Zootopia isn’t just Disney’s latest “talking animal” movie. It’s also co-directed and co-written by Rich Moore and Phil Johnston, the guys behind Wreck-It Ralph. So we were excited to go to Disney Animation Studios and learn all about the making of Zootopia.

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Movies about talking animals have been a staple of Disney Animation, from Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck to The Jungle Book and The Lion King. But in Zootopia, no longer can animals just talk. They walk. They build. They wear clothes and commute to work. They’d be humans, if they weren’t animals.

Earlier this Fall, io9 went to Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, CA to learn all about Zootopia, and we overloaded with fascinating information. Here are 23 fun facts about the creation of Zootopia, which opens March 4.

It’s specifically different from every other talking animal movie Disney has ever done

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When Disney decided to make another talking animal movie, they knew it had to be different. The biggest change? Every animal had to walk on two feet, so one of the challenges was figuring out how each animal’s walk would be different.

There are no apes

One animal species that you will not find in Zootopia are apes. The crew deemed that our ancestors just looked too human when converted to two feet and decided it took away from the others.

Each animal has completely different fur

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Years ago, creating realistic fur was a huge challenge for computer animators. Now, they are getting so good at it, every single different animal species in Zootopia has a completely different fur, with new colors, textures, lengths and more.

That fur is “computationally expensive”

To make sure the fur looks right, animators put it through rigorous amount of light and processes to make it look real. Each hair is created individually—and there are 400,000 on a mouse to about 9.2 million on a giraffe. This is very hard on their computers, but worth it for the look.

Everything is constantly in motion

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Look outside. Very few things stay still. So, in Zootopia, the crew developed a new software they called “Keep Alive.” It made sure every leaf, flake, shadow and more was constantly in motion to create a better reality. This is a huge step up even from Frozen, where things were still stationary.

There’s a story for every single character in the frame

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Much like the non-living objects all moving, every single background character in the film was assigned a specific backstory. Even if it was just something small, the team gave each character his or her own purpose.

30,000 leaves on every tree

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One of the many reasons why the “Keep Alive” tech is so impressive is the amount of things it has to control. For example, every tree in the film has around 30,000 leaves on it.

A city created by animals needs different sized stuff

Zootopia has everything a normal city has: mass transportation, hotels, cars etc. But in a real-life human city, we’re all relatively the same size. Animals are not. So beds, newspaper stands, doors and more all come in various different sizes.

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Zootopia is divided by its very own massive wall

Animals have tons of differences, one of the biggest being that some can only exist in specific climates: heat, cold, water, air. In Zootopia, this is all regulated by a massive air conditioning wall that breaks up all the different neighborhoods.

Every neighborhood in Zootopia is completely different

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To go with its varied animal population, Zootopia is broken down into tons of different areas, most of which are self explanatory: Tundra Town, Sahara Square (above), Rainforest District, Little Rodentia, the Burrows, Meadowlands, Outback Island, the Nocturnal District and more. It’s kind of like Disneyland for animals.

Yes, these animals have cell phones

If you’re making a movie about animals who live like humans, they’ve got to have cell phones. And in Zootopia, they do. They look just like iPhones except instead of Facetime, they use MuzzleTime. And instead of having AT&T as a carrier, it’s PB&J.

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The big crime boss is not what he seems

One of the several scenes we saw in Zootopia was of the two lead characters visiting Mr. Big, the city’s crime boss. Mr. Big, however, isn’t big. In fact, he’s a teeny tiny artic shrew who just so happens to look like The Godfather.

The story changed significantly over the course of production

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During production, two major changes happened to the story and themes of Zootopia. Originally the city was run down and broken. But the filmmakers realized that just made things too much of a downer. Also, the movie was originally about Nick, voiced by Jason Bateman—but eventually they flipped it so Judy, voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin, would be the lead. This change also gave the film more much-needed optimism.

The street signs are hilarious

As you’d imagine, every detail in Zootopia has been considered. Some of the funniest are the street signs, like “Get Fixed” and “No Foraging” for the bunnies.

Shakira plays a famous singer in the movie

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One of the side characters in Zootopia is Gazelle (above), a famous pop singer voiced by Shakira. Shakira even made a brand new original song for the film called “Try Everything.” It plays when Judy Hopps first moves to the city.

The film’s story group provided their voices

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In one early scene from in the film, Judy Hopps hears her neighbors yelling at each other. Those are actually the voices of the film’s story group—originally, their voices were a placeholder in the scene, meant to be replaced with professional actors. But eventually, they just got left in.

There’s a King Kong homage action scene

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In one of the film’s action set pieces, Hopps chases a bad guy through the Rodent area of Zootopia, which is obviously much smaller than the others. The result? A King Kong/Godzilla homage with the “large” bunny running through the small area.

Saying stop is the biggest problem in animation

Creating animation is never a finished process, especially at Disney. The filmmakers said the biggest drama behind the scenes on Zootopia happened when they were forced to tell the animators they had to be finished with a scene.

Don’t miss the Frozen easter eggs

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Coming off the massive success of Frozen, expect to see some Frozen easter eggs in the snowy Tundra Town area of Zootopia.

80% of the design work doesn’t make it into the actual movie

How much work goes into a movie like Zootopia? Too much. Literally. 80% of the design that goes into the film before hand doesn’t make it into the movie.

The filmmakers spent 18 months studying animals

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Before the team even started breaking down story or filmmaking in general, they spent a year and a half researching the movements, hair and personalities of all kinds of animals trying to settle on who would play a role in the movie.

A quick update on the lighting

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Disney loves to decorate the walls of their offices and keep everyone updated on production. On a short walk from one room to another, a big board revealed that 58% of the film’s lighting was done as of October 27.

There are over 800,000 characters in the film

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Zootopia is a big place. How big? Considering the amount of species there are, and the amount of different outfits and looks for each one, there are around 800,000 different and unique characters in the movie.

We’ll have more on Zootopia, including interviews with the writers and directors, as we get closer to the March 4 release date.


Contact the author at germain@io9.com.