Animating Disney's "Zootopia"

By VFS Web Team, on March 14, 2016

In its second weekend, Zootopia once again topped the box office proving two things: Disney is the Secretariat of studios and most of us can’t resist adorable animated animals.  

The film follows Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), the first rabbit to become a big-city police officer. After writing up parking tickets, she is  paired up with Nick Wilde, a red fox con artist (Jason Bateman), to investigate a case linked to mysterious disappearances. The unlikely duo are quickly lead down an unexpected road and are forced to confront a sinister plot against Zootopia. Can they save it? 

Praised for its commentary on inclusion and discrimination, Zootopia is also an extraordinary visual experience. The Disney team set a new animation record, drawing 9.2 million hairs on the giraffes alone. It doesn't seem possible, but it is. 

We had a chance to speak to Benson Shum, an animator on the film, about his time at VFS, what it was like to work on Zootopia, and what’s next. Check it out!

Did you always want to work in animation? When/how did you make that decision?

Benson: Yes, as cheesy as it sounds, I've always wanted to be an animator.  

You came to VFS to study Classical Animation part-time. What was your experience like in the program?

Benson: My Classical Animation study at VFS was amazing. I was just out of high school and really wanted to dive into animation. So when I attended VFS, it was an eye opener. I learned a lot about the principles of animation and also drawing fundamentals.

Can you tell us about your journey into the industry? What was the biggest challenge for you?

Benson: My journey into the industry has been great. I feel very fortunate to have gained a lot of experience from multiple studios in Vancouver in VFX, CG, and TV. The biggest challenge was starting at a new studio and being in a different environment every time, but that was also the most exciting part as well. I met so many amazingly talented artists.

You were an animator on the Disney hit “Zootopia.” What did your role entail? Can you take us through a typical day?

Benson: My role was to bring the characters to life. My typical day would be setting up my shot, going over my notes from the day before, working on some thumbnails, and figuring out how to tackle them. I’ll then show my supervisors to get more feedback, and then hopefully show the directors the next day.

“Zootopia” opened last weekend and took the #1 spot. Why do you think this film has resonated with so many people?

Benson: I believe it resonated with so many people because we can all relate to these characters. We know what it’s like to be them, and/or be in those situations.

Did you have a sense of how big the film was going to be when working on it?

Benson: We knew it was a great film, but I didn't realize it would be this big! That was a great surprise, and an honour to be a part of it.

Without giving away any spoilers…what’s your favourite moment in “Zootopia”?

Benson: My favourite moments in Zootopia were seeing the characters change and grow throughout the film.

Do you have any advice for young animators?

Benson: That’s a tough one, as there are so many out there already. I would say, keep things simple and clear. Try and make your characters sincere, and not just a puppet moving around. 

What’s next for you?

Benson: I'm currently animating on Disney Animation’s next feature Moana

Thanks, Benson! Watch the incredible trailer for Zootopia above and, if you haven't already, go see it in theatres! 

We would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate Vancouver Film School graduates from 3D Animation + Visual Effects, Sound Design for Visual Media, and Classical Animation who worked on the film. They are: Maia Neubig (Character Technical Director), John Wong (Animator), and Jeremy Bowker (Sound Effects Editor).