The remake of Lion King, the new animated movie by the legendary Jon Favreau has become the highest grossing animated film of all times. You may know him as “Happy” from the Avengers franchise. Kids love it, adults adore it, but people belonging to the animation industry are in a good deal of confusion over it.
How was it made? Is it animated? Is it VR? What is it? Here we attempt to answer the question.
If you want a one word answer then we say “CG animation”. If you want a detailed answer, like we know you do, the answer is a little bit complicated. So read on.
This movie consisted of a bunch of pre-production tactics that we can categorize as “virtual production”. This was done to increase the quality of the animation and achieve levels of photorealism that were not possible before. In this manner, this is a ground-breaking movie that has set a new standard for upcoming animation films.
The tricks and techniques used in this film are still in the experimental phase and aren’t properly understood by all. We will discuss the insights given to us by Jon Favreau himself, as well as his VFX supervisor Rob Legato, Caleb Deschanel who was the cinematographer, and others to find out in-depth details about the making of the movie and why this movie is so important for future ventures.
Animation and VFX
All of the animations and VFX related to the movie were done by Technicolor’s MPC Films. They mostly worked out of their London office and the one situated in Bangalore, India. They have already worked on Jon Favreau’s remake of The Jungle Book, so they probably knew what they were getting into.
Along with the animation, MPC were also responsible for the VFX for The Lion King. They did this with the help of 1490 shots and 2D and 3D rendering. The total team that worked on the animations and the VFX comprised of around 1200 people.
They divided the task into three phases:
- World building
- Virtual Production
- VFX and Animation
Staying true to the film but also to Jon’s ambition of updating a classic landmark without changing the personality was the need of the hour. The team of animators and others traveled all the way to Africa, as the movie is based there, to experience the lush continent firsthand.
They scouted all the locations that they would be using and captured important data during their expeditions. The goal was to make the viewers believe that they were watching something real. For this purpose, they captured everything like the Kenyan vistas, the landscape, the colors, the tones, the vegetation and how the light felt on them.
While building the world, the main factor was the reality of the scene and not the perfection.
Once all the data was in place and everything had been photographed and documented, the team started the virtual production. The tools used for the virtual production involved creative and innovative techniques. A game engine platform was used to produce a live action film while being in a VR space. Although VR was used, the film is digitally rendered and every environment and character is animated using keyframes.
VFX And Animation
This was the final phase of the production. Everything from the skin, fur, hair, shading, water, grass, and trees, and everything else had to be done and done better.
A lot of handcrafting went into each shot. Different types of simulators were created for different fur tools and all other textures. This is another reason why The Lion King is a revolutionary film as a lot of things that create the photorealism effect were innovations and were made specifically for this film.
The most challenging task for the animators was to create talking and acting animals that still give the feel of reality. Not only did they animate the talking and acting of the animals, but also all the muscle movements and performances. Another technique that they used was to use 3D to make the characters or the environment more or less imposing. This will soon be used by each and every animated video company out there.
Caleb Deschanel, the cinematographer of The Lion King was tasked with making the film photo-realistic. He used innovative and revolutionary techniques like virtual cinematography. These were driven from the techniques that had already been used in movies like Avatar and Favreau’s previous hit The Jungle Book.
Virtual production was one of the ways that The Lion King has affected the entire animated film industry by advancing the filmmaking methods and taking the paradigm presented in The Jungle Book much further than ever expected. These innovations also included simulating dollies and drone shots. The moving and talking characters were realized in full 360 degrees before the staging.
The Circle Of Life Scene
Who doesn’t remember the opening scene that has been famously dubbed “The Circle of Life Scene”? We watched it with awe and amazement in our childhood and now we are experiencing it again. But this time, it is as real as it can get. In a video lecture, Jon Favreau gives us details about this scene and how it differs from the original one. Keeping most of the things just as they were in the original version, they made very subtle changes to achieve photo-realism, like changing the posture of Rafiki and the substance that he anoints young Simba with.
Everything The Light Touches
Another scene that is almost as famous as the “Circle of Life” scene is the “Everything The Light Touches” scene. This is the scene where Mufasa first shows Simba his future kingdom. If you have seen the original movie, and we don’t know what to say to you if you haven’t, you will remember the vast expense of land, the multitude of textures and the glaring and transcendent lighting made it something that we will remember always.
The goal for the animation and VFX team as well as the cinematographers was to make the scene as natural as possible inside the photo real world. As Rob Legato puts it, “The goal was not perfection, it was plausibility.” He even added the hand-held move to some of the scenes, especially in the close-up, to make it less perfect.
Animated Movie Or Documentary
Jon Favreau was bent on creating what he calls “documentary aesthetics” in the movie. This called for long-lens cinematography. At one point, he had the team add clouds to the clear skies. Usually the skies are unnaturally clear in CG movies, and this was not the way he wanted to go. He also added back-lighting behind the characters so as to obscure their textures.
If you take it as a whole, the entire movie was pre-shot in VR which is a ground-breaking innovation. Add to this, the animal motion and the talking was done by key-framing it by hand and then they were rendered in real time. The camera motion was done through a virtual production stage. Add all these things together, and what you get is the evolution of animation. The Lion King has clearly defined the future of filmmaking.
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