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  • This is the iconic opening scene in "The Lion King."

  • Compared to the original,

  • it's an almost shot-for-shot remake,

  • but take a closer look at Rafiki.

  • In the 1994 film he stands while lifting the cub,

  • and in the new version he sits.

  • That's because Rafiki is a mandrill,

  • an animal that couldn't actually stand

  • while lifting a lion cub.

  • Striking that balance between

  • staying true to the original film

  • and creating a hyper-realistically animated

  • "Lion King" for a new audience

  • was a particularly tough challenge,

  • and it required literally millions of hours of animating.

  • The visual-effects masters at MPC Film

  • helped animate this ambitious live-action remake.

  • Their fingerprints are all over films

  • that combine live action and CGI animation,

  • from "Dumbo" to "Detective Pikachu."

  • But it was their work on another Disney remake,

  • "The Jungle Book," that really paved the way

  • for what they were able to achieve with "The Lion King."

  • This is Elliot Newman,

  • one of the VFX Supervisors on "The Lion King."

  • If you want a sense of just how much work Newman

  • and the MPC Film team put into this project,

  • take a look at a few stats.

  • MPC Film estimates that there were about 77 million hours

  • of rendering animation throughout all of their departments.

  • If they used a single computer,

  • it would've taken 8,790 years to finish the movie.

  • Before they could begin fully animating,

  • they had to actually shoot the movie,

  • and the actors needed to record their voices.

  • Instead of just recording their voices in a sound booth,

  • the actors were actually able to move around,

  • as some scenes were recorded

  • in what is called a black box theater.

  • This bare-bones setup gave the actors room

  • to interact with the cast and even improvise.

  • Some parts though were recorded in a recording booth.

  • Donald Glover: Mercy? After what you did?

  • Narrator: While not motion captured,

  • the actors' performances were recorded

  • and used by animators as a point of reference.

  • The first steps in animation happen

  • in what's called pre-visualization.

  • The animation team worked

  • with animation supervisor Andy Jones

  • to create simplified animated sequences

  • that could be used for virtual reality.

  • This VR approach on set,

  • which they called virtual production, was unique.

  • Director Jon Favreau and several crew members would put

  • on VR headsets which allowed them to actually step foot

  • in the virtual set they created.

  • This way, they could set up shots,

  • adjust lighting, and choreograph movements.

  • They treated this digital environment

  • like a place that really existed.

  • The animals and environments were created at the same time,

  • and rough versions of the animations could be viewed

  • on monitors while shooting took place.

  • They would eventually add more fully realized details

  • and other crucial aspects, like lighting, after production.

  • We'll get more into that later.

  • And, yes, there were real cameras tracking Timon And Pumbaa.

  • Creating the camera movements in real life,

  • rather than just in the computer, allowed the filmmakers

  • to create a nature-documentary-like feel.

  • When it came to animals, they had to toe the fine line

  • between creating realistic animals

  • and staying true to the original movie.

  • Newman: Even though we were making

  • very realistic-looking lions,

  • we still needed to make sure that when you look at Simba

  • you kind of resonate that that's Simba,

  • and you understand that

  • that's the character you're looking at,

  • or, you know, if you're looking at Mufasa,

  • then he's got the right visual style for you

  • to kind of remember that that's, you know,

  • he is the alpha lion and, you know, he's larger than life

  • and he has this presence about him, you know.

  • Narrator: The animals were a combination

  • of storyboards, sketches, and exhaustive research.

  • Favreau and the team

  • took a trip to Africa,

  • where they observed real animals in their natural habitats,

  • which helped them build the world,

  • plus they could get up close and personal

  • with a lot of the animals

  • at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida.

  • They also read anatomy books and science papers

  • and watched hours of documentaries

  • and other reference footage.

  • Many of the animals the crew saw

  • in Kenya inspired the characters.

  • For example, an excited lion cub they saw

  • running around as the rest of the pride slept

  • was a big influence on how they animated Simba.

  • For some animals, making them both realistic

  • as well as faithful to the original wasn't easy.

  • Perhaps the best example of that is Rafiki.

  • Newman: If you put him against a real mandrill,

  • you'd see some differences.

  • Narrator: Rafiki's most famous moment comes

  • when he stands and lifts Simba over his head

  • for all the Pride Lands to see.

  • As we mentioned, mandrills can't really stand up like that.

  • However, the movie is shot and edited in such a way

  • that you'll barely notice a difference.

  • Because Rafiki is in the primate family,

  • he's the character most similar to a human.

  • Therefore, they were able to add

  • some more humanlike qualities and emotions to him.

  • The animators, however, took some liberties

  • and occasionally strayed from realism in a few places.

  • Take Scar, for example.

  • His design was the furthest from reality

  • compared to the other lions,

  • but they made it work.

