Like J.J. Abrams with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Jon Favreau re-imagined “The Jungle Book” from both a child and adult perspective. “You’re trying to honor the emotional memory, the perceived memory of people who grew up with this stuff,” he recently explained at Hollywood’s El Capitan, where he showed footage and did a brief tech talk with Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Rob Legato (“Hugo,” “Titanic”).
“But you’re also trying to make a movie that appeals to the full audience. That’s really what Disney set out to do. I stuck with the ’67 story structure but focused on images that I remembered before watching it again.”
There’s also the iconic familiarity of the music. (“The Bare Necessities” and “Trust in Me” are included, and longtime Disney songwriter and composer Richard Sherman served as consultant.) “There’s a trick I learned on ‘Iron Man’: it’s not necessarily what’s in the material that’s most important — it’s what you remember. And I find that everyone has a collective memory that’s very similar.”
Usually, this high level of tech and artistry is reserved for big action spectacles, but Favreau said “The Jungle Book” was “a unique opportunity to use it for humor and emotion and showing nature and showing animals. And getting into that real deep, mythic imagery that, I think, always marries well with technology.”
Taking his photoreal cue from “Gravity,” Favreau went for a combination of performance capture and CG animation, with newcomer Neel Sethi as the only live actor, playing Mowgli. “The two biggest challenges were how to seamlessly integrate the live-action boy and believably get the animals to talk. We looked at animal behavior online for reference and would sometimes exaggerate the environment or scale for effect. Dogs or wolves are very expressive with eyebrows but not with their mouths; cats don’t use their eyebrows; bears use their lips and eyebrows. Each animal provided a different set of tools to use.”
Favreau added that he treated elephants more like Kipling, as “elevated, God-like figures that created the jungle.”
MPC did the vast majority of shots while Weta Digital handled King Louie and the other apes — not surprising, given its “King Kong” and “Planet of the Apes” pedigree.
Legato was thrilled to use the best that virtual production has to offer with some new lighting and rendering tools to make a simple and beautiful story. “It’s exciting for me because it bodes well for the future to create anything and not reserved just for movies that are larger than life about superheroes and destruction. After ‘The Revenant,’ I think we will be good public relations for bears.”