Ask any movie animator what makes an amazing animation and they're likely to give you the same answer: it's all about the little things, the small stuff that we might not even notice but damn it they would notice. Anyone who's seen it will know that the animated feature film of the moment, Zootopia, is absolutely packed with tiny details. Like what, you say? Like this:
At last! The movie's animators finally acknowledged that animals' ears aren't just for show; they actually use them to, you know, hear stuff. SpongeBob SquarePants team, take note.
The movie even managed to solve the age-old "how are his glasses staying on his head?" problem seen so commonly with anthropomorphic animals.
For those of you that haven't seen Zootopia yet (and may be a little reluctant), I understand. It's the latest in a loooooong line of Disney movies about animals and I wouldn't blame you for thinking, "yeah, yeah, so what?" But Zootopia is different, different to anything that has come before it. Zootopia sets new levels for an animation film in terms of both believability and physical accuracy, and here's what makes it so real.
1. The Characters' Appearances
The dedicated creators of the movie took hours studying animals and obsessed over their fur. In order to make the characters look as convincing as possible, the animators researched fur at a microscopic level and created millions of strands of hair for each creature. Each individual strand was added to make the mammals more believable, and unique textures developed to differentiate, for example, between the dreadlocks of the yak and the soft fur of the bunnies.
2. Their Natural Mannerisms
Judy's foot tapping tic and the way her ears prick up are two great examples. The filmmakers spent 15 months studying animals in great detail, starting at Disney World's own Animal Kingdom where they were able to observe the animals' behavior up close. To get a wilder perspective, they went to Africa; in Kenya, they were able to study animals on the savannah and get a sense of their movement and their natural environment.
3. And Their Evolved Ones
Zootopians do not go to work nude! Unlike many Disney animal characters of the past, the inhabitants of Zootopia have developed social boundaries; they're civilized and they know what's considered appropriate (and what isn't). Just like in the real world, there's a designated community away from the majority of citizens for any hippies or budding naturists to let it all hang loose.
4. The References To Pop Culture
Zootopia has been hailed as Disney's most Easter Egg-packed movie EVER and it's not hard to see why. To create the illusion that the animals truly are living in a modern world, the movie throws pop culture references in left, right and center. There are hints alluding to Breaking Bad, The Godfather, Frozen and even a couple of upcoming Disney movies, along with signs for "Preyda," "Trader Doe's" and "Urban Snoutfitters."
5. The Use Of Modern Technology
The mammals in Zootopia are super connected, using modern technological devices to keep up with the latest goings-on from all over the globe. While some characters are seen using iPhones (or should that be iPaws?), others can be spotted with Android devices. During a nighttime raid, Judy Hopps even whips out the camera flash on her phone to use as a flashlight.
6. The Characters' Cars
Disney went all out on this one and hired automobile icon J Mays to design the cars featured in the film. The man behind the New Beetle, the Audi TT and the Aston Martin DB9 was enlisted to create vehicles that were specially suited to each species, and he came up with some pretty amazing ideas. The top of the giraffe car, for example, is articulated and leans in when driven around a corner, the moose car is roofless to accommodate antlers and the hippopotamus's vehicle is a strong SUV.
7. The Dynamic Surroundings
The filmmakers actually invented a pretty groundbreaking technology, which they call "Keep Alive," to make sure the world of Zootopia always has some level of movement. They spent nine months creating a wind simulation that would ripple the characters' fur, taking into account the shape of the animal and the wind strength and direction. For an even more realistic result, the simulator also added ever so slight movements to individual leaves, branches and shadows.
8. The Species' Unique Movements
Just like us, modern mammals in Zootopia have evolved from walking around on four legs to just two, and to increase believability, the animators made it their mission to preserve each species' natural movements. While out in the wild for research, they observed the individual characteristics of each species and created a unique "footprint" for each one. No two species in Zootopia walk in the same way.
9. True To Size Scaling
While most films centered around anthropomorphic animals make all of the characters a generic size, the inhabitants of Zootopia were scaled correctly. The height of a wildebeest compared with a mouse, for example, is 1:24 and a giraffe compared with a mouse is 1:95. The different sizes were crucial in building a world that would be suitable for everyone.
10. The Design Of The City
Thinking logically, it just wouldn't be possible for species with such wildly varying requirements to live together in the same environment. Zootopia solved that problem by coming up with the ingenious idea of having different neighborhoods that celebrate different climates and cultures. Sahara Square, Tundra Town, the Rainforest District, Little Rodentia and Bunny Borough are all featured in the film.
It's thanks to small details like these that their world truly does feel like our world. Watch Judy arrive in Zootopia for the very first time in the clip below: