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Zootopia … Building Cities for Cinema Using GIS Technology

Zootopia City Engine GIS

If you like going to cinema & enjoy watching 3D animated movies … and in the same, you are interested in GIS technology … then, most likely, you will be glad by mixing these two worlds together.

GIS technology is well known as technology that provide visualization & analysis capabilities to support decision-making. However, this not all. Along time, GIS has been invading the different aspects of our life. One of them is Cinema Industry.

The cooperation between Cinema and GIS can be divided in two parts:

  • A. GIS supports cinema by providing the needed capabilities to build 3D scenes for 3D animated movies, Science Fiction, and Phantasy.
  • B. Cinema promotes GIS technology by featuring the movie characters using applications of GIS as part of the storyline.


This article will highlight both.

Building Worlds


Zootopia GIS City Engine

 “Judy Hopps”, the ambitious rabbit. She follows her childhood dream of being a Police Office in the beautiful city if Zootopia, where all animals live together in peace. She faces challenges, and goes on adventures with her friend, the fox “Nick Wilde”.

Zooptopia is an interesting and enjoyable movie by Walt Disney in 2016. In Zootopia, filmmakers needed to build a new city that can accommodate a wide variety of animal sizes, from elephants and giraffes to mice and rabbits. Therefore, filmmakers decided to utilize the capabilities of City Engine, the software from Esri, the most famous GIS company worldwide.

City Engine is an advanced program in building three-dimensional models, and allowing the capability to Zootopia Charactersinteractively build urban areas more quickly and easily. The program can be used in building urban neighborhoods, whether they are from reality or completely fictional.

Using City Engine, filmmakers managed to build many buildings of multiple sizes to suit about 70 different types of animals within the city. Moreover, they built various city neighborhoods that vary in style and even the climatic conditions, and accommodate the different sizes of houses from small houses to skyscrapers. While building the city, they were able to adjust the sizes and heights of buildings easily and quickly to suit the artistic vision of the film.

The following image is taken from City Engine while building the city. It shows the skyscrapers area on the left.

Zootopia City Engine

The next image is for the same area in its final form as it appeared in the movie.

Zootopia Movie


Perhaps one of the most interesting and impressive scenes is the train tour, which presented the different neighborhoods of Zootopia. The running song is “Try Everything” by Shakira.

Big Hero 6

Adventures that Hiro and his friends face with the Baymax, the robot, in San Fransokyo, (city name is merging San Francisco + Tokyo).

Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 is a movie by Walt Disney in 2014. In Big Hero, the filmmakers needed to build the city of San Fransokyo. Unlike Zootopia, which is completely fictional, San Fransokyo is inspired by the American city of San Francisco. Therefore, the filmmakers used GIS technology and utilized map layers of the real city maps such as streets, lighting poles and trees. Then Esri City Engine program was used to build the new city with the addition of Japanese-style buildings. That resulted in the city that appeared in the movie.

Fransokyo City Engine Big Hero GIS


In addition to the previous two examples, other movies also used the capabilities of City Engine to build fictional worlds, such as Cars 2 – Man of Steel – Total Recall.

Technology as a Movie Star

In some movies and drama series, GIS appeared in front of camera, as a Star with influential role in the storyline.

Mission impossible III (2006)

In the movie Mission Impossible 3, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) had to reach a site as quickly as possible in Shanghai, China. All he knew was the phone number at the other location, and the phone number he was holding in his hand. Then, he asked for assistance from a colleague who was in USA behind a computer screen. That colleague located both phones on the map. Then, he directed Ethan to the intended location. For the whole time, Ethan’s location on the map was tracked and updated. Hence, he was receiving direction instructions (turn left … right) until he reached the intended location and saved what he had to save.

Without the use of GIS, this mission would have been difficult to accomplish successfully.

Designated Survivor (2016-2019)

A member of the government suddenly found himself the president of the United States of America. That is due to a terrorist attack that eliminated the higher chain of command. In no time, he found himself facing many internal and external.

Designated Survivor Maps GIS

In the main command and control center, we can many screens showing digital maps and satellite images for different regions worldwide. That is to analyze and follow events before issuing a decision by the president.

The District (2000 to 2004)

“The District” series, from the American CBS channel, was about the drama of police and crime world. The series featured the use of the various spatial analysis capabilities of GIS technology to analyze crime locations and assist police officers in finding the criminals.