Walt Disney Animation is known for just a few movies with talking animal characters. The Lion King, Roger Rabbit, Robin Hood, so many wonderful classics. So it’s almost expected for Disney continue pumping them out.

No pressure, right?

So when Byron Howard–director of the upcoming movie ZOOTOPIA–first brought his concept to John Lasseter, they both knew it had to be a concept no one has ever seen before, and when we got an early peek at the movie at a press day, I can tell you ZOOTOPIA is certainly not a typical animated talking animal movie.

And thus they crafted the world of Zootopia.

They wanted it to feel like a realistic state. So, of course, they had to build the town for every type of animal that would live within it. This provided an almost endless opportunity for visual puns, sights, and gags. The filmmakers really thought of everything when making this movie and crafting this world. Rich Moore co-director explains that the environment had to feel like mice could safely cross the street with elephants.

ZOOTOPIA is about a little bunny Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) wanting more for herself, and going off and becoming the first bunny as part of the police force. When she has an opportunity to solve a case, she must team up with an unlikely partner, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a sly fox scam-artist.

Like a real city, ZOOTOPIA is set up with areas that different animals would live in. Desert animals live in Sahara Square, arctic animals in Tundratown, and then there’s Rain Forest District, Little Rodentia, Bunny Burrows, with their related citizens and then and then there’s Savanna Central, Downtown hub of Zootopia.

Each city is inspired by real cities like London, Moscow, and New York explained Matthias Lechner, Art Director for the film. They wanted to make sure the audience knew what they were looking at while watching the film, and also make it realistic looking if animals were really living this way. It took his team around three-and-a-half years to design the world.

There are over 50 different species of animals and the filmmakers had to make sure that each of them had to look like it was just normal for them to wear clothes. “The team spent 18 months just researching animals,” noted producer Clark Spencer. “We met with animal experts from all over the world, including Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World. We traveled 9,000 miles to Kenya, Africa, for a two-week deep dive into animal personality and behavior. We wanted each species of animal to be real, to feel authentic and to be based on their real behavior.”

Anthropomorphism is no easy feat!

The filmmakers also did extensive research on how they could place opposing climates in adjoining neighborhoods within the same geographical zone. To do this, the answer they came up with was rather brilliant, you build a massive air conditioning wall that separates the two environments. Just like our own air conditioners, one side blows out cold air–cooling Tundratown–while the other side blows out hot air–to heat Sahara Square!

They had several other challenges when creating this world, too Environment Look Supervisor Lance Summers said one of the challenges were  the scope and scale of everything. They had to integrate the plants that suitably fit the respective animal worlds. And they also needed to create plants that felt alive and always moving. Always keeping in mind the scope and scale of everything making sure they felt real and not animated.

Production designer David Goetz, explained that filmmakers had to think like animals to design the city. “The trick with Zootopia is that it’s a world built by the animals who live there—not by humans. We used really organic shapes that feel different than what we might expect. Given the same technology and know-how that we humans have, how would a camel design Sahara Square? What would a polar bear put in Tundratown? We also added elements that people would recognize to make it feel metropolitan and relatable.”

When it comes down to it, ZOOTOPIA is all about friendship and that even though we might be from all scopes of life we all want the same thing, acceptance. Over the next few weeks we will be bringing you different articles about the making of ZOOTOPIA from our day with the filmmakers.

ZOOTOPIA hops into theaters March 4, 2016. 

But wait, there’s more!

This article is one of a series of three behind the scenes looks at ZOOTOPIA!