Walt Disney producer Clark Spencer brings the zoo to ASU

Producer Clark Spencer made a stop at ASU during his "Zootopia" campus tour around the U.S. to discuss his latest Disney-animated film. The movie tackles a world where humans never existed and animals are thriving in a modern day metropolis.

During his visit, he previewed different clips of the movie and shared the concepts behind the tools used. Spencer said he advised students to follow their own passion and to use college to explore different interests. 

“One of the great things about doing this college tour and going out and sharing 'Zootopia' is not only do we get to talk about the movie and get people excited to see it, but more importantly, get them to think about potentially being an artist or a creative person,” he said.

After graduating with a degree in history and working on Wall Street for three years, Spencer finally decided to follow his dreams and move to L.A. to see what he could pursue. Now, after many years of working his way up in the company, Spencer’s dream of being a producer has come true.

He said he understands starting at the bottom can be frustrating, but the end result is worth the work and wait. Sometimes life offers unexpected opportunities. Spencer received his when the producer of "Lilo and Stitch" was let go and he was offered a chance to prove himself.

After following his passion, Spencer has produced five movies, even earning the Producers Guild of America Award for "Wreck it Ralph."

Spencer discussed several characters from "Zootopia," including the main character Judy Hopps, a bunny who has a big dream to become the first bunny police officer — a job that belongs to the larger animals. Her motto is, “Anyone can be anything.”

During her effort to prove herself as a police officer, Hopps meets Nick Wilde, a sly fox who believes that, “We are who we are.” Together, these two opposing characters must solve a mystery.

Disney once again aims to make a timeless classic that appeals to both children and adults. The comical aspect finds a way to reach both audiences in the same scene by incorporating fun, goofy elements for the kids, as well as relatable everyday scenarios for adults.

“We really don't want people to think that animation is just for kids or parents of kids,” Spencer said. “To us, we’re trying to tell a great story that has wonderful humor and deep emotion, that anyone can go to.”

Before the creation of the animation could begin, Spencer said he and his colleagues had to research the topic — animals. The Disney company does nothing halfway, and sent the team to different locations such as Kenya and Paris to find information that could accurately relate to the movie.

“In Africa, when you see a giraffe and you see a zebra and then you see a small mammal next to it. It really is fascinating to watch how they all coexist,” Spencer said. “That gave us the cleverness of the world, where we have to have doors different sizes, staircases different sizes and cars different sizes and buildings different sizes.”

The creation of a city must be able to house all types of animals because there are 64 species included in this movie. Doors must be able to fit animals from a mouse to an elephant, trains must be able to transport both giraffes and bunnies.

In a world where humans never existed and animals have control, one small bunny follows her dreams and Spencer encourages students to do the same.

"I think I learned over my career you have to dive in, you have to learn, you have to figure out what it's all about," he said. 

A photo posted by Cat (@muzikkitty) on

Film freshman Kaitlyn Baucke said Spencer sharing his story and explaining how he got into the industry was motivating.

“I took the experienced advice that the producer was giving us as inspiration for me as an inspiring film maker," she said.

Film studies freshman Tori Stona said what she took from the lecture was that no matter how difficult the film industry can be, it is worth it for those who are truly dedicated.

“It takes a while to get where you want to be and there are opportunities and obstacles that you do have to go through, but if it's your passion you should definitely do it," she said.

Related Links:

Disney takes step in wrong direction by revisiting old classics

Disney's new 'Cinderella' keeps magic alive after 65 years

Reach the reporter at ndusanek@asu.edu or follow @NikkiDusanek on Twitter

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