GU: First, thank you so much for meeting with me!
NO: Thank you for having me!
GU: To start off, which characters did you play a part in designing?
NO: Let's see: Judy, Nick, Bogo, Gazelle, the Tiger Dancers, sheep, polar bears.... Those are the big ones. A lot of different people work on these characters though, so it wasn't just me.
GU: What was the most difficult animal to animate?
NO: The giraffe, definitely. You have to make the animals distinct, even from far away, so a giraffe couldn't be this long, blurry form. The mice are a good example of that too, actually.
GU: Yes, I figured that. I was impressed during the movie because during the mice scenes there were so many of them, but it wasn't just this indistinct cloud of shapes. You could tell it was just masses of mice.
NO: Exactly. There were a lot of those crowd characters in this movie.
GU: What was character design like for scenes of that scale?
NO: It was a challenge. Crowd characters like are tricky because they need to complement the main character and make him or her stand out, but they also need to be distinct. We use a lot of tricks like motion blurs, camera tricks to move them, clear silhouettes, clear shapes, shape identifiers, arching--tricks like that. It's fun, but challenging.
GU: I can imagine! And what was designing Gazelle like? How does one make a long, skinny animal like that look anything like Shakira?
NO: [laughs] When Shakira expressed interest in playing Gazelle, we had to give the character more hips and make her more like Shakira. Shiyoon [Shiyoon Kim, one of Disney's animators] had the task of making a sexy gazelle while still keeping it a gazelle, which is a tough line to tread. It's hard enough to make the gazelle stand upright because of how weird their joints are, and it's even more difficult to give it curves! Shiyoon has been there a long time and was definitely up for the task, though.
GU: Right, I would assume that sexy gazelles aren't exactly intuitive. In your artistic process, do you often watch people in real life and use their gaits, mannerisms, and so on to create characters?
NO: For me and what I do, it was more of the overall character. I don't focus much on movement. I focused most on how they look, how they're shaped, and what that says about them. They're animals, so I try to find the personality and design more of that person and what makes them special, what makes them a character. I try to pull that inner character out and sort of write it on their forehead.
GU: The animals' ages and genders were also pretty clear just from how they looked and behaved, which is interesting because they weren't always wearing clothes that clarified those things. How did you manage to accomplish that?
NO: There's all kinds of animation tricks that help with that, actually. Usually broader characters look more masculine. If you streamline drawings, give the animals more subtle curves, and soften their features, it makes them more feminine. On the other hand, there are specific chiseled features that make a character appear male.
GU: I saw Zootopia in 3D. It's not jump-out-at-you, 3D, though. Now, 3D seems more about realism--there's nothing flying out of the screen at me. How does animating for that sort of depth compare to animating for 2D features?
NO: Everything has a 3D option now, so we just take that into account regardless. It's definitely more about depth rather than being in-your-face. It's not about having something pop out at you. From a broad sense, lighting and modeling are effected the most in 3D animation. Lighting has to do with how everything is colored and textured, and modeling is more about the actual construction. In other words, the character has to look good from all angles. Most character design--which is what I do-- has to do with rigging, modeling, and animation.
GU: Finally, there's definitely a social message in this film.
NO: [smiles] Yes.
GU: During your presentation earlier, you mentioned that you began working on this movie four to five years ago, and that's before a lot of the civil rights issues that are garnering a lot of attention today. Was it frightening this year to release Zootopia in the midst of so much social unrest?
NO: It wasn't frightening because these issues were still a problem then.
GU: Right, they just have more visibility now.
NO: Yes. Disney has such a huge audience, so doing a film like this with such a strong message will reach both the average little kid and their grandma and grandpa. These families are then going to go have these conversations at dinner with the kids, and we think it's really important that these messages reach these varied audiences and that these conversations happen.
GU: Thank you so much for taking the time out to speak with me!
NO: Of course! Thank you!
You can read Gabrielle's full review of Zootopia here.