The Art of The Jun­gle Book

An­i­mal magic A be­hind-the-scenes look at how Dis­ney rein­vented a cin­e­matic clas­sic, show­cas­ing some stun­ning con­cept art­work

ImagineFX: Sci-fi & Fantasy Art magazine - - Reviews -

Au­thor Ellen Wolff Pub­lisher Ti­tan Books Price £30 Web www.ti­tan­books.com Avail­able Now

Dis­ney’s in­no­va­tive reimag­in­ing of The Jun­gle Book has been the cin­e­matic hit of the year. But while crit­ics have been united in their praise for the 2016 re­boot, which draws on both Rud­yard Ki­pling’s novel and the 1960s car­toon, they’ve been a lit­tle un­sure about how to de­scribe it.

It’s not quite “CG an­i­ma­tion” and not quite “live ac­tion”, in­stead us­ing mo­tion cap­ture to cre­ate a hy­brid of the two. It’s dig­i­tal an­i­ma­tion that’s also hand­crafted. It’s live ac­tion that’s of­ten en­tirely pixel­lated. And it’s pre­cisely this bound­ary-push­ing ap­proach to film­mak­ing that makes this be­hind-thescenes art­book such a fas­ci­nat­ing read.

Fol­low­ing a fore­word by the direc­tor, Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Cow­boys & Aliens), au­thor Ellen Wolff, a writer spe­cial­is­ing in an­i­ma­tion and VFX, takes you through the mak­ing of the movie in six well-struc­tured chap­ters. We learn how Favreau delved into Dis­ney’s ar­chive for in­spi­ra­tion; how the crea­ture artists melded anatom­i­cal ac­cu­racy with the mo­cap ac­tors’ own fa­cial fea­tures; and how vir­tual en­vi­ron­ments were used to en­hance the emo­tions in the story. As the direc­tor puts it: “We feel like we’re out in fresh snow, with no tracks to fol­low. We’re us­ing tech­nol­ogy that no one’s used be­fore, do­ing some­thing in a way no­body’s ever done.”

The fi­nal two chap­ters ex­plores how the an­i­ma­tors and VFX artists brought the con­cept art to 3D life, fac­ing such chal­lenges as mak­ing fur and mus­cles move in the rain, and how to give talk­ing an­i­mals mouth move­ments that seem be­liev­able. We also fol­low the process of build­ing dig­i­tal en­vi­ron­ments and com­bin­ing them with pho­tographed im­ages, in a process that Ellen de­scribes as “like solv­ing a Ru­bik’s cube.”

Through­out 160 glossy pages, all this tex­tual de­tail is com­ple­mented with stun­ning art­work, in­clud­ing pen­cil sketches, con­cept art, sto­ry­boards and film stills, as well as be­hind-the-scenes pho­tog­ra­phy on set. The care­fully con­sid­ered lay­outs give the book a cin­e­matic feel that en­cour­ages you to pore over ev­ery de­tail of ev­ery im­age. Near the end, there are five dou­blepage walk­throughs, show­ing how two char­ac­ters – Shere Khan and Rak­sha – and three en­vi­ron­ments were built.

We’re not sure whether the 10 pages of in­ter­views with the voice cast adds much in­sight to the book’s ‘art’ sub­ject, but that’s a mi­nor nig­gle. Un­for­tu­nately, there’s a much big­ger one: nowhere do you hear from the artists them­selves. In fact, not one of the con­cep­tual or sto­ry­board artists whose work is used through­out is cred­ited any­where in the book. It’s for this glar­ing rea­son we’re un­able to give this oth­er­wise im­pres­sive book the full five stars.

Kaa’s jun­gle home was painted as dark, murky and claus­tro­pho­bic, to re­flect Mowgli’s state of mind.

Michael Kutsche’s Baloo was en­vi­sioned as a larger bear than how he ap­peared in the fin­ished film.

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