Disney artist for the movie “Zootopia” visits, inspires students at the college.

Art director Matthias Lechner talks to The Campus Ledger in an interview at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo by Andrew Hartnett

By Graciela Becerra

Features Editor


Matthias Lechner, art director of environments for the new movie “Zootopia,” visited the college on Thursday, March 3. During his visit, Lechner gave students a behind-the-scenes presentation and participated in a short Q&A session.

He began the one-hour presentation by playing a compilation of clips from Disney movies in hopes to inspire and get the audience in a “Disney mood.” The reel ended with a black and white photograph of Walt Disney.

“It still gets to me,” said Lechner, expressing his disbelief at getting to work for the company.

Afterwards, Lechner gave students an inside look at the world he created within the movie. He took students on a virtual tour of the city “Zootopia” and expressed that he had to create an animal metropolis while maintaining the city’s own character.

After his presentation, Lechner sat down with The Campus Ledger and shared his early interests in environmental design.

“I think the thing I really loved was the style of the sixties Disney movies … and the time when they actually started to photocopy the drawings of the animators,” he said. “But I always was interested in the world and the surrounding, like when I was playing with plane mobiles as a kid, I would spend a lot more time setting up the world than actually playing. … It feels like I’m just born for just this.”

Lechner spoke about his first experiences in the industry and shared that it wasn’t always glamorous.

“My first job was actually being an intern,” he said. “So I had to … clean the floors and make the coffee. But at the same time, they let me sit in … so I kind of slid into this. After that I started as a background painter for 2D animation movies … and then I studied animation and art.”

Now a successful animation designer at Disney, Lechner shared his advice for students hoping to attain the same success within the animation field.

“[Students] should get together a good portfolio, and they should watch what they put into their portfolio,” he said. “It has to be relatable to animation, so it has to be somewhat in the realm of that style but it also has to be personal. I wouldn’t recommend dragons … that sort of fantasy stuff doesn’t help, and always leave out the parts that you’re not sure about. … If you’re not sure about it, you shouldn’t show it.”

Lechner also shared a list of qualities he thinks animation students should possess if they want to work in the industry.

“It might sound silly but the most important is to be okay with working a lot, animation is very work intensive and you have to work many hours,” he said. “You shouldn’t get frustrated if things get changed … you have to have good ideas. … Animation, especially now since you don’t have to draw it anymore, it’s a lot more important to do good acting than to be able to draw the characters or anything like that. And for the world [within the movie], it’s a lot more important to come up with good ideas than to be best draftsman.”

Lechner spoke about his new experiences with Disney and the support he received from them.

“Working with Disney … it was different stages,” he said. “The first stage was … being overjoyed that they asked me. Second stage was being freaked out like ‘What do they want from me that they can’t do?’ And then the third stage was actually moving over there and being full of respect for every person and being really shy and then … I felt comfortable there and I was amazed how nice people are, how supportive, like it’s okay to make a mistake.”

On the stress of creating such a large movie, Lechner explained that it was less stressful making “Zootopia” than it would have been to make a smaller film.

“It’s nearly easier to make a movie of that scale than a cheap, low-budget movie because every department, it will always come out better because there are so many artists who put their love into it and they’re so experienced that every step of the movie, it looks more and more beautiful,” he said. “Whereas in a cheaper movie, you have to fight the entire time to make it [and to] keep the standard up.”

Lechner also explained that his favorite part of making “Zootopia” was the same as his least favorite.

“I really liked the part where I designed by myself, that was very creative but also really hard,” he said. “Then when that whole machine started, that is 300 people working on one project, then basically you have a schedule from eight in the morning to eight at night, every half an hour you have to talk to another person, you have to inspire them. And that was the best part and the worst part because it was very exhausting but also so much fun.”

Fans of the movie “Zootopia” may be wondering whether or not Lechner plans to work with Disney again in the future. They’ll be pleased to hear his response.

“Yes, I’ll stay with Disney. I’m working on another project right now,” he said.

But fans shouldn’t get too excited; the making of “Zootopia” took about four years, meaning it might be awhile before moviegoers get to see Lechner’s work on another Disney film.

“Zootopia” was released in 3D and RealD 3D on March 4.


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