THE LION KING
"THE LION KING" ROARS TO LIFE THIS SUMMER
Director Jon Favreau Takes the Classic Story
to the Big Screen in a Whole New Way
Disney's "The Lion King," directed by Jon Favreau, journeys to the African
where a future king is born. Simba idolizes his father, King Mufasa, and takes
his own royal destiny. But not everyone in the kingdom celebrates the new cub's
Scar, Mufasa's brother-and former heir to the throne-has plans of his own. The
for Pride Rock is fraught with betrayal, tragedy and drama, ultimately resulting
Simba's exile. With help from a curious pair of newfound friends, Simba will
figure out how to grow up and take back what is rightfully his.
"It's such a beloved property," says Favreau. "Disney has had tremendous
the original animated version and then the Broadway musical. I knew that I had
very careful with it. I felt a tremendous responsibility not to screw it up. I
demonstrate that we could be respectful of the source material while bringing it
using mind-blowing techniques and technologies."
Widely considered an animated masterpiece, beloved by fans worldwide,
classic "The Lion King" won Academy Awards for the original song "Can You Feel
Love Tonight" (Elton John, Tim Rice) and original score (Hans Zimmer). In 1997,
stage production inspired by the film made its Broadway debut, subsequently
six Tony Awards; 22 years later, it remains one of Broadway's biggest hits,
marking its 9,000th show.
"In my opinion, the original film is the greatest animated film ever made,"
screenwriter Jeff Nathanson. "From day one, Jon and I discussed our love for the
original, and how important it was to maintain the spirit of the animated
Adds Favreau, "We are dealing with very engaged audiences that oftentimes
grown up with these properties. And they have an emotional connection to them-in
certain cases spanning generations within their family. So, you're not just
'The Lion King,' you're remembering 'The Lion King' when you were 7, or when you
brought your kid to it, or when you saw it then later introduced it to your kid.
have a whole basket of memories and emotions that are related to this movie, and
there's a certain protectiveness that people feel because those memories belong
Favreau helmed 2016's "The Jungle Book," utilizing technology to tell the
story in a
contemporary and immersive way. The film wowed audiences and won an Oscar for
best visual effects (Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones, Dan Lemmon),
the experience was eye-opening for the director, revealing a new world of
But it was a trip to Africa that pointed him in the direction of "The Lion
King." "I went on
safari to Africa six months prior to first talking to Disney about doing this
Favreau. "I remember when a warthog ran by our safari vehicle, one of the people
group started singing 'Hakuna Matata.' And then when we saw lions up on a rock,
all said, 'Oh, look, it looks like "The Lion King."' This story has become a
reference that everybody now knows and accepts. It pops up in music, on TV
comedy routines, as part of sketches. It's continually referenced. It's such a
deep part of
our culture that it felt like there was a tremendous opportunity to build on
that and to
retell the story in a different medium."
Favreau, who has long admired Walt Disney's pioneering spirit, pushed the
to take "The Lion King" to the big screen in a whole new way-employing an
of storytelling technology that blends live-action filmmaking techniques with
computer-generated imagery. Environments were designed within a game engine;
state-of-the-art virtual-reality tools allowed Favreau to walk around in the
scouting and setting up shots as if he were standing in Africa alongside Simba.
According to producer Karen Gilchrist, the director sought to root the film
did so in unexpected ways. "He wanted to capture those things you can't quite
she says. "Having director of photography Caleb Deschanel actually working the
or having a dolly grip, you get those magical things that happen with the human
Not always having the perfect shot, the perfect sunrise, the perfect sky-that
important to Jon."
Once the film was created within VR, Favreau shifted gears and directed the
MPC Film during the animation process. Ultimately, the artists, technicians,
professionals and cutting-edge animators created what is essentially a new way
make a movie. But is it live action or animation? "It's hard to explain," says
like magic. We're reinventing the medium."
But, adds the director, "We're not reinventing the story." For Favreau-much
Disney before him-story comes first. He set out to preserve the soul of the
while allowing the performances, artistry, music and humor to unfold
understood going into this how important that powerful inherited relationship
the original film," he says. "There is such a rich tradition surrounding this
are dealing with archetypes and struggles going back to Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'
earlier. Betrayal, coming-of-age, death and rebirth-the cycles of life-are the
foundation of all myths around the world. Then bring in such strong emotional
the music from Africa and the songs that Elton John and Hans Zimmer collaborated
Much like the Broadway show presented the classic story in a different
Favreau's contemporary approach added dimension, emotion and realism to the
"We definitely are not shy about going back to the old material, but it is
much you can change and update invisibly. And that's the trick-you don't want it
like you've imposed yourself upon the film. We don't want to cross the line of
something feel too intense, or lose the thread of what we remember about the old
Comedy works differently. Music works differently. The animals' natural
differently. It's a family film, an adventure film. But there are areas, even in
film and in the stage play, which are very intense and emotional. It's a
because we want to hit those same feelings and the same story points, but we
want to overwhelm the audience in a way that the earlier production had not."
According to the director, the performances breathe life and humanity into
"The casting allows for interpretation while maintaining the spirit and
personality of the
classic characters," he says. The all-star lineup includes stars from film, TV,
music, bringing back to the big screen iconic characters that audiences have
treasured-but in a whole new way. "The Lion King" stars Donald Glover
"Solo: A Star Wars Story") as future king Simba, Beyonce Knowles-Carter ("Dreamgirls,"
"Lemonade" visual album) as Simba's friend-turned-love-interest Nala, and James
Jones ("Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," "Field of Dreams") as Simba's wise and
father, Mufasa, reprising his iconic performance from Disney's 1994 animated
Chiwetel Ejiofor ("12 Years a Slave," Marvel Studios' "Doctor Strange") portrays
villainous uncle Scar, and Alfre Woodard ("Juanita," Marvel's "Luke Cage") plays
Simba's no-nonsense mother, Sarabi. JD McCrary (OWN's "Tyler Perry's The Paynes,"
Apple's "Vital Signs") voices Young Simba, a confident cub who can't wait to be
and Shahadi Wright Joseph (NBC's "Hairspray Live!," Broadway's "The Lion King")
brings tough cub Young Nala to life.
Every kingdom comes with a trustworthy advisor or two. John Kani (Marvel
"Black Panther," "Coriolanus," Marvel Studios' "Captain America: Civil War") was
as the wise baboon Rafiki, and John Oliver (HBO's "Last Week Tonight with John
Oliver," Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart") was tapped as
Zazu, Mufasa's loyal confidant. When Simba goes into exile, he relies on two
friends-Seth Rogen ("Sausage Party," "Neighbors") lends his comedic chops to
warthog Pumbaa, and Billy Eichner ("Billy on the Street," FX's "American Horror
joins the cast as know-it-all meerkat Timon.
While most of the animals in the kingdom respect the king, the hyenas have
Florence Kasumba (Marvel Studios' "Black Panther") portrays Shenzi, Eric Andre
Swim's "The Eric Andre Show," FXX's "Man Seeking Woman") is Azizi, and
Keegan Michael Key ("Predator," Netflix's "Friends from College") plays Kamari.
"The Lion King" is directed by Favreau ("The Jungle Book," Marvel Studios'
and produced by Favreau, Jeffrey Silver ("Beauty and the Beast," "Edge of
and Gilchrist ("The Jungle Book," "Chef"). Nathanson ("Catch Me If You Can,"
of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales") penned the screenplay based on the
screenplay by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton. Tom Peitzman
(co-producer "Kong: Skull Island," "Alice in Wonderland"), Julie Taymor
Midsummer Night's Dream," Broadway's "The Lion King") and Thomas Schumacher
("The Lion King," "Beauty and the Beast") are executive producers, and John
("The Jungle Book," "Chef") is co-producer. The award-winning team of artists
bring the African savanna and its animal inhabitants to life includes visual
supervisor Rob Legato, who conceived the virtual production on "Avatar," won
Awards for his work on "The Jungle Book," "Hugo" and "Titanic," and was
an Oscar for his work on "Apollo 13," and Oscar-winning animation supervisor
R. Jones ("The Jungle Book," "Avatar," "World War Z"). MPC Film's VFX
are Adam Valdez ("The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," "The Lord
Rings: The Two Towers"), who won an Oscar for his work on "The Jungle Book," and
Elliot Newman ("The Jungle Book," "Fast & Furious: Supercharged"). MPC Film was
instrumental in bringing each character to life and building the movie's full CG
environments, as well as working with filmmakers to develop the virtual
Five-time Oscar nominee Caleb Deschanel, ASC ("Jack Reacher," "The Patriot"),
director of photography, and James Chinlund ("War for the Planet of the Apes,"
"The Avengers") serves as the production designer. Oscar winner Ben Grossman
("Alice in Wonderland," "Hugo," "Star Trek Into Darkness") is virtual production
supervisor, and Mark Livolsi, ACE ("The Jungle Book," "Saving Mr. Banks," "The
Side"), and Adam Gerstel ("Transformers: The Last Knight," "The Jungle Book")
This film features unforgettable music by an award-winning team, including
GRAMMY-winning superstar Elton John and Oscar- and GRAMMY-winning lyricist
Tim Rice, score by Oscar- and GRAMMY-winning composer Hans Zimmer, plus African
vocal and choir arrangements by GRAMMY-winning South African producer and
composer Lebo M ("Rhythm of the Pride Lands"). Oscar-nominated and GRAMMY-winning
singer, songwriter and producer Pharrell Williams ("Hidden Figures"/producer,
"Happy"), produced five songs on the soundtrack.
Utilizing pioneering virtual filmmaking techniques to bring some of film's
characters to life in a whole new way, "The Lion King" roars into theaters on
WHO'S WHO ON THE AFRICAN SAVANNA
Classic Characters Return to the Big Screen Like Never Before
For director Jon Favreau, casting "The Lion King" represented a key
introduce new approaches to the classic characters, welcoming celebrated
from the worlds of TV, film, theater and music-each breathing new life into the
"Jon has a deep respect for actors," says producer Karen Gilchrist. "He chose
actor knowing they'd bring their unique talent to the film. It's a cool thing to
comes from mixing these amazing talents together."
Filmmakers used what they call a black box theater to capture the actors
performance traditionally, but in a nontraditional space. Says producer Jeffrey
"We knew when we started that we were going to be working without actors on
so we had to do something fundamentally different about the way we capture
performances. So, Jon Favreau-being an actor himself-was very mindful of keeping
the film rooted in real human emotions. He employed the black box theater so
instead of having actors standing in front of music stands with their reading
script, we took it to the next level and built a theater in the round to let the
engage and emote."
Says VFX supervisor Rob Legato, "The idea of the black box theater is to help
actors feel uninhibited. They could walk around, ad lib, improv a certain thing,
each other. And then the performance that comes off of that is now much more
or another iteration of performance.
"We photographed with multiple cameras so the animators could see the intent
actor even though it's not a direct translation because they're not an animal,"
continues. "But when they pause and they look and you see them thinking, you
that that's what drives the performance. You make the translation-what does a
to do the same thing? It's much more informed than just voices only. And voices
disembodied-reading off of a piece of paper is way different than interacting in
and bouncing off your idea. If you make a mistake and I cover it, maybe that's
interesting. That's like the happy accident again that you take advantage of all
in a live-action movie."
Ultimately, says Favreau, the performances-rich, layered, provocative and
not only helped him achieve his vision, they helped him shape it. "It is a
to assemble a talented team like this to bring this classic story to life. I've
fortunate to have had a front-row seat to a lot of wonderful performances,
with people who have tremendous talent that I learn so much from just watching
SIMBA is destined to be a mighty king from the moment he's born. As an
cub who can't wait to be king, Simba learns from his father, Mufasa, and mother,
Sarabi, to respect the Circle of Life. But not everyone supports the future
king. And no
matter how much training and advice Simba receives, actually assuming his place
Pride Rock and filling his beloved father's great shoes will prove far more
he once believed. Production designer James Chinlund says he and animation
supervisor Andrew R. Jones met a real-life inspiration for Simba on the last day
research trip in Kenya's Masai Mara. "We came across a pride of lionesses and
cubs, who had just feasted on an eland," he says. "They were all super-stuffed
sleepy. But a young cub woke up and began moving about throughout the pride.
away, we had a sense that this guy was special. It was so exciting to see him so
Lending his voice to the future king is Donald Glover, whose resume includes
GRAMMY-winning music performed as Childish Gambino. "Donald is an amazing
singer and a fantastic improviser, which is one of the things that drew me to
Favreau. "He and I come from similar comedic roots. Donald came up with a lot of
people that I came up with on the Chicago improv scene, overlapping with UCB
Citizens Brigade Theatre] and Tina Fey's world, so I knew that we were going to
common approach in comedy and performance. And now his success across a slew of
projects, having talents in all areas, it just felt right. I knew that Donald
dynamism to the part in the way he would creatively engage, and that audiences
respond to him."
It wasn't hard to sell Glover on the role. "I feel very connected to Simba's
Glover. "'The Lion King' is a very human and honest story of what all of us go
think that the story is such a beautiful way of showing how permanence is not
The point is to be here and to be responsible for each other and love each
Traumatic things will happen-the point is not to allow that to consume your
You can grow and learn from that experience."
Simba, however, is introduced as a newborn cub, so Favreau needed to cast a
actor to help bring Young Simba to life. JD McCrary, who is the youngest artist
sign with Hollywood Records, filled the bill. "He's great," says Favreau of
was somebody that we were lucky to find. And it just so happens that, in
being a YouTube sensation as a singer who now has his own single, he
with Donald Glover on a Childish Gambino album. When I told Donald that he was
going to be involved, he was very excited. Having JD play Young Simba, and
them both sing, is wonderful. I think he brings tremendous humanity and
the way he sings. And it's nice to have the opportunity to have actors who are
connected in that way."
McCrary, who was "super excited" to get the iconic role, was transported to
virtually-to hang out on set. "I put on a VR headset, and I could look around
Pride Rock and the Elephant Graveyard," he says. "I had little controllers in
and I got to go all the way to the top of the world. I could see everything. It
was just so
NALA befriends Simba as a young cub. Playful, competitive and equally
are deemed a pair long before the idea ever occurs to them. Nala, a strong and
self-assured cub, grows into a powerful lioness who's concerned about the future
Pride Lands. When she and Simba find themselves together again, hope returns to
ailing pride, and Nala-who's bold and determined-encourages Simba to be who he's
meant to be.
Beyonce Knowles-Carter was called on to bring the fierce and intelligent
lioness to life.
"When you think of somebody who you'd be excited to interpret the role of Nala,
especially the musical performances, Beyonce is in a class all by herself," says
Favreau. "It's a struggle, when you have tweens and teens at home, to be thought
cool, because you're irritating to your children. But having Beyonce in my film
bought me a lot of credibility on the home campus with my kids and their
friends. I'm a
big fan of her music and was very excited to explore what she could bring.
"With kids of her own, the fact that she's working on 'The Lion King' is
she can share with her family, too," continues Favreau. "I find in making these
what's so fun are the opportunities to have shared experiences. Kids have very
opinions, and I've made a lot of good decisions on my collaboration on these
films because I've listened to my family. They definitely are not shy in telling
they think about what I'm planning to do."
For Young Nala, Favreau needed an actor who could bring a lot of personality
the acting and singing performances. Enter Shahadi Wright Joseph, who portrayed
Young Nala in the Broadway production of "The Lion King." Says Favreau, "There
little discussion about who should play our Young Nala. It was hers right from
beginning. I remembered her from seeing her on 'Hairspray Live!' on TV."
Having portrayed the character on Broadway, Wright Joseph was familiar with
Nala. "She's super enthusiastic," she says of her character. "She's so smart and
really selfless. I think that she just wants to share all of her amazing
qualities with the
rest of the world. I definitely love that about her. She's so inspirational."
TIMON is a wisecracking meerkat who discovers a downtrodden Simba after he
Pride Rock in search of a different life. Timon and his buddy Pumbaa take in the
cub and teach him how to survive in their habitat-there's no need for hunting
Timon's no fool; having a lion in your corner can't be a bad thing-even if he is
Comedian and actor Billy Eichner lends his voice to Timon, who was voiced by
legendary Nathan Lane in the original version. "I grew up in New York City and
a lot of Broadway shows," says Eichner. "Nathan Lane was one of my comedy heroes
from the time I was a young kid.
"But I purposely did not go back to watch the movie," continues Eichner. "The
movie is so iconic, and I thought it would make it a bit harder to put my spin
on it if
Nathan's voice was constantly echoing in my ear. All I can hope is that I
he did and added a bit of new flavor-some new jokes here and there."
PUMBAA is a perpetually gassy warthog and best friend to meerkat Timon.
his buddy's lead, Pumbaa befriends Young Simba-just as soon as it's established
the little lion isn't planning to eat them. Pumbaa, whose name means "silly" in
has a big heart and a sensitive soul.
Favreau turned to Seth Rogen to bring the beloved warthog to life. "I was
hoping that I would get the part," says Rogen. "And Jon just emailed me and
'Would you like to be Pumbaa?' And I said, 'Absolutely!'"
With his background in improv, Favreau came to the recording sessions of
Eichner-who are behind much of the film's comedy-with a heightened level of
understanding. "Comics, by nature, are tough on themselves," says Favreau. "They
tend to be a little more pragmatic because they're used to either hitting or
Whether you're working on your standup or a movie that you're about to unveil,
about delivering, making people laugh and getting direct feedback from the
You become sensitive to that. And that's why starting off on stage was so good
because you get an inherent sense of timing in what's entertaining. You know
funny parts are working or not. It's instant feedback, so you can correct for
it. Billy and
Seth were like, 'Give me another one' or 'Let's do that scene again, I have some
That was fun, and it felt fresh and new and different."
MUFASA is the intelligent and capable king of Pride Rock and father to Simba.
and loving partner to Sarabi, Mufasa is always up for some fun with his cub.
to teach Simba everything he knows in hopes that his son will one day lead the
Lands with compassion and integrity. An ardent believer in the Circle of Life,
knows he won't be around forever. His devotion to his family and kingdom knows
According to screenwriter Jeff Nathanson, the bond between father and son-and
wisdom Mufasa imparts-was a key thread in the film. "Mufasa says to Simba,
others search for what they can take-a true king searches for what he can give.'
theme is reflected throughout our film."
James Earl Jones reprises his role as the voice of Mufasa. "When it came to
the role of
Mufasa and James Earl Jones-it was so timeless-we couldn't picture anyone else
the role," says Favreau. "It's the same character, it's still the same guy, but
offered a slightly different take on Mufasa because this is a different point in
The emotional story still hits a chord with Jones. "It is a story about the
and father," says Jones. "I was most touched when Mufasa dies and Simba tries to
wake him. They were just at the beginning of the most important life
now it was incomplete somehow."
SARABI is Mufasa's strong and sophisticated wife, Simba's loving, no-nonsense
mother, and the respected queen of Pride Rock. Next to every great lion, there's
lioness. Says Favreau, "Within the culture of a lion pride, the female lions
roles. Having such a wonderful actor as Alfre Woodard voice Sarabi brought
the feeling of her being royalty, the queen and Mufasa's counterpart-to the
According to Woodard, Favreau's approach will leave audiences in awe. "Our
our sensibilities get sort of refined in terms of what is possible and what
norm," she says. "Little ones will be of course transfixed. But for those of us
older, we didn't know you could generate that kind of reality in filmmaking. It
is the thing
that can still surprise you. It's like tasting ice cream for the first time."
ZAZU is a red-billed hornbill and Mufasa's right wing, so to speak. He is the
ears of the kingdom, reporting the good and the not-so-good news of the day. His
loyalty extends to Young Simba-though the overconfident little lion isn't nearly
grateful for Zazu's services as Mufasa is.
Favreau tapped John Oliver to help bring the nosy bird to life. "I think Zazu
is basically a
bird who likes structure," says Oliver. "He just wants things to be as they
should be. I
think there are British echoes there because we tend to favor structure in lieu
an emotional reaction to anything."
RAFIKI is a wise primate shaman and royal advisor to Mufasa. He's there when
is born, and he's there for the future king when he finds himself at a
laugh-infused with equal parts wisdom and whimsy-is both baffling and
The character was tapped for an early test that showcased the potential of the
medium filmmakers were developing. "I'm sure if you took that Rafiki test and
to an audience, they'd say that's footage of a real baboon," says producer
"If I didn't know that I was seeing a test, you could've fooled me."
South African actor, director and playwright John Kani voices the compelling
"Everyone has a grandfather who meant the world to them when they were young,"
says Dr. Kani. "Rafiki reminds all of us of that special wise relative. His
and his loyalty to the Mufasa dynasty is what warms our hearts towards him.
always happy and wisecracking jokes as lessons of life and survival."
According to screenwriter Jeff Nathanson, creating the character in a more
form wasn't easy. "Rafiki posed many challenges," says Nathanson, "such as how
would actually draw a picture of baby Simba on the tree. In our reality, this
impossible. So, it was fun to sit with Jon and his army to try to solve these
then watch it go from simple storyboard drawings to fully realized images."
SCAR is the overlooked and undervalued brother to King Mufasa. He has long
that he is the rightful ruler of the Pride Lands-if only his painfully noble
just step aside. When Simba is born, Scar's dreams fall further from his reach,
unhappy uncle hatches a plan to dispose of both Mufasa and the new cub with help
from his hyena minions. There's a good reason Scar was never meant to preside
Chiwetel Ejiofor was cast as the villainous uncle. According to Favreau,
performance is unique. "Chiwetel Ejiofor is just a fantastic actor, who brings
us a bit of
the mid-Atlantic cadence and a new take on the character," says the director.
that feeling of a Shakespearean villain to bear because of his background as an
It's wonderful when you have somebody as experienced and seasoned as Chiwetel;
just breathes such wonderful life into this character."
Ejiofor surely enjoyed the role. "Scar is such a complicated malevolent
therefore kind of fun to play," he says. "There's nothing mundane about him. He
power. He wants it all. And there's nothing that he won't do to get it. He'll
push all of the
boundaries and do absolutely anything and everything to get what he wants. And
written with slyness, a little twinkle. And that is incredibly interesting and
fun to step into.
"All of the characters have great arcs," Ejiofor continues. "There are great
villains. It's an amazing story with a real sense of social consciousness at its
these characters actually take you on an extraordinary, complex and emotional
THE HYENAS serve as Scar's allies, soldiers and evildoers. Though they fear
his roar is intimidating and darn impressive-the hyenas are quick to team up
when he promises them the prestige and respect they crave. Filmmakers decided
approach to the hyenas would be unique to the new version of the film. Explains
Favreau, "Because of the photoreal nature of the film, having too broad of a
take on the hyenas felt inconsistent with what we were doing. So, we went for
performances and writing that felt a little bit more grounded in the stakes of
rather than the comedy. We wanted to raise the stakes with Shenzi while offering
comic relief with Azizi and Kamari."
SHENZI is the leader of the pack. Shenzi, which means "savage" in Swahili,
almost anything to gain power. Florence Kasumba was called on to voice the
character. "Shenzi is someone who wants to have power," says Kasumba. "She
a room and everybody's quiet-they're scared of her. But she doesn't feel
in her life. I didn't feel that when I watched the original animated version.
were funny. These hyenas are dangerous."
"As Shenzi, Florence just really brings a wonderful quality," says Favreau.
has a beautiful texture, and she has incredible focus. She gave us a fantastic
to build on."
AZIZI really doesn't embrace the cunning spirit of his pack. Nuance, metaphor
sarcasm typically fly unnoticed over his head. Eric Andre was tapped to bring
life. "Any character where I can laugh maniacally, I'm pretty excited to play,"
"My character takes everything literally and doesn't understand figures of
KAMARI, on the other hand, is clever and impulsive. His wit is as sharp as
Keegan-Michael Key portrays Kamari, providing a perfect counterpart to Andre's
"Kamari feels that he's second in charge," says Key. "He's quick on his feet and
understands how the system works. He's a loyal soldier to the hyenas' cause, and
has a lot of patience with Azizi."
Says Favreau, "Keegan-Michael Key and Eric Andre have improvisation and
backgrounds. They're both strong actors and story people as well. By having them
together and exploring and improvising, oftentimes it's seasoning to taste, we
how much and to what extent we could incorporate humor."
Above all, Favreau was determined to let the actors embrace the characters
story, which ultimately wasn't hard to do. Says Key, "I think the reason 'The
has endured the way that it has is because the inspiration that we're getting
from it is
personal. The more personal you become, the more universal it becomes.
"Disney is telling a story about coming into your own and becoming who you
destined to be," continues Key. "I think that's what resonates with people.
out what he was supposed to do. He acknowledged and embraced his birthright. As
citizens of this world, there is a big puzzle that's made out of humanity, and
each one of
us is our own unique piece."
Filmmakers Trek to the African Savanna to Garner True-Life Reference for
Disney's "The Lion King," directed by Jon Favreau, journeys to the African
where a future king is born. But before the script was final, before the cast
assembled and before the digital sets could be designed, filmmakers committed to
doing their homework to ensure the authenticity and believability of the
habitats that would ultimately be created for the film.
"We did a tremendous amount of research," says Favreau. "For this film to
photoreal, we had to make sure we were getting everything right. What was nice
the 1994 film was that they really did a lot of research then, too. And although
and it is stylized, you can still see and understand what they were drawing
tried to go back to the source material, and we looked at where they scouted.
good part about being at Disney is that you have access to all these materials."
The research took several forms, beginning with intensive studies of imagery
filmmakers watched documentaries that captured the migration of animals in
among other phenomena. The team was invited to Disney's Animal Kingdom to study
the stars of their film-the lions, hyenas and warthogs, among others-up close,
effort to capture their true behavior and mannerisms. And, perhaps the highlight
efforts, a two-week trip to Africa proved invaluable in dialing in to the
details they would
need to bring the world of "The Lion King" to the big screen in a whole new way.
DISNEY'S ANIMAL KINGDOM
Filmmakers partnered with the animal science department at Disney's Animal
(DAK) in Orlando, Fla., to set up a nonintrusive camera system to record about
percent of the animals that would be featured in the film. The images captured
later serve as reference for animators at MPC Film.
They also recorded the resident lions and other animals at DAK to infuse the
authentic vocalizations. The sound crew traveled to Germany's Magdeburg Zoo to
record the audio of lion cubs in an effort to capture baby Simba's plot-shifting
ON TO AFRICA
To experience the world of "The Lion King" and its wild inhabitants,
to trek to the world's second largest continent-home to Kenya and a throng of
animal-dense habitats. Favreau went on safari in Africa six months before meeting
about "The Lion King." It was during that trip that he realized the impact the
characters had on people around the globe. To honor the story and the place
where it is
set, Favreau wanted to find a way to transport audiences to the savanna to
the majesty of it all. But first, he'd need to send the production team.
"Jon Favreau sent us on this mission to Africa," says producer Jeffrey
Silver. "He said,
'Keep it real.' He wanted everything in the movie to be rooted in reality. He
felt that if we
started improving upon reality, we'd be headed down a slippery slope toward an
unbelievable, unrelatable and unemotional film. Our mission was to keep
natural as possible-the right species, the right colors of rocks, the light of a
sunset, the night sky, the right types of plants."
So, in early 2017, 13 key members of Favreau's team embarked on a two-week
to scout throughout Kenya, to observe firsthand the natural environment and
the Pride Lands, the primary location of "The Lion King." Throughout the trip,
observed every species of animal that was featured in the original film, visited
region from North to South, stayed in five lodgings, used three different
six Safari Land Cruisers. It took more than 2,200 pounds of camera equipment to
capture a whopping 12.3 TB of photographs.
Team members who traveled to Africa garnered valuable insight as well as
Among the attendees were production designer James Chinlund, director of
photography Caleb Deschanel, VFX supervisor Rob Legato, MPC Film's VFX
supervisor Adam Valdez and animation supervisor Andy Jones. "Andy was able to
observe how lions actually behave in their natural environment," says producer
Gilchrist. "We have reference video that he shot of a baby lion. We liked the
cub walked, noting everything from his strut, how full his belly was, the
thickness of his
legs and even the number of flies on him."
According to Jones, the team prepared for their research trip by watching a
documentaries. "But being there opened my eyes to a lot of different
says. "From Masai Mara to Amboseli National Park to Samburu-they're all varying
terrains, different climates. It's amazing how extreme the temperatures can be
dry it is at times. The animals learn to cope with all of it and survive. It's
Adds producer Jeffrey Silver, "Andy became our Doctor Dolittle. He went out in
of every animal under the sun, waking up at dawn, shooting until dusk, recording
rhinoceros and lion and zebra, studying the gait of the animals, studying their
patterns, studying their movement patterns. It was really an incredible
Andy to have a firsthand experience of these animals that really influenced the
animation later on."
Filmmakers endeavored to capture details that would help them create a
authentic world-not a perfect one. Says Silver, "We wanted the exercise of
putting a lens on the landscape knowing what the challenges were so that when we
brought it back to Los Angeles, we could capture the way that it really is in
world with all the challenges of the real world. If you do a perfect digital
robbed the life out of it. We wanted to put that visual imperfection back in,
the dust and
the air, the sun flares-all that went into our cinematography in Africa on a
informed us as we created the film digitally."
The subjects of their shooting offered perhaps the biggest lessons. Says
"What's extraordinary about Kenya is the variety of landscapes-everything from
sand to incredible mountains to lakes and streams and the most beautiful and
vegetation. And there are obviously the most extraordinary variety of wild
could possibly imagine. It was a real eye-opener."
Chinlund went to Africa with an important objective. "Jon [Favreau] is
delivering the truth of Africa," says Chinlund. "I think the mandate for me was
to get out
there and see what parts of the world would work for the story."
Adds Silver, "He had to go back and create the jigsaw puzzle that is Pride
Rock and the
Pride Lands and the exile and the Elephant Graveyard, all assembled from bits
pieces of what he actually saw and experienced on safari."
For Valdez, it was the animals that left the biggest impression. "We were
to helicopter all over. In the north, we saw camels in the desert on dry,
lakebeds. In the south were green plains of Masai Mara. It's all so different,
were animals everywhere-just interwoven with the human population. It doesn't
what altitude or type of landscape, there are animals just doing their thing.
"We wanted to portray our characters in the most natural way possible,"
Valdez. "If you get all the little details right, they just feel right. So, we
from dawn till dusk."
According to Valdez, the trip revealed what would become one of the biggest
challenges and opportunities in the film. "Capturing the African skies is
tricky," he says.
"It's so dynamic, changing second by second. There's wind and the angle of the
consider, and it's a bright equatorial sun. The atmosphere changes depending on
time of day."
While Africa was by far the greatest source of inspiration for filmmakers,
they were not
afraid to tap areas closer to home in an effort to visualize Simba's journey in
and compelling way.
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