This week I met Lance Summers,Environment Look Supervisor, from Zootopia, who heads up environments for the look development department, taking the vision of the production designer and art director to the big screen. Summers’ team begins with Zootopia, and other films visual development department’s pre-production artwork to create the perfect look, continuing their efforts through lighting, effects and even stereo to ensure that everything looks good.
Says Summers, ‘Zootopia’ is special not only because of the story and the art, but also because of what’s happening behind the scenes here at Disney Animation. It’s pretty incredible how these films get made and what it takes.”
Summers was here in Houston, visiting The Art Institute where he talked to myself and other members of the press about and held an informative and interesting workshop with the students of the institute. Houston wasn’t his only location, he was going on to share even more information about the world of Disney, animation and production at other schools across the country as part of the #ZooU program. Find out more by checking out #ZooU on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.
Zootopia Fun Facts
If you are here in Houston, you may find that certain parts of Zootopia remind you of CityCentre, especially the part where Officer Judy Hopps is giving out 200 parking tickets before noon. Anyone who has been to CityCentre for lunch during the day will recognize it. But that’s not the only place that Zootopia contains elements (either intentional or unintentional) from. Find elements of New York as well as the bigger European cities as you explore the many environments need to make Zootopia a true home for prey and predator alike.
Visit these environments with exciting adventures throughout the movie:
- Savanna Central
- Sahara Square
- Little Rodentia
- Bunny Burrows
- Rainforest District
All movies have content “dropped” during production. Zootopia lost about 40% of what was created, during the 6-8 private screenings by the crew and makers of the movie.
Some of the movies makers headed to Kenya to truly learn about the animals, their environments and their habitats. It was all about making the movie as real as possible, which is a Disney trademark. (See my interview with the Firefighters of Planes: Fire and Rescue.)
Disney movies always have fun hidden images “Easter Eggs” to be found. In the latest release here are are few to look for:
- Mickey Ears! You will find this shape and shadow in some unexpected places.
- Look for Anna and Elsa to make a teeny, tiny appearance – that’s all the secret on that I’ll reveal.
- Catch the license plate on the van? Look for the letters HB – it means “Happy Birthday!” for one of the members of the team.
Advice and Tips for Aspiring Animators/Artists
Lance Summers on schooling and coursework . . .
When I asked Lance about classes and coursework students should take he recommended, taking extra art classes, whether they are in school or as extracurricular activities. He added that it’s also important to take math and physics classes because a great deal of what they do requires those skills. Science based classes especially are important in order to be able to draw images are that are more like real life as well as a knowledge of how light and colors works. If you are planning on drawing people it’s important to also take Anatomy. It’s also important to pick the right school, not only for the classes you want to attend in college but the right school for you.
On specific challenges of being an animation artist . . .
We discussed the challenges of bringing stories to life, and changing words to images. Lance shared that the two biggest challenges are bringing images to life based on the story boards. You have to determine how complex the images are going to be but you also have very strict time constraints. After all movie release dates can’t be changed because the work isn’t completed. We also discussed how it’s important to work together as a team. You spend long hours together and actually much of what is accomplished, begins with the brainstorming and ideas sessions.
What do you think Disney is looking for in the future of animators and artists?
Lance shared that he thinks Disney will definitely be looking for new, young talent in the future, that there be a freshness to your ability. But that the best part of Disney is being able to work with the experienced talent which is already there. It’s bringing together the best of both worlds in art and animation and helps with his next piece of advice.
Advice to kids and teens wanting to pursue this type of career . . .
Lance highly recommends “furthering your eye.” Notice what is going on, how it’s happening and practice your talent and craft. He also can’t stress enough the importance that having a mentor played in his career and personal development. Having a mentor impressed upon him not only the importance and significance of forming relationships and working together but also created and encouraged an environment of aspiration, not competition. Lastly, everyone at some point in time feels like they may not be good enough and a mentor can help you with those moments too.
Thank you so much to Disney and Lance for providing this opportunity and for making the time to do this insightful and informative interview.
About Lance Summers
Summers joined Disney back in 2009 at age 20 as a look development trainee. His first Disney feature was 2010’s “Tangled.” His credits also include 2011’s “The Lion King 3D” in the stereo department, the short film production “Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice,” for ABC television; Disney’s arcade-game-hopping hit “Wreck-It Ralph”; and Oscar® winners “Frozen” and “Big Hero 6.”
A native of Pleasantville, Penn., Summers’ interest in computer animation was sparked when he was 16, beginning with drawing, painting, digital design and eventually 3D visualizations. He attended Full Sail University, earning a bachelor’s degree in computer animation.
See ZOOTOPIA in theaters beginning March, 4, 2016!