have been – then coming back and applying that to their film! No wonder it took so long – but I think it was well worth it, because you can really notice the quality!

An Interview with the Directors of Zootopia / My new respect for animation & animated films / by

Rich: “There is something nice about crafting it over time. It allows you to really kind of dig deep into the themes, and what you’re trying to say. To wrestle with the story or sometimes it seems like live action could use a little bit more of that. I like our process. By the time we’re finished making the movie we’ve really fully committed to it and we know what it’s about. (Laughter) You can say that this is the best it’s going to be. We pretend it could be better but I think when it’s done, it’s done.”

I have to say, I’ve done a lot of exciting things thanks to my blog – and this interview was probably one of my favorite things. I learned so much about not only the film and how it came about, the messages in it and whatnot, but also about the guys BEHIND the movie and a little of the incredible process to bring it to life!

More from Zootopia & My Interview Here…

Zootopia pushes beyond Stereotypes / by / more from my interview with directors Rich Moore and Byron Howard

An Interview with the Directors of Zootopia / My new respect for animation & animated films / by

How to Help Your Child With Fears / by

Why Zootopia is my new favorite animated film / review by / Disney's Zootopia is hilarious for parents & kids alike!

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Kelly Dedeaux


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