During the Zootopia Press Event, Directors Byron Howard and Richard Moore shared the story of Zootopia with us! Going into this interview, I have to admit to being really excited to meet Director Byron Howard.
While I was preparing for the interview I realized that Byron went to the same hippy college I went to. OK, I guess hippy college might not be the best way to describe it. Let’s call it the best liberal arts school located in Olympia, Washington also known as The Evergreen State College.
I love seeing fellow alumni doing amazing things in the world.
Our interview took place at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, and the directors were both open, funny and great to talk with. We could easily feel their passion for Disney, Zootopia and making sure they are not only providing amazing family entertainment but also sharing a strong message with audiences.
Q. How does it feel being back at Animal Kingdom. Since this is one of the first places you did research for Zootopia?
Byron~ You’re right. It’s a lot like a bookend.
Richard ~ The circle of life. It all works out, right? That was very on theme.
Byron ~ That was very, very company specific. That was very good, thank you. This was one of the first places that we came. After we pitched the idea of the movie, what we start with is research. And as we talk about in a lot of these presentations. And the fact that this company has this amazing animal preserve, which is honestly, it is the best in the world. Like if you look at the animals they’re in herds. They’re moving around these amazing environments that feel like a real African environments and Asian environments.
The fact that we could take that real knowledge and these great animal experts and incorporate that knowledge into the film, it was amazing for us. And, so, we stopped here first. We went back to LA and told John Lassiter about our findings here. And he said, that’s amazing. But the next step you guys gotta do is actually go to real Africa and we’re like Africa? And he’s like, Africa! And he sent us.
We took 14 of our leadership over there. And it was a good compliment for this place is that when we landed in the Savannah of Africa we stepped out of these tiny bush planes. It felt like this. They did such a good job here in turning Florida into the Savannah
Africa was a life changing experience for us all. I think all of us came back honestly changed. We’ve very fortunate with these jobs because they send us on terrific places all over Asia and Europe and South America. But Africa for me, I had never been any place that kinda changed you down to your core.
Because you’re stepping into an environment that has been the same for 40,000 years. I’d only been to zoos where I’d seen like two zebra at a time. And then just, you know, 30 feet away from us were 200 zebra, Or 50,000 wildebeest. 100,000 wildebeest. And being as close to lions as we are to you guys in the front row.
And just to see nature, like full on nature right there. It really made us feel like, okay, if we’re gonna do this movie, we’re gonna do it right. And we came home just full of all this information and this great passion, for what we’re gonna create with Zootopia. And I think that’s why the crew dug in so much. We geeked out on all this stuff. And it came across in the film because all our crew cared so much.
Q. How did you end up with the concept for Zootopia?
Byron~ When we first pitched these movies to John and to Ed and to the story trust, John his suggestion is not to put all your eggs in one basket. Not to just pitch one idea. ‘Cause I think he wants to find out who you are as a filmmaker. So, he wants to find out what you’re passionate about. So most filmmakers, I think like Rich or of Jin Lee will kinda come in with like three, four, five ideas. I think it was Nathan.
Rich~ He wants to hear at least a minimum of three.
Byron~ Of three, you’re right.
Rich~ And some people have come in with like 20 good ideas. I don’t know how they do it. You know, it must just be tiny little, just nuggets of an idea.
Byron~ Like just little notions of an idea.
Byron~That way John can see sort of what you’re interested in. Nathan Greno and I, right after we finished Tango, we pitchedthe beginnings of what this movie became. And we had about six ideas and the one thing that almost all these ideas had in common — one was a space movie. It was called Pug, The Bounty Hunter, that had a space rabbit. Rabbit in a space suit.
One was called The Island Of Dr. Meow. Which was a sort of cheesy B-movie version — like a Roger Korman film, if you know what those are, from the 1960s. Where there kind of teenagers went to this island and there was this six-foot-tall cat that was turning these people into animals. John saw that a lot of these films had these anthropomorphic animals in common.
And he said, I will do anything to support a film that features animals running in tiny clothing. ‘Cause he loved the idea of doing this. And he got so excited, he hugged me and he picked me up off the ground like they described. And he held me in the air!
Because we hadn’t done one of these films in a long time. We have a great legacy of these films. Robin Hood was one of my favorites. His favorite was Wind In The Willows. Rich grew up on Jungle Book.
So, we all had this sort of loved these films. And we hadn’t really done one. Especially not in CG where we could not graph these animals with a great Disney character design put all this amazing fur and detail and claws.
Rich~The way they look in nature. It’s the first time we’ve had the technology and just the computer power to actually groom them as they are in the wild.
In the past, How long ago was Bolt? Seven or eight?
Byron~ Bolt was about seven years
Rich~ That character was groomed with something that was just kind of like human hair. To pull off the scene where Bolt is sticking his head out of the car window and the wind is blowing in his face. And it’s a big emotional scene in the movie and they couldn’t do it because the technology just didn’t exist.
Byron~ Yeah, we had to cheat it. And, you know, if you look at the movie now we have wind going through fur. And affecting cloth. And we have rain. And characters get wet. There was even a point when with Bolt, where they said, please don’t have the characters touch each other. That would be the worst thing you could possibly do for us as your technological leads. This is very hard to do this. So, don’t do that.
Rich~ We don’t like touching. We don’t like touching. Makes us nervous,
Bryon~ If you look at Zootopia, it’s a very touchy movie. We touch each other each, the characters touch and interact with each other a lot. And they have fur and they have cloth. And they have fur on top of cloth. Underwear
Rich~ Even to the idea of clothes interacting with fur. To their credit they really buckled down and said like, okay, we’re gonna figure this out, you know? It’s the strangest things are really kind of groundbreaking big deal to our tech department.
Q. How do you tell that story so that it resonates with kids of all ages?
Rich~ I think that was very important to us that this wasn’t just an adult movie. That it was playing on some kinda lofty level that a child would be like, I’m not getting this at all. I don’t relate to it. It was important to us that Judy’s kind of journey was and her as a character, a child could relate to her.
That’s why we knew if this is a story about discrimination and being put in a box, by other people, then Judy has to have a moment where that happened to her. And that’s why we chose that it was at the hands of a bully when she was young. You know, as a little girl. And a little bunny.
Unfortunately, I think that adults and children can relate to those moments. You know, I say unfortunately, I think that all of us have had those moments. Some more than others. But it’s relatable. So that’s why we chose to have that happen to her as a child.
Very relatable to both a child and an adult of what this movie was about.
Q. Which animal was the hardest or the most difficult to anthropomorphize?
Byron~ That’s a good question. There were a lot of them that were challenging. Even Judy’s landlord, who’s an armadillo.
It was a question of how does that character get her clothes on? Over the shell?
Rich~ Did it have to go over the shell? Does it go over the shell? Does she just kinda look like a strange hunchback
Byron~ Like that’s what makes the armadillo.
Rich~ A lot of that came from research. Because We did a lot of animal research about a year. And we kind of went and kinda well, the DMV is a good example.
Byron~ We had a few story sessions where we were thinking like, what would be good jobs for animals?
Should we go against type for some? Or should some be very kinda on the nose? Our head of story, Jim Reardon said, how about sloths working for DMV.
You know that could be a funny scene. And it was kinda one of these things where everyone was quiet for a moment. And thought like has this been done before? It seems like such an obvious joke or situation. And we quickly went to the Internet looked up sloth at the DMV.
Oh my God. I think we found something that hasn’t been done yet.
Bio for Director Byron Howard
BYRON HOWARD (Director/Story by) directed Disney’s 2010 worldwide hit feature “Tangled” with Nathan Greno. The film featured the Oscar®-nominated and Grammy®-winning song “I See the Light.” Howard and Greno teamed up again in 2012 for the short film “Tangled Ever After.” As a child, Howard’s favorite Disney animated films included “Robin Hood,” “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty.” He was also inspired by artists like Chuck Jones, Ronald Searle and Bill Watterson, and he would fill reams of computer paper with characters of his own creation. His love of art and animation continued through high school and college.
Howard earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at The Evergreen State College in Washington, where he pursued his interest in filmmaking by studying cinematography, art and literature. By 1991, he was part of the Disney family, hosting the animation tour at Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando. In 1994, Howard officially joined the Walt Disney Animation Studios in Florida as an inbetweener and clean-up artist on “Pocahontas.” He quickly went on to become an animator on “Mulan” and a supervising animator on “Lilo & Stitch” and “Brother Bear,” as well as doing character design on both those films. Howard later relocated to California where he continued his study of cinematography and drawing as a story artist and character designer at Walt Disney Animation Studios before becoming a director in 2006. Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Oscar®-nominated 2008 release “Bolt” marked Howard’s debut as a feature film director (alongside Chris Williams). Howard also designed some of the characters in that film.
Howard loves the collaborative medium of animation because it combines art, cinematography, writing, design, acting and music with a family of supportive and talented artists and crew. Team members inspire each other to achieve something greater than they could alone. In addition to his lifelong passion for animation and a career spanning more than 20 years, Howard’s interests include art, music, theater, travel and a deep love for animals (he has two lovable, quirky cats). He resides in a mid-century atomic ranch home on a quiet hill in sunny Los Angeles, Calif.
Bio for Director Rich Moore
RICH MOORE (Director/Story by) directed Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 2012 Oscar®-nominated feature “Wreck-It Ralph.” Moore directed numerous episodes of “The Simpsons” and was a sequence director on “The Simpsons Movie.” A graduate of California Institute of the Arts’ (CalArts) renowned Character Animation Program, Moore was a 32 designer and writer for Ralph Bakshi’s “Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures.” He became one of the original three directors on “The Simpsons,” directing numerous episodes over the series’ first five seasons, including the Emmy® Award-winning “Homer vs. Lisa and the Eighth Commandment.” He later served as supervising director for Gracie Films’ “The Critic.”
Moore oversaw the creative development and production of Matt Groening’s “Futurama,” and was awarded the 1999 Reuben Award (from the National Cartoonists Society) for Best in Television Animation, the 2001 Hugo Gold Plaque (from the World Science Fiction Society) for Special Achievement in Animation, and the 2002 Emmy® for Outstanding Animated Program (the “Roswell That Ends Well” episode). Credits include director or supervising director on the Warner Bros.’ theatrical short “Duck Dodgers in Attack of the Drones,” the CBS prime-time pilot “Vinyl Café,” Comedy Central’s “Drawn Together,” Mad TV’s “Spy vs. Spy” and Fox’s “Sit Down, Shut Up.”
OFFICIAL BOILERPLATE: 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