With director Jon Favreau at the helm, and boasting some impressive visual effects, Disney’s live-action reimagining of The Jungle Book is one of the most interesting and anticipated blockbuster films of the year. What makes it even more interesting, is that despite the gorgeous landscapes and environments in the film, practically all of the project was filmed on a soundstage in Los Angeles, with just the actors there to provide motion-capture performances, or in Neel Sethi’s (Mowgli) case, who leads the film, act against practically nothing.
Back in the middle of January as well, a number of journalists were invited to Disney’s El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood to see some exclusive, never-before-seen footage from the film and learn new information about the filmmaking process and story behind The Jungle Book from director Jon Favreau himself and visual effects supervisor Rob Legato. I was lucky enough to see some breathtaking, heart-gripping action and story sequences from the film then, which have only been teased briefly in the trailers, and see some pre-vis footage from the project as well.
From that day, I have created a list of numerous things you should know about The Jungle Book when you go into it later this Spring, including the film’s visual influences, what made Favreau want to remake this classic story, and how ambitious its digital world really is.
- When approaching the film’s visual style and their overall shooting process for the film, Favreau revealed that they actually shot and edited the project more like an animated movie than they would for a live-action film, referencing how the old school Disney animators and even Pixar artists have created their films throughout the years, for inspiration here.
- Building off of that as well, Favreau revealed that more than anything else in the film, the story and narrative was worked on more than anything else leading up to production, and even since then.
- Inspired heavily by how Alfonso Cuaron and his team approached Gravity, Favreau revealed that he approached the film as if it was an element shoot, shooting the kid as if he were an element more than anything else, meaning that they started the film with a motion-capture version, bringing in all of the mo-cap actors and characters, then there was an animated version of the film as well, before they brought Sethi in as an element in the film. This also means that there were small sets built for each shot of the film, depending on what kind of landscape or environment Mowgli would be walking or running on during each respective scene.
- When it comes to 3D though, Favreau revealed the mark of quality they were hoping to achieve and even succeed: “If there was a giant we were standing on the shoulders of, it was Avatar. Avatar was the first time I got what this whole big screen 3D format was about. I got why you had to go to the movies to see that. It was a great experience, too. Since then, 3D has been a big piece of business for Hollywood, but I don’t know if anyone has ever outdone the 3D that was done there. So, we shot native 3D, using the system that Jim [Cameron] had been a part of developing, along with all of this technology that people haven’t really been using. I love film, but I think we have to push technology as far as we can because there are things that digital is better for. When it comes to putting all of these elements together, I want to see digital continue to grow. I don’t want to see anything eliminated. I wanted to see everything perfected, including film.”
- To give the film the same kind of digital world and feeling of being alive, Favreau shot the film in native 3D, hoping to give it a real, authentic 3D immersion and experience that very few other blockbuster films can provide. As someone who’s always been resistent to 3D as well, the footage shown and 3D present was arguably the best that cinema has ever seen, and manages to heighten the film-going experience in a unique way.
- Surprisingly enough though, and despite how planned out the whole project seems, Favreau revealed that he did no go into Disney and pitch a Jungle Book remake, and actually met Legato while he was developing Magic Kingdom, a film where the theme park comes to life, so while that film never came to fruition, the two continued to work together on The Jungle Book, with Legato even working as a second unit director on the project as well as the visual effects.
- In that same vein as well, Favreau wanted to make sure that if he was going to make this film, then he was going to keep the same kind of love and life from the original novel and animated film, bonding with Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn over their shared love of the story, so Favreau wanted to make sure he kept the same love and memory the original film had, while also bringing it to a new generation.
- Still considered a hallmark amongst Disney aficionados for its animated achievements alone as well, Favreau wanted to bring the story to life with the same familiar and beloved elements, and combine it with today’s technology, and to push that technology as far they possibly could.
- To do this, the filmmakers brought in two visual effects houses for the film in Weta and MPC, with the latter doing a majority of the animation in the film. To make the two houses’ work seamless and indistinguishable though, they made it so that Weta had one reel in the film and MPC had the rest, with Christopher Walken’s King Louie for example, being created by Weta.
- The filmmakers also showed us a small section of pre-vis clips from the film, including an animation test of a bird on a branch,which helped to convince Favreau that he could not only give the film a gorgeous animated look, but also make it look as photo-real as possible.
- Also included in the footage was the opening monologue of the film, about the story’s central watering hole where all animals could come and drink in peace amongst each other. That is before Idris Elba’s Shere Khan makes his onscreen introduction, and does not take a liking to Mowgli, noticing the unusual scent amongst the crowd that day. With Elba’s rough voice and the writing for Shere Khan, it looks like Favreau will at least be honoring the iconic villain with this new iteration.
- Continuing with the footage as well, Favreau showed the press audience the longest clip of the day, which featured Ben Kingsley’s Baghura escorting Mowgli through the jungle towards the man village, before being savagely attacked by Elba’s Shere Khan in his attempts to kill Mowgli. The ensuing chase and journey that was shown was enthralling, and the effects continue to impress in terms of the atmosphere created onscreen alone.
- One of the scenes that we were also lucky enough to see was the onscreen introduction of Bill Murray’s Baloo, and in case you were wondering, yes, Bill Murray as a lovable and messy talking bear is just as pitch-perfect as you might have thought. His interactions and conversations with Mowgli were already energetic from their first moments together.
- In that same note as well, after teasing its most iconic tune in the first trailer, Favreau revealed that while the film is not a musical, there will still be music in it, and yes, Bill Murray does in fact sing “Bare Necessities” at one point in the film. The director spoke on the music in the film as well with the following: “I love New Orleans music and I love swing music. I don’t know what genre you’d even call ‘Bear Necessities.’ It has a Ragtime feel. When you realize that your whole baseline musical set of references comes from watching Bugs Bunny and Disney, you realize what you were being exposed to when you were young. The archetypes introduced to a young Jon Favreau also affected who I am. So, I didn’t want it to be distracting, but I definitely wanted to introduce some of the influences that I was introduced to, to the next generation.”
- In order to make the animals sing though, they needed to make them talk, which Favreau said was one of the most difficult parts of the film. Making sure each animal looked right speaking, and not just using one technique or method for every animal, but designing it for each of their facial structures and muscles was integral to the film’s believability.
- Lastly, Favreau also announced that the film would be the first to be released in the Dolby x-tended range format in laser projection, which is able to display the 3D image without altering or affecting it negatively in any way. It won’t be released in this format in all theatres around the world, but will be available in the more popular cities.
The Jungle Book is set to hit theatres on April 15th.
Make sure to keep checking back for more updates — right here on GeekNation.
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