‘Zootopia’ at SVA: Disney Animator Darrin Butters’ Inside Look

March 3, 2016

In the past year, BFA Computer Art, Computer Animation and Visual Effects has enjoyed visits by some of the top talent working in animation today. Glen Keane spoke about his legendary career at Disney and shared his newest 360º film Duet. Disney•Pixar’s Academy Award winning director Pete Docter provided a sneak peek and behind the scenes look at Inside Out before it hit theaters. And Blue Sky’s Sabine Heller and Erik Pope showed how their team translated the characters of their film Peanuts into a 3D world, to name just a few.

Most recently, Disney animator Darrin Butters visited the department and shared his process for Disney’s upcoming Zootopia. BFA Computer Art, Computer Animation and Visual Effects student Mitchell Jao wrote about the experience for SVA Close Up.

zoo735I had the pleasure of assisting the BFA Computer Art, Computer Animation and Visual Effects department with hosting Disney animator Darrin Butters’ presentation on the making of Zootopia. As we were preparing for the presentation, I was able to chat with Darrin to get to know him better before I introduced him to the class.

Darrin began with his background on how he got into animation. Most interesting to many of us was the fact that he started as a performer in magic and improv. His natural performance tendencies were clear from the energy and charisma he brought to his talk, which had us in constant laughter throughout. He was a clear example that the job of an animator is to act and entertain.

It was eye opening to see the role of the Disney’s animation department in the pre-production process of Zootopia. We were given an inside look at unreleased early animation tests of many of the characters in Zootopia. Throughout, Darrin emphasized the importance of collecting reference footage to help with animation, and we were able to see the depth of research the animators put into creating characters.

Darrin ended the presentation with a Q&A. I’m glad one of the students asked about his shot approach, as it gave Darrin an opportunity to close his PowerPoint presentation to show us his personal reference videos, including one of him dancing to an Olaf sequence in Frozen. This is something most of my fellow animators are often too embarrassed to show, but Darrin reminded us to remain humble and have no shame.

I greatly appreciate Disney’s effort to send out animators to present their movies. I was both informed and inspired by Darrin’s visit. The animators are, in essence, the actors of the film—it was a shame we didn’t have a red carpet to roll out for Darrin.

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