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Production Notes
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 savanna where a future king is born. Simba idolizes his father, King Mufasa, and takes to heart his own royal destiny. But not everyone in the kingdom celebrates the new cub's arrival. Scar, Mufasa's brother-and former heir to the throne-has plans of his own. The battle for Pride Rock is fraught with betrayal, tragedy and drama, ultimately resulting in Simba's exile. With help from a curious pair of newfound friends, Simba will have to 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 success with the original animated version and then the Broadway musical. I knew that I had to be very careful with it. I felt a tremendous responsibility not to screw it up. I wanted to demonstrate that we could be respectful of the source material while bringing it to life using mind-blowing techniques and technologies."

Widely considered an animated masterpiece, beloved by fans worldwide, Disney's 1994 classic "The Lion King" won Academy Awards for the original song "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" (Elton John, Tim Rice) and original score (Hans Zimmer). In 1997, the stage production inspired by the film made its Broadway debut, subsequently winning six Tony Awards; 22 years later, it remains one of Broadway's biggest hits, recently marking its 9,000th show.

"In my opinion, the original film is the greatest animated film ever made," says 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 version."

Adds Favreau, "We are dealing with very engaged audiences that oftentimes have 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 remembering '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. People 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 to them."

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), and the experience was eye-opening for the director, revealing a new world of possibility. 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 film," says Favreau. "I remember when a warthog ran by our safari vehicle, one of the people in our group started singing 'Hakuna Matata.' And then when we saw lions up on a rock, they all said, 'Oh, look, it looks like "The Lion King."' This story has become a frame of reference that everybody now knows and accepts. It pops up in music, on TV shows, in 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 boundaries to take "The Lion King" to the big screen in a whole new way-employing an evolution of storytelling technology that blends live-action filmmaking techniques with photoreal computer-generated imagery. Environments were designed within a game engine; state-of-the-art virtual-reality tools allowed Favreau to walk around in the virtual set, 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 in reality-and did so in unexpected ways. "He wanted to capture those things you can't quite explain," she says. "Having director of photography Caleb Deschanel actually working the wheels or having a dolly grip, you get those magical things that happen with the human touch. Not always having the perfect shot, the perfect sunrise, the perfect sky-that was really important to Jon."

Once the film was created within VR, Favreau shifted gears and directed the team from MPC Film during the animation process. Ultimately, the artists, technicians, live-action professionals and cutting-edge animators created what is essentially a new way to make a movie. But is it live action or animation? "It's hard to explain," says Favreau. "It's like magic. We're reinventing the medium."

But, adds the director, "We're not reinventing the story." For Favreau-much like Walt Disney before him-story comes first. He set out to preserve the soul of the original film, while allowing the performances, artistry, music and humor to unfold organically. "I understood going into this how important that powerful inherited relationship was with the original film," he says. "There is such a rich tradition surrounding this material. We are dealing with archetypes and struggles going back to Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' and 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 cues like the music from Africa and the songs that Elton John and Hans Zimmer collaborated on."

Much like the Broadway show presented the classic story in a different medium, Favreau's contemporary approach added dimension, emotion and realism to the film. "We definitely are not shy about going back to the old material, but it is amazing how much you can change and update invisibly. And that's the trick-you don't want it to feel like you've imposed yourself upon the film. We don't want to cross the line of making something feel too intense, or lose the thread of what we remember about the old film.

Comedy works differently. Music works differently. The animals' natural combat works differently. It's a family film, an adventure film. But there are areas, even in the original film and in the stage play, which are very intense and emotional. It's a balancing act, because we want to hit those same feelings and the same story points, but we don't 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 story. "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, theater and music, bringing back to the big screen iconic characters that audiences have long treasured-but in a whole new way. "The Lion King" stars Donald Glover ("Atlanta," "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 Earl Jones ("Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," "Field of Dreams") as Simba's wise and loving father, Mufasa, reprising his iconic performance from Disney's 1994 animated classic. Chiwetel Ejiofor ("12 Years a Slave," Marvel Studios' "Doctor Strange") portrays Simba's 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 king, 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 Studios' "Black Panther," "Coriolanus," Marvel Studios' "Captain America: Civil War") was cast 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 hornbill Zazu, Mufasa's loyal confidant. When Simba goes into exile, he relies on two newfound friends-Seth Rogen ("Sausage Party," "Neighbors") lends his comedic chops to naive warthog Pumbaa, and Billy Eichner ("Billy on the Street," FX's "American Horror Story") joins the cast as know-it-all meerkat Timon.

While most of the animals in the kingdom respect the king, the hyenas have other plans. Florence Kasumba (Marvel Studios' "Black Panther") portrays Shenzi, Eric Andre (Adult 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' "Iron Man") and produced by Favreau, Jeffrey Silver ("Beauty and the Beast," "Edge of Tomorrow") and Gilchrist ("The Jungle Book," "Chef"). Nathanson ("Catch Me If You Can," "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales") penned the screenplay based on the 1994 screenplay by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton. Tom Peitzman (co-producer "Kong: Skull Island," "Alice in Wonderland"), Julie Taymor (director "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Broadway's "The Lion King") and Thomas Schumacher ("The Lion King," "Beauty and the Beast") are executive producers, and John Bartnicki ("The Jungle Book," "Chef") is co-producer. The award-winning team of artists tapped to bring the African savanna and its animal inhabitants to life includes visual effects supervisor Rob Legato, who conceived the virtual production on "Avatar," won Academy Awards for his work on "The Jungle Book," "Hugo" and "Titanic," and was nominated for an Oscar for his work on "Apollo 13," and Oscar-winning animation supervisor Andrew R. Jones ("The Jungle Book," "Avatar," "World War Z"). MPC Film's VFX supervisors are Adam Valdez ("The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," "The Lord of the 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 production technology.

Five-time Oscar nominee Caleb Deschanel, ASC ("Jack Reacher," "The Patriot"), is director of photography, and James Chinlund ("War for the Planet of the Apes," Marvel's "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 Blind Side"), and Adam Gerstel ("Transformers: The Last Knight," "The Jungle Book") edited the film.

This film features unforgettable music by an award-winning team, including Oscar- and 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 most treasured characters to life in a whole new way, "The Lion King" roars into theaters on July 19, 2019.

Classic Characters Return to the Big Screen Like Never Before
For director Jon Favreau, casting "The Lion King" represented a key opportunity to introduce new approaches to the classic characters, welcoming celebrated performers from the worlds of TV, film, theater and music-each breathing new life into the beloved characters.

"Jon has a deep respect for actors," says producer Karen Gilchrist. "He chose each actor knowing they'd bring their unique talent to the film. It's a cool thing to watch what comes from mixing these amazing talents together."

Filmmakers used what they call a black box theater to capture the actors delivering a performance traditionally, but in a nontraditional space. Says producer Jeffrey Silver, "We knew when we started that we were going to be working without actors on stage, so we had to do something fundamentally