The Field Research Behind Zootopia

This weekend, my little humans watched Zootopia for the ump-teenth time. After the film, we watched the bonus feature, “Research: A True-Life Adventure.”

It tells the story about how the directors and creative team dove into animal research before making the film. As explained by Director, Byron Howard:

[John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer for Walt Disney and Pixar] said if you guys are gonna do an animated animal film you really have to go and become experts on all of these subjects. You have to find out about how animals behave. You have to find out how to build cities. How would animals live in that city. How would they design it. What kind of animals would even live there. You have to figure out what’s going to be unique about this world. So he said don’t think about story right now; just go off and do research.

First, the team visited Walt Disney Animal Kingdom theme park. They spoke with animal experts at the park and captured data on animal personalities and their physical movements.

Next they flew over the pond to dig deeper:

So as we’re figuring out what is specific to each animal, John [Lasseter] said “that’s all great but you guys really need to go where their world really is. You guys are going to go to Africa.”

– Byron Howard, Director

It was fascinating to learn that during the research in Africa they grew the plot of Zootopia. They refined and adapted the story. They developed characters and the Zootopia world. They cultivated creative and art direction.

The directors concluded the feature with these two comments:

People ask why we go on these research trips, and it’s those ideas, things you would’ve never thought of if you hadn’t been there in person with those animals.

– Byron Howard, Director


And that’s what’s great about these research trips, when you’re kind of seeing these new things, and you don’t know how they’re gonna really apply to the movie at first.

  • Rich Moore, Director

It’s hard to imagine what Zootopia could have been if they didn’t conduct such immersive research.

This feature nicely captured the value of getting out of the building and conducing discovery for your product.

Check it out: