Disney’s 3D ‘Lion King’ sends animation roaring forward

A trailer for the new “Lion King” was watched by 225 million people in its first 24 hours in November, shattering Disney’s record. (File/AFP)
Updated 14 July 2019

Disney’s 3D ‘Lion King’ sends animation roaring forward

  • With no human characters in sight, almost every shot was conjured from scratch using computer-generated imagery
  • But “The Lion King” is not strictly a 3D animation either, in any conventional sense

LOS ANGELES: Disney’s blockbuster 3D remakes of animated classics have rampaged through box offices in recent years, but the studio is banking on its latest — “The Lion King” — to climb right to the top of the food chain.
With a star-studded voice cast including Beyonce and estimated $250 million budget, Hollywood’s reigning hitmaker has spared no expense bringing arguably its most beloved source material roaring to photo-realistic life.
Expectations are sky-high for the film about young lion cub Simba avenging his father’s death to emulate the commercial success of “The Jungle Book” (2016), “Beauty and the Beast” (2017) and “Aladdin” (2019).
A trailer for the new “Lion King” was watched by 225 million people in its first 24 hours in November, shattering Disney’s record.
But while the film — set for release Friday — is being billed as the Mouse House’s latest “live-action” movie, it is in fact a different beast altogether.
With no human characters in sight, almost every shot — from the pixel-perfect hairs of Mufasa’s glistening mane to the eerily realistic hyena eyes piercing through the Elephant Graveyard gloom — was conjured from scratch using computer-generated imagery.
And yet “The Lion King” is not strictly a 3D animation either, in any conventional sense.
It is instead something totally new, says director Jon Favreau — a film shot by a traditional camera crew, but entirely inside a virtual reality 3D world.
Filmmakers and actors at the studio were able to don digital headsets and “step into” a video game-style African savannah to film — or simply watch — rough computer-generated versions of Simba and his pals cavorting through the Pride Lands.
“The crew would be able to put on the headsets, go in and scout and actually set cameras within VR,” Favreau told journalists in Beverly Hills this week.
“Whenever anybody visited I would pop them into the equipment.”
The novelty was not lost on child actor JD McCrary, who voices the young Simba early in the film.
“We put on the headsets and had these little control things in our hands,” he said. “We saw everything, we saw the Pride Lands, Pride Rock, the watering hole... We saw it all man, and it was so cool!“
But this groundbreaking method had immense practical benefits that shape the way the film actually appears, according to Favreau.
Talented crew who had no experience in high-tech visual effects could bring their experience and traditional techniques, as well as their actual camera “dollies” and cranes, right into the VR studio.
Set dressers, script supervisors and cinematographers could watch the film unfold and make real-time adjustments to the lighting, camerawork and shots.
This all took place before the footage was sent to London-based visual effects firm MPC, which polished it to the lifelike luster of the final movie.
In another liberating break from tradition, the voice actors — who traditionally speak their parts alone in sound booths — were recorded together on theater stages, giving them free rein to riff and improvise.
The iconic scene in which Simba is taught the philosophy of “Hakuna Matata” (“no worries” in Swahili) was, fittingly, created in this way.
Seth Rogen, who voices warthog Pumbaa, said it was “amazing” to be asked to ad-lib in “probably the most technologically incredible movie ever made.”
The 1994 “Lion King” is seen as the peak of Disney’s 1990s “renaissance,” spawning a smash-hit Broadway musical version.
The remake copies the first film’s storyline to a beat, even bringing back James Earl Jones as the voice of Simba’s father Mufasa.
Iconic songs including “Circle of Life” and “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” from the original’s Oscar- and Grammy-winning soundtrack return intact, as well as many of the musicians behind them.
Composers Hans Zimmer and Lebo Morake combined once again for the soundtrack, with Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice providing a new credits song.
But the film diverges in other ways.
The cast are called upon to sing their own songs — from actor-musicians Beyonce and Donald Glover (Simba) to the comically offbeat Rogen.
While the original was criticized for its mainly white cast, the creators of the remake wanted to enhance its African flavor.
Uganda-born Florence Kasumba portrays sinister hyena leader Shenzi, while South Africa’s John Kani lends his voice to the wise Rafiki.


TWITTER POLL: Firing up of UAE’s Barakah power plant to usher new age of nuclear energy

Updated 04 August 2020

TWITTER POLL: Firing up of UAE’s Barakah power plant to usher new age of nuclear energy

  • Also an indirect endorsement for a move away from fossil fuels

DUBAI: The UAE firing up of the Barakah power plant’s first nuclear reactor will usher in a new era of clean energy, according to an Arab News straw poll.

Nearly 70 percent of those who responded said they believed the launch of the Barakah facility was the beginning of a new era of energy production.

But one third of those polled said they doubted there would be any change in the current energy regime.

The UAE became the first nuclear energy capable nation in the Arab world after switching on the country’s first nuclear reactor at the Barakah plant in Abu Dhabi emirate.

Unit 1 is set to be connected to the UAE power grid and supply electricity in the next testing phase.

The Barakah facility, tucked 280 kilometers away from Abu Dhabi in the Al-Dhafra region, is expected to add 5,600 megawatts of electricity to the UAE power grid when all of its four reactors become operational as the country works to improve its environmental reputation.

“If the younger, educated ones are allowed to speedily take charge of modern tech, this can rapidly bring Arab countries into the realm of Singapore, Israel, South Korea etc.,” according to Twitter user @winstonmaraj.