Walt Disney Animation’s Avneet Kaur dives deep into the fur and hair of ‘Zootopia’

Animation is all about detailing and perfection; it revolves around two major factors- creation and effect. If an animal has to be created in animation, each minute characteristic of the animal like its hair, eyebrows, fur, nails, paws have to be developed precisely. Often as audience, we focus on the primary sensory organs like eyes, ears, nose but overlook the extreme efforts invested in creating secondary characteristics like the ones mentioned above.
Avneet Kaur
Avneet Kaur
Disney’s Zootopia is a thorough testimony of this kind of detailed animation as this film features a world of varied kinds of animals who walk, talk and live just as human beings. If there are so many animals, imagine the kind of detailing needed for every animal! Detailing or perfection can be best explained by an experienced mind who has helmed the project, therefore, AnimationXpress got in touch with Walt Disney Animation Studios, technical director, Avneet Kaur who has worked on several characters in Zootopia, Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph, Tangled, Big Hero 6 and Bolt and recently came down to India for the ABAI Fest 2016. Avneet Kaur explained, “Zootopia is a film with an original, well rounded story, and unforgettable characters, it is set in a mammal metropolis like no other. It is a melting pot where animals from all habitats live together. I loved the premise that it is a place where no matter who you are, from the biggest elephant to the smallest shrew, you can be anything. Along with brilliant story came numerous creative and technical challenges, and I believe that by bringing this film to life, the team at WDAS raised the bar in every aspect of CG filmmaking.” So how did Avneet come onto this project? “I joined Zootopia’s character simulation team when it was in early production and was lucky to have been involved in helping create some of the Xgen technology that we used to drive fur on the animals. I did the setup for simulating cloth and fur on the lead characters Judy Hopps and Finnick. Additionally, I also did cloth hair and muscle simulation setup on the wildebeest, zebra kids, rhino kid and few other characters.” ZOOTOPIA With so many animals involved, each one unique and different from the other, she exclaims, “The large number of species of animals and the size and scale differences between them was quite challenging for the character assets team as Zootopia had 64 different species of animals that were broken down into thousands of different mammal variants.” As creating distinct characters was a task, developing the fur and hair of these characters was an additional milestone to overcome. So, how were the characters actually created and what was the detail work required? “For simulation our team, created more than 300 unique rigs, and typically ran a three layer pass of simulation, starting with muscle, then cloth and then hair. Cloth/Fur interaction on animals added an additional layer of complexity and challenge to everything. For muscle simulation, the software team created a program named PhysGrid that would add realistic muscle and fat movements below the skin of each character. It gave them all a good weight and shape. For cloth we used our in house proprietary software ‘Fabric’, and enhanced existing features to accomplish the creation and movement of art-directed costumes with several layers of clothing. For ‘Hair’, a software called xGen was given a whole new set of tools that helped build in an ambient, natural wind movement on fur into the scenes. A giraffe in the movie walks around with 9 million hairs, while a gerbil has about 480,000.” ZOOTOPIA Born and raised in India, Avneet loved to doodle and draw as a kid. Her passion for art resulted in her pursuing higher studies in architecture at BIT Mesra, Ranchi. “I believe architecture gave me a very well-rounded education, in art and sciences in addition to the fundamentals of design.” She adds “It was while doing my M.S in Visualisation Sciences from Texas A & M University, that I was exposed to the amazing world of creating  animated features. I was completely intrigued by the amalgamation of the art and technology, involved in computer generated film making and wanted to be an integral part of that process”. Being a part of Walt Disney Animation Studios since 2005, she has been taking on the creative and technical challenges that every film brings. “At Disney, we constantly push the envelope of our expertise, researching new ideas and exploring innovative techniques to bring the creative vision of the characters and world of films to life. Every film I have had the opportunity to work on here has been distinctly unique and has conveyed a great story with unforgettable characters. One of the best part of my job is the amazing artists I work with. Everyone is so talented and passionate, and we all have a common goal- to make the best films ever.” Avneet feels that the animation industry is definitely evolving in India. Over the last decade, it has seen the entry of many global studios who have tapped into India’s talent pool. Additionally, leading Indian production houses like Tata and Reliance are now investing in the animation market and collaborating with Indian filmmakers to make animated features that have broad mass appeal, and entertain their local audiences. So, what makes Disney animation films so great? Avneet answers, “Combining masterful artistry and storytelling with groundbreaking technology, is something that we constantly strive to do at Walt Disney Animation Studios, in order to create timeless classics.” Currently, Avneet is working on Disney’s upcoming animated feature Moana. Speaking about her what she loves most about Zootopia, Avneet concludes, “Zootopia is a brilliant thought provoking film with many layers to it. Judy Hopps’s character and her energetic and optimistic way of life resonates with me thus proclaiming that ‘Anyone can be Anything’.”
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