The Lion King director Jon Favreau aims to usher in a new dawn for computer animated filmmaking.
Back in 1995 Toy Story showed us that it was absolutely possible to fall in love with ‘ones and zeros’ in the form of computer animated characters and their particular plight.
That was after Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Jurassic Park had chilled and wowed us in equal measure with a mix of digital, animatronic and CGI effects.
Then in 1999, love him or hate him, the character of Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace bumbled across a new frontier in filmmaking as the first character in a feature-length film created using motion capture.
The tech-heavy style of shooting was then adopted to render Andy Serkis’ Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies and memorably employed by James Cameron for his billion-dollar Imax and 3D smash Avatar.
Hollywood is constantly pushing the technological envelope in search of ever-more engaging and immersive experiences for the moviegoer as well as more cost-effective ways of filming.
And with talk in the tech world heavily featuring virtual reality and artificial intelligence over the last years, one can’t help feeling that it will not be long before we all sit around in our living rooms with headsets on trying not to smash things while we ‘reach out and touch’ the latest blockbuster.
While mass virtual reality viewing might not be reality just yet, VR is starting to find its own role behind-the-scenes.
One filmmaker exploring how VR can be used in this context is Jon Favreau, who non film buffs will most likely know as the loveable butler-type character from the Iron Man movies or Pete Becker in Friends, but that by no means does him justice.
Among other films, director, screenwriter and actor Favreau was behind 2016’s The Jungle Book which was lauded for its hyper-realistic CGI animals that vividly bought the classic tale to life for a whole new audience. It earned him the trust of Disney execs to helm another reimagining of an even more-beloved story, The Lion King.
To film The Lion King, Favreau employed VR to walk a very thin line between live action and CGI filmmaking. The film’s creative team donned VR headsets and were transported from an LA film studio directly to the African savanna.
And although traditional filmmaking tools like a dolly and cranes were still a part of the process, the heart of the film was created very much inside the virtual world. There, Favreau and co are able to digitally manipulate the locations and even annotate as they went along.
“It’s really a lot like being on a real location, and doing a rehearsal,” Favreau told Collider in a recent interview.
“You say okay, here and then you could even make notes in the air. And you could use things like laser pointers.
“It has the feeling of a live action shoot because that’s the way I learned how to direct,” he continued. “It wasn’t sitting, looking over somebody’s shoulder or computer. It was being in a real location, and there’s something about being in a real 3D environment that makes it, I don’t know, just the parts of my brain are firing that fire on a real movie.
No matter how much technical wizardry is employed in creating the movie Favreau knows it is still Simba’s coming of age story and the peril the young lion cub faces along the way that will truly grip audiences.
“It’s the whole circle of life,” added Favreau. “Bad things happen, good things happen. Not every scene in the movie is fun to watch. There’s tragedy in it. But ultimately what I like about it is that somehow after that whole experience, you walk away feeling inspired and hopeful. Which is how I like my stories.”
The Lion King is out in the UAE cinemas on 18th July