Graphic shows how the virtual production of the Lion King remake was achieved.


The remaking of The Lion King

By Ninian Carter

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 film’s creation, even director Jon Favreau 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 Favreau. “I think calling it live-action is 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.”

Favreau won plaudits for his 2016 live-action remake of The Jungle Book, filmed on green screen backgrounds featuring a live action Mowgli (Neel Sethi), later inserted into computer graphic representations of the other characters and scenery.

With no human characters in The Lion King, Favreau was liberated from green screen and could “enter” the computer graphic world.

A “virtual production” was developed, whereby Favreau and his crew stood in a room wearing virtual reality (VR) headsets to occupy a digital diorama built by visual effects teams. Populating the sets were the actors – video game-style animated animals, moving and talking in synch to pre-recorded dialogue.

Using 3D-printed mock camera equipment mounted with sensors, the crew could move them about in the real world, allowing the same shots to be mimicked in VR. Once the scenes were finalised, effects teams 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.

PUBLISHED: 02/07/2019; STORY: Ninian Carter; PICTURES: Disney handouts
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