×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

How ‘Jungle Book’ Seamlessly Blended CGI and Live Action

The Jungle Book” demanded verisimilitude in its effects, but employed no real animals in photography, unlike “Life of Pi,” which employed its fantasy elements to dramatize the visual effects and a real tiger to cut alongside the digital.

VFX supervisor Rob Legato says despite the minimalistic sets (a small hill or a short walkway), the film was made as — and meant to look like — a live-action film. It was filmed over two years, after six months of prep; “The Jungle Book” team took the success of movies like “Life of Pi” and “Gravity” as proof that the dream was possible.

Technology, improved over half a decade, now better simulates — rather than imitates — real life. “The real weight of things, the turbulence of water — all that is not just animated from scratch,” Legato says. “There’s some mechanics involved. If you move one thing, it affects other things.”

The simulations are really what drive believability; Legato, Moving Picture Co. and Weta employed the power of physics to determine motion and light. Pixar’s RenderMan was used for ray tracing (simulating how light actually reflects off and onto other objects) and the two vfx studios built proprietary technology to simulate actual movements — the way a wolf’s fur would compress with pressure from a human hand, the shift of muscles under skin when a tiger rises from a reclining position or a fire consuming a tree, with pieces falling off and to the ground.

“When a character blinks, it’s not just the eyelid going in, the sockets also scrunch and it causes a furrow in the brow,” Legato says. “The scene is animated, someone figuring out you should blink at this moment, but the secondary effects of that is all done by these proprietary pieces of software and rigs.”

Though many of these details were added in later, the mainframe visuals were created in previz. Legato could walk onto a blank stage with a handheld camera which communicates its position to the computer, and then, through the eyepiece, he sees a virtual environment affected by how he moved. “You’re seeing a video representation of what real life is,” Legato says, calling this another kind of simulation. Cinematographers are then able to shoot a movie organically as they would any other. This is where the live-action magic happens.

They also needed to integrate the real into the virtual, so to light and shoot young Mowgli in the small space they had, Legato and co. built a 45-foot-wide turntable, which incorporated small hills and valleys for actor Neel Sethi to walk around. As the scenes were prevized and 3D space created, a camera dolly could be placed in the very same scenic environment that Mowgli would be incorporated into later. The movement of the turntable activated the synchronized dolly in the computer program, following parallel to the path Mowgli took. The camera on the dolly picked up the obstacles between the camera and the actor, and converted it into a black-and-white composite, which is then projected on the actor. When combined, the shadows that would fall on him in the virtual jungle fell on him in the studio as well. Further, the same shadows that fell on Baloo and other animals, and fell on the ground around them, matched the shadows on the human actor.

Last, Andy R. Jones, the animation supervisor, built a rig dubbed the “Faverator” for the director. The machine, piston driven, had elements from every part of an animal’s physiology that move when the animal moves.Think scapulae and shoulders, hindquarters and round stomachs. The machine was synchronized with the animated buffalo and animated Baloo, so when Sethi rode the rig, he was made to move as he would a real animal, but according to the creature’s animated motion. When they combined the footage with the animation, Sethi’s body movements corresponded precisely with the virtual animal’s and it seemed as if he was really sitting on a giant bear, wading down a lazy jungle river.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Clement Miserez, Matthieu Warter

    Mediawan Acquires French Production Banner Radar Films (EXCLUSIVE)

    Mediawan has acquired a majority stake in Radar Films, the French production company behind “Belle and Sebastian,” one of France’s most successful family movie franchises. Headed by Clement Miserez and Matthieu Warter, Radar Films has been producing French and English-language films, teaming up with France’s top studios, including Gaumont and SND. Besides “Belle et Sebastien” [...]

  • Jojo Rabbit

    San Diego Film Festival Adds Environmental Focus

    Now in its 18th year, the San Diego Intl. Film Festival, produced by the nonprofit San Diego Film Foundation, once again steals the movie glamour spotlight from its neighbor to the north, combining major regional premieres with a focus on social and environmental issues. Running Oct. 15-20, the festival received more than 3,000 submissions from [...]

  • Alex in Wonderland

    Mandi Riggi Tells Post-Punk Tale of Rebellion in ‘Alex in Wonderland’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Aftab is a bright, feisty, British-Indian teen living under her parents’ watchful eye amid the hedonism and decay of Thatcher’s London. When her strict and traditional parents decide to marry her off to the first available Indian suitor, Aftab rebels, taking a job at a sex shop and setting off to write her own destiny. [...]

  • Festival Directors Panel at Pingyao International

    Global Film Festival Directors Talk Chinese Cinema in Pingyao

    One of the Pingyao International Film Festival’s strengths has been its ability to draw on founders Marco Muller and arthouse auteur Jia Zhangke’s powerful network of global festival directors, who this year made the trek to China’s coal country, in Shanxi province, to engage with new Chinese talent. They gathered for a panel Tuesday afternoon [...]

  • Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

    Film Review: Angelina Jolie in 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil'

    With her horned headpiece, impossible alabaster cheekbones and high-camp attitude, Maleficent looms as by far the most iconic villain Disney ever created. Landing Angelina Jolie to play the “Sleeping Beauty” baddie in 2014’s live-action redo was a dream-casting coup for which the studio was rewarded with three-quarters of a billion dollars at the global box [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content