When Jon Favreau found success with Disney's remake of The Jungle Book, and was almost immediately signed to bring The Lion King to life, the connection was clear. The Jungle Book's photo-realistic animals were such a success that the technology was ready to make those animals the star of the show.
Rob Legato won the Academy Award as the Visual Effects Supervisor on The Jungle Book, so it's little surprise that Favreau also turned to him when it came time to work on The Lion King. I had a chance to speak to Legato at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando recently and I asked him about the transition from the The Jungle Book to The Lion King and how they took what they learned from the first movie and applied it to the second. Legato says there were elements in the Jungle Book that they discovered were more difficult to do than others, and The Lion King allowed them to take another shot at it.
Once you discover that you could make something that's photo real, you discover what things are more difficult to make photo real and then be able to fix those. Because once you're in the middle of a movie you really can't change your horse in the middle of the race there. You have to wait until it's over, retool, and do it again.
The Jungle Book did have one saving grace which was the fact that the photo-realistic animals were never the true focus of the film. The movie had a human character and the animals were always secondary to him, which likely allowed the movie to hide some of the more difficult to create effects and any existing faults in the technology.
Legato goes on to say The Jungle Book was in some ways a proof of concept, a confirmation that the idea worked, and from there, The Lion King was about iterating on that success, keeping as much the same as possible so that the things that worked before still worked, and the team could focus on improving.
So we kinda knew, it was a good example that it was a proof of concept. Also had the same crew that worked, from Jungle Book and we [knew if we] kept them all together we would collectively make the next one better and more sophisticated and more nuanced. So that was part of it, is just the human endeavor of it, is keeping the same people, doing the same type of work, but with an eye to making it better.
While there were reasons to be critical of The Lion King, the digital effects were not one of them. The movie was visually stunning and it's certainly true that Rob Legato and his team upped their game from The Jungle Book. I would not be surprised in the least if there's another visual effects Academy Award in Legato's future.
Check out the Visual Effects Supervisor's comments in the video below.
One certainly wonders what the next step in this technology could be. With each opportunity the technology improves. If Disney continues to use it the possibilities are virtually endless.
The Lion King is available on Blu-ray, DVD, 4K and Digital HD now.