VIR­TUAL KING OF BEASTS

TECH­NOL­OGY BRINGS A RE­FRESHED LION KING TO THE BIG SCREEN

Life & Style Weekend - - SCREENLIFE - WORDS: PETER MITCHELL, AAP

It’s a pretty cool ex­pe­ri­ence fly­ing above the African sa­vanna with trail­blaz­ing Hol­ly­wood film­maker Jon Favreau. There we are, con­trollers in our hands and vir­tual re­al­ity gog­gles over our faces as we per­form fly­overs of the stun­ning Pride Rock, the haunt­ing ele­phant grave­yard and other ma­jes­tic sites fans of the 1994 hand-drawn an­i­mated Dis­ney clas­sic, The Lion King, would recog­nise.

This is how Favreau goes lo­ca­tion scout­ing with his cine­matog­ra­pher Caleb Deschanel and other mem­bers of their film­mak­ing team for their ex­traor­di­nary new up­date of the beloved film. It’s as if we have jet packs on.

“It’s re­ally a game we have cre­ated – a multi-player, VR (vir­tual re­al­ity) film-mak­ing game,” Favreau, de­scrib­ing the tech­nol­ogy, says.

We are not ac­tu­ally fly­ing over the African sa­vanna. It’s not a video game. It is a new method to make what is tipped to be one of the big­gest box of­fice films of this year.

We are in a non­de­script build­ing in an in­dus­trial area of Playa Vista, a Los An­ge­les sub­urb south of Santa Mon­ica.

Or­di­nary on the out­side, on the in­side is a cut­ting-edge film stu­dio com­bin­ing the fu­ture of film­mak­ing with simple, old-fash­ioned tech­niques to make the 2019 ver­sion of The Lion King.

It has been a two and a half year en­deav­our.

The story about Simba the young lion

des­tined to suc­ceed fa­ther Mu­fasa re­mains largely the same, and the chart-top­ping mu­sic from El­ton John, Tim Rice and Hans Zim­mer returns with help from Beyonce Knowles.

Knowles also voices Nala.

An­other Grammy win­ner, Don­ald “Child­ish Gam­bino” Glover, voices adult Simba, James Earl Jones reprises his role as Mu­fasa, Seth Ro­gen is Pum­baa and Chi­we­tel Ejio­for the vil­lain­ous Scar.

Favreau and his team loosely de­scribe their movie as a “vir­tual pro­duc­tion”, but so much care has been taken and the tech­nol­ogy is so ad­vanced, au­di­ences will believe they are watch­ing walk­ing talk­ing lions, warthogs, meerkats and man­drills in the sa­vanna.

They have drawn on high-tech video game tech­nol­ogy to build “a movie stu­dio in­side of a video game”.

A vir­tual Serengeti and The Lion King’s iconic lo­ca­tions were built us­ing a video game en­gine, al­low­ing the film crew to move from lo­ca­tion to lo­ca­tion with­out lug­ging tonnes of cam­eras and other equip­ment.

The film is en­tirely dig­i­tal and all of the char­ac­ters are an­i­mals, but just me­tres away from where we are stand­ing with our VR gog­gles fly­ing across the sa­vanna, Favreau’s crew are us­ing live-ac­tion cam­eras, dol­lies, cranes and steady­cams to make their shots more re­al­is­tic.

Favreau wants im­per­fec­tions, or, as he calls them, the “happy ac­ci­dents” tra­di­tional film equip­ment brings to shots.

It cre­ates a more re­al­is­tic view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence com­pared to flaw­less an­i­ma­tion or ef­fects.

“We just want to win over the au­di­ence with in­no­va­tion, hard work and artistry,” Favreau says.

Favreau, who broke into Hol­ly­wood starring in the 1996 low-bud­get com­edy Swingers and is now one of the in­dus­try’s most suc­cess­ful direc­tors with two Iron Man block­busters and Dis­ney’s 2016 reboot The Jun­gle Book among his cred­its, was wary of mess­ing with The Lion King.

But Jun­gle Book gave him a taste of what he could do with new tech­nol­ogy.

The Lion King opens on Thurs­day.

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