Jon Favreau’s “The Jungle Book” achieved a new level of photographic-based realism in re-imagining the Disney animated classic, which is why it’s the VFX Oscar favorite. You believe that the real Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi) belonged in the virtual jungle with the CG Bagheera, Baloo, Shere Khan and King Louie. Favreau had two-time Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Rob Legato (“Hugo” and “Titanic”) to thank for engineering his tech success (watch the video below, “Rob Legato on Virtual Production and Technicolor”).
For Legato, The Jungle Book” represents the latest in a long line of photo-real advancements blending live-action and VFX with seamless precision, including “Apollo 13,” “Titanic,” The Aviator,” “Avatar” (facilitating the virtual production workflow for James Cameron) and “Hugo.”
“The film clearly pushes the creative boundaries of what has been achieved to date –certainly as it pertains to 3D in HDR, and HDR in general, for hybrid types of productions that marry live-action and animation.” said Technicolor spokesman Robert Hoffman.
“It was done in a way as if every decision was made using a real camera [including the pluses and pitfalls],” Legato told IndieWire. “And also what we were attempting to do lighting-wise in CG is not use the computer to be perfect. So the sun is in a different place for every shot. And because we prevised it between [DP] Bill Pope shooting or me shooting [2nd unit] there was essentially one cinematographer’s point of view.”
“Technicolor was very supportive in letting me use the latest technology and making sure the process was as painless as possible and as beautiful as possible,” Legato said. “And our big thing was pushing the Dolby laser projection and knowing what we were going to do in advance and getting on top of it so it would blend into essentially our workflow.”
As production VFX supervisor, Legato oversaw the work of Technicolor-owned MPC, which did the bulk of the characters and environments, as well as Weta Digital’s King Louie sequence. “We raised the bar up what’s acceptable for animation,” Legato said. “That means if it were live you wouldn’t have the animals leap greater than they could leap or run faster than they could run.”
Weta’s work was keyframed and not performance-captured, which was more fantastical in the action. And while Christopher Walken voiced the mysterious Gigantopithecus, Favreau acted out the naturalistic movements.
But now that Favreau and Legato have a better grasp of the live-action method with improvements to workflow, they intend to raise the photo-real bar even further with “The Lion King,” which will be completely animated with all animal characters.
“Jon’s drive is going to be to get all of the actors in a room together and get that extra bit of chemistry you get from one actor relating to another actor, but still do everything that particular animal can do,” Legato said.
“And then the filmmaking style will be the same but more so like you’re shooting an epic movie in Africa. And, in fact, we’re going to do a photo safari, not to use the actual plates, but as guides for what we’re going to do. If we shot that particular lion in that particular environment, you would come up with a 65mm shot that would be evocative of the scene. And just extend it and do better than what we did.”