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July 19, 2019 - Disney’s latest cartoon-to-live-action remake is blurring the lines between animation and live action, inventing a new cinematic technique – “virtual production”.
Such are the technical advances made in the creation of The Lion King’s 2019 reimagining, that even it’s director is stumped as to how best describe what he and his team have achieved.
“To say it’s animated is misleading as far as what the expectations might be,” says Jon Favreau, before continuing. “I think calling it live-action is also not appropriate either, because it sounds like we’re trying to present something that isn’t accurate. It's really a game we have created – a multi-player, virtual reality film-making game.”
Jon Favreaux won plaudits for his 2016 live-action remake of The Jungle Book, ostensibly filmed on green screen backgrounds featuring a live action Mowgli (Neel Sethi), later inserted into computer graphic representations of the other characters and scenery.
When tasked with The Lion King, Favreau realised that as there were no human characters in the story, he was liberated from green screen altogether, and free to “enter” the computer graphic world.
A “virtual production” was developed, whereby Favreau and his crew could stand in a room wearing virtual reality (VR) headsets to occupy a digital diorama which their effects teams had built. Populating the sets were the actors – video game-style animated animals, moving and talking in synch to pre-recorded dialogue from actors.
Using 3D-printed mock camera equipmment mounted with sensors, the crew could move them about in the real world, allowing the same shots to be mimicked in VR. They even hired real-life dolly grips, camera operators and the like to use the equipment, giving the film an authentic live-action feel.
Once the scenes had been finalised, they were sent to effects teams who updated the video game visuals with pioneering photo-real animated creatures.
The major difference between this set-up and previous computer generated movies like Avatar, is that the film makers were able to move their virtual selves around in real time, while the action played out before them – even able to fly about as if wearing jet packs or to relocate the sun to better light a scene.
The Lion King might be set in the vast African savanna, but in reality it was filmed in a nondescript warehouse in an industrial area of Playa Vista, Los Angeles.
The Lion King is released early in China on July 12, with its main opening on July 19 – the 25th anniversary of the release of the original movie.
- Disney’s new Lion King is the VR-fuelled future of cinema (Wired)
- The Lion King: EW visits the set of Disney’s rule-breaking beast of a remake (Entertainment Weekly)
- How Jon Favreau directed The Lion King inside a video game (IGN)
- When is an animated film not an animated film? (Film School Rejects)
- Jul 19, 2019: Disney releases The Lion King live-action remake of 1994 animated classic (NewsAhead)