  • He has a lot of physical qualities

  • that are different from an actual lion,

  • like his size and the shape of his skull.

  • Newman: He feels more like a character

  • than the rest of them,

  • but actually once he was in the shots

  • and once we'd lit things and we'd put the environment in

  • and his performance was there, it was all animated,

  • he worked in every shot.

  • It was, you know, one of the best characters we had.

  • Narrator: The animators also had the challenge

  • of making the animals not only realistic

  • but able to sing and talk.

  • One change: They repositioned some animals' heads

  • so the audience wouldn't always have to stare

  • right into their mouths.

  • They still had to make sure their mouths moved

  • how they did in real life,

  • so they timed the character's breathing to their dialogue.

  • Jones said they would let the belly muscles

  • and diaphragm tighten.

  • That way, it felt like a given animal

  • was forcing air out of its mouth as they spoke.

  • Each layer of these animals went through simulations,

  • an additional phase of animation

  • where skin details, such as muscle ripples,

  • skin wrinkles, and fur interaction, are all added.

  • All of these details are too complex to hand-animate,

  • so they need simulations to generate them.

  • The average first simulation,

  • for instance, took eight hours to complete.

  • One of the biggest improvements

  • MPC Film wanted to make since "The Jungle Book"

  • was how they portrayed the layers of each animal,

  • especially their muscles.

  • Newman: Something that's quite common in CG

  • is that you kind of get this water-balloon effect

  • when you simulate muscles.

  • Narrator: This effect occurs

  • when the muscles bounce around too much.

  • On the other hand, animators also run the risk

  • of making the characters look too stiff.

  • Newman: The problem with that is

  • because there's a lot of collisions

  • happening under the skin,

  • that's quite difficult to simulate,

  • but on "The Lion King" we added hard surface joints,

  • bones, basically, that those muscles would collide

  • and slide against,

  • and it reduced that sort of water-balloon movement.

  • Narrator: And even if we don't notice it,

  • there are several visual factors

  • to making the skin look just right,

  • like how light bounces off of it and how it moves.

  • Separate teams worked on each layer,

  • perhaps none being more important than hair,

  • given that nearly every character

  • in the movie is covered in it.

  • Part of the reason

  • they really had to nail things like muscles, bones,

  • and skin is because a lion's hair is so short

  • that there's less to hide

  • how the skin and bones move beneath.

  • Female lions have even less hair

  • than their male counterparts,

  • and because they have no manes,

  • you can fully see their necks.

  • For characters like Nala,

  • they had to add certain movements to the neck and esophagus

  • for moments when she's speaking.

  • The male lions have manes,

  • which presented their own set of challenges.

  • Newman: Typically, the longer the hair is,

  • the harder it is to simulate.

  • You get 1% of the whole density of the groom,

  • you can then use that

  • to kind of approximate the surrounding hairs

  • that move and collide with each other.

  • Narrator: Adult Simba's mane alone consisted

  • of about 700,000 strands of hair.

  • And the hairs can't just sit still.

  • The animation team created new systems for "The Lion King,"

  • specifically for gusts of wind passing through long hair.

  • The hairs on a lion's mane blowing in the wind

  • can be tricky to control,

  • so they made sure the strands behind the leading hairs

  • in these shots wouldn't move as much,

  • helping to create a sense

  • that these animals were covered in layers of hair.

  • While extremely subtle,

  • Newman says it's the kind of specific detail that,

  • if not done correctly, the viewer will notice.

  • Newman: But it's that kind of level of detail

  • that we have to get to, to kind of reach that kind of,

  • the audience is believing what they're looking at.

  • Narrator: But sometimes they actually needed less detail.

  • Take, for example, the infamous

  • wildebeest stampede sequence.

  • The animators started by building up a big library

  • of animated clips of wildebeests doing different actions,

  • whether that be walking, jumping, or changing direction.

  • This allowed them to more easily create

  • a massive crowd in motion.

  • The wildebeests in the distance were able

  • to have more simplified features

  • and could be done by simulation,

  • while they had to animate the wildebeests

  • that were closer to the camera,

  • and thus more visible to the eye.

  • Of course, the world surrounding the animals

  • was equally important.

  • They built landscapes based on many real-life locations

  • in places like Kenya, Namibia, and California.

  • Another piece of technology

  • they worked on since "The Jungle Book"

  • was what Newman referred to as a scatter tool.

  • It allowed animators to sprinkle elements

  • across the surface, like twigs, leaves, and stones,

  • instead of just placing them there one by one.

  • It's a big part of the reason

  • "The Lion King" feels so realistic,

  • down to every tiny detail.

  • One sequence really shows off MPC's work creating

  • both the environments and the animals in them:

  • "Circle of Life."

  • Newman: I was on the movie for about two and a half years,

  • and we were working on that sequence up until the end.