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Disney has been making quite a name for itself in recent years with a series of productions that have done some pretty impressive things with realistic visual effects. From The Jungle Book to The Lion King, we've seen some really incredibly photo-realistic CGI when it comes to creating animal characters in a computer that look like they could be the real thing. One smaller, but no less impressive example was the recent Disney+ movie The One and Only Ivan, where actor Bryan Cranston was one of the few characters that wasn't created by pure CGI. However, it turns out Bryan Cranston's performance actually contains a bit more CGI than you would have thought.
I recently had a chance to speak with Bryan Cranston as well as some of the VFX leads on The One and Only Ivan about the process of turning the various digital animals into realistic characters. For his part Bryan Cranston thought he had the easy job, as he got to do his performance first, and then the VFX teams had to work around his performance. It turns out, that sometimes that meant actually modifying Bryan Cranston's physicality in CGI. VFX Supervisor Nick Davis told me that in a few cases, they actually used CGI to move Cranston's arms because he had put them in the wrong place. Davis explained,
I don’t know whether Bryan knows, but there are a few of his arms that isn’t actually his arms anymore. Greg [Fisher] and I would come off the set and go ‘Bryan, you’re feeding his neck. Don’t feed Ruby’s neck.’ I think Bryan would get lost in the performance and do it again. And so afterward, it would be like ‘How are we going to fix that?’ And so we did have to remove a few of your arms and feed her mouth.
The One and Only Ivan is currently available on Disney+. You can use this link to sign up for the streaming service.
For the record, Bryan Cranston was not aware that the VFX team had needed to move his arms around, and he laughed pretty hard when he discovered this. While there were usually human stand-ins for all the various animal characters for Cranston to interact with, it seems that he would occasionally do it wrong. And so, since the VFX team couldn't exactly change the location of an elephants mouth, it was instead decided to use the technology to move the actors arm so it was feeding the right spot. I certainly didn't notice Cranston's arms shifting from real to CGI and back again, so I guess that just shows the quality of the work coming from the VFX teams.
The One and Only Ivan may use a lot of the same tools as The Lion King, but it was put together on a fraction of the budget, and the animal characters look no less impressive. Originally planned for a theatrical release, the movie was one of many that were shifted to streaming platforms during last summer. If you haven't had a chance to see it, check out The One and Only Ivan on Disney+. It's a fun little movie with strong performances of both the human and CGI animal variety.