Jungle Book movie director Jon Favreau out-Disneys Walt Disney.
Popular Mechanics: How much did you know about the technology available going into remaking The Jungle Book?
Jon Favreau: I’ve been slowly indoctrinated into being comfortable with visual effects. I’ve had the cool experience of walking through the history of the science through the projects I’ve worked on, from forced perspective and stop-motion, through early CGI using hard surfaces and comping and eventually to CG characters. And in this case, fur and water and ray tracing .
PM: Some of the technology you used to make The Jungle Book was developed by James Cameron for Avatar. Were you two able to compare notes?
PM: He came by the set. He knew many of the people I was working with, and he was very happy to see someone else taking advantage of what he had created. But the thing that was a little different on our movie was the level of interactivity between the digital and the practical. Because Neel [Sethi, who plays Mowgli] is in most of the movie, every shot was integrated, which added a degree of difficulty that they didn’t have to contend with as much on Avatar.
PM: Are you worried that fans of the animated movie won’t like realistic versions of the animal characters?
JF: The notion was: let’s have all flora and fauna be photo-real while still maintaining the aesthetic of the 1967 film. The animals couldn’t behave in a way that you wouldn’t expect of real animals. Walt Disney had gone through a similar experience when he was between Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Bambi. He brought in reference animals for the animators to look at, so you’ll see that the behaviour of the animals in Bambi is a lot different to in Snow White, where it feels more cartoony.
PM: Did you do any motion capture with live animals?
JF: When it came to the actual movement, all of that was done key frame by reference. Thanks to the Internet, we have access to millions of hours of footage of the entire animal kingdom. What Walt would have had to do by bringing his animators to the zoo or bringing animals in, we could just look up. There’s a scene where the tiger roars. Tigers don’t really roar that much – they’re not like lions. But it was powerful, so we looked up references of tigers vocalising and found versions of it that we thought were acceptable. That informed the way the animators put that sequence together.
PM: Were any of your voice actors involved in the motion-capture process?
JF: It depended on the animal. For a character like Kaa the snake [voiced by Scarlett Johansson], motion capture isn’t that helpful. But for Chris Walken’s King Louie – a prehistoric ape – we did a combination of motion capture and roto capture to add a visual experience.
PM: What was it like directing Christopher Walken as an ape?
JF: It was awesome! You want someone who has a recognisable voice, because a lot of the performance comes through the voice, and he definitely has that. Everyone was intrigued by the process, and you feel that enthusiasm in their performances. When you include the actors in the technical side of things, it ends up spawning a lot of new ideas.
Things you might encounter on a film set: The Faverator
To make Mowgli’s riding motions look realistic, visual-effects supervisor Rob Legato invented a rig that could simulate the muscle movements of actual animals. Legacy Effects, which created hydraulics for Jurassic Park, built the machine, and the staff nicknamed it the Faverator. “The computer animators mimic the way the animals move,” Legato says. “Then you program that to the rig and the computer figures out what the pistons have to do to create the same motion.” The idea came from pin-art toys – on which a kid can place his hand under nails to make shapes – which is definitely the first time those have ever been useful.