Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles 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.