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The Art of Zootopia, by Jessica Julius – Book Review by Fred Patten


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Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

91QvZofgFfLThe Art of Zootopia, by Jessica Julius. Preface by John Lasseter. Foreword- Byron Howard, Rich Moore.
San Francisco, CA, Chronicle Books, March 2016, hardcover $40.00 (160 pages), Kindle $16.19.

Here it is! The coffee-table animation-art book that you’ve been waiting for! Note that the blurb says, “This lushly illustrated book offers a behind-the-scenes view of the elaborate artistry involved in creating the film.” The villain is revealed, but if you want the film’s story in detail, get Disney’s Zootopia Junior Noveliation.

The Art of Zootopia presents 160 pages of Zootopia artwork in closeup detail, with commentary by the Disney staff. There are not only finished designs, there are preliminary sketches and models showing early designs that were discarded.

“In an early iteration of the film, prey animals were dominant in Zootopia, so the motifs used in buildings reflected ther reality. We used vegetable patterns, leaf shapes, and flower murals in the architecture. –Dave Goetz, production designer” (p. 21).

“In early versions of the story, this division was overt, with prey animals exploiting their strength in numbers to dominate predators, who were forced to wear collars that prevented accidental expressions of their natural aggression.” (p. 28)

Preliminary designs of Nick Wilde the fox show him wearing such a collar. There are almost a dozen designs of Nick showing him with more or fewer whiskers, dressed or in just fur and in different colors of fur, dressed suavely like a debonair secret agent or casually as he was finalized. Judy Hopps the bunny is shown from tan to gray fur, “bald” or with a prominent cowlick.

“A World Designed by Animals” (pages 15-25) describes what a civilization designed by animals of widely different sizes would look like. Actually, the Disney staff concedes that they built an animal city for land mammals alone. The challenge of trying to make it fit avians and marine mammals like dolphins and whales was too daunting. Zootopia is referred to as both a city and as a world, but they admit that, theoretically, there are avian civilizations “out there somewhere”.

“The Animals of Zootopia” (pages 26 to 41) is actually just Judy and Nick, in detail.

“Zootoopian Habitats” (pages 42 to 149) covers the rest of Zootopia and its suburbs, from rural Bunnyburrow and Judy Hopps’ family to downtown Zootopia with its City Hall and Police Headquarters. The movie’s supporting chaacters such as Mayor Lionheart and Police Chief Bogo are here. This section of the book is large because all the divisions of Zootopia are shown: Bunnyborough, Savannah Central, Little Rodeentia, Sahara Square, Tundratown, the Rainforest District, and so on.

Art of Zootopia_Happy Town_61 copy

Matthias Lechner, Digital

I wouldn’t want to accuse this book of containing errors, but Bunnyborough’s Woodlands Elemantary School is dscribed on pages 54 and 55. Its animal children are “woodland creatures like bunnies, squirrels, deer, and bears”. Bears may be woodland creatures, but they do not fit with prey animals like bunnies and squirrels. Worse, the book shows that the students include juvenile elephants, tigers, hippopotamuses, and leopard children. ???

“Filming Zootopia” (pages 150 to 158) includes location reference photographs, closeups of different types of animal fur, and colorscripts which are the latest evolution of storyboards.

As with other coffee-table animation art books of this sort, each rough or finished sketch, background painting, poster, architectural layout, vehicle designed to fit a specific animal physique, and so on is identified to its artist: Brett Albert, Manu Arenas, Dale Baer, Marty Baumann, Jim Finn, Mac George, David Goetz, Shiyoon Kim, Matthias Lechner, Cory Loftis, Borja Montoro, Nick Orsi, Armand Serrano, and many others. Almost all of the art is in color, with a few black-&-white sketches or storyboards. There are also many quotes by department heads.

“We couldn’t use leather, so the belt on Hopps’s uniform is made out of Kevlar, with heavy nylon pouches. The rest of her uniform is neoprene so that she will be comfortable in all the types of weather and condition of Zootopia. – Cory Loftis, art director of characters” (p. 32)

“Trains in Zootopia are multi-scaled for animals of different sizes, with the biggest windows up top and smaller windows at bottom, and little seats underneath the larger seats. Since the Bunnyburrough train station is built for small animals, it only serves the bottom part of the train. –Matthias Lechnr, art director of environments” (p. 48)

Art of Zootopia_Bogo_72 copy

Cory Loftis, (Draw Over) Digital

“There are multiple animal species in Zootopia, and each species’ fur has its own specific color, lighting, shape and texture. The uniqueness of each animal was a great challenge to us. –Michelle Robinson, character look supervisor” (p. 148)

The overall text is by Jessica Julius, a senior creative executive at Walt Disney Animation Studios.

The Art of Zootopia is for those who are more than casual fans of the film. It is for those who want to know more about how the world of Zootopia was designed; why some choices were made and others rejected. See the movie, then read the book.

(An intriguing detail is that “Zootopia began as all feature films do at Walt Disney Animation Studios: as one of several different ideas pitched by a director to chief creative officer John Lasseter and president Ed Catmull. In the case of Zootopia, director Byron Howard […] pitched six ideas, including […] a 1960s B-movie-style story about a six-foot-tall mad doctor cat on a deserted island who turned children into animals […]” (p. 9) The sample described of “The Island of Doctor Meow” sounds like a cross between The Island of Dr. Moreau and the Pleasure Island sequence in Pinocchio. I’m glad that they ended up making Zootopia, but I’d still like to see “The Island of Doctor Meow”.)

Fred Patten


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