When you're making a movie about animals (exotic ones at that), it would certainly help to have a few around the studio to use as reference, but is that really ethical? Well, no. And Disney has recognized that, which can only be a good thing. However, it did present a little bit of a tricky situation for The Jungle Book director Jon Favreau and his team.
Ever since 1941's Dumbo, Disney animators have been modeling the movements of their animated animals on the real thing. But a recent change in policy putting a halt on the use of exotic animals outside of a zoo, sanctuary, or natural environment meant that the animators working on The Jungle Book had to get a little more creative. Visual effects artist Rob Legato spoke out at the National Association of Broadcast conference earlier this week:
"We're not allowed to actually shoot exotic animals that are kept in captivity for movies. You can do cats and dogs, but you can't do anything like a tiger or an elephant ...you can never get them in a trained environment."
Those of you have seen the movie already will know that, although supposedly a live-action movie, the vast majority of what we see on screen is animated; in fact, the only thing not computer-generated is the human star Neel Sethi, who interacted with simple props and human stand-ins during filming. From there, the world around him was built digitally from the ground up, and according to Legato it was crucial that the animals moved as realistically as possible to maintain that all-important illusion.
In an earlier interview with Inverse, Legato explained:
“You have to have the will or desire to say OK, I do not want to embellish with the computer, I want to simulate real life, how things move and why they move.
As soon as it’s realistic, you also notice that if the animal isn’t just right, if someone thought it would be funnier to move a little faster than the animal can move, you can pick up on it right away because you’re believing everything else, and the one thing you’re not believing is an animal that big can move that fast.”
So with no tigers, elephants, or other creatures allowed on set, how on earth did they do it? The Internet, that's how. Legato revealed that the artists spent months digging through online research in an effort to track behavioral and movement patterns that could be mimicked on screen. He stated simply:
"They found a reference for almost every shot. The key was in the details."
And he wasn't just talking about the animals. When the team were struggling to get a particular scene just right, a young artist suggested that they put drops of water on the 'camera lens' to emulate what would have been captured had they really been filming in a wet and wild jungle. Legato concluded:
"To add mistakes on purpose sounds crazy, but it brought the scene to life. It's just constant reminders every so often that what you're seeing is real."
You can get a fascinating look behind the scenes of The Jungle Book in the clip below.
The attention to detail by the animation team is truly a testament to the passion that was poured into the making of the movie and as I'm sure those of you who have seen it will agree, the result of their efforts is nothing short of spectacular.
Were you convinced by the creatures in The Jungle Book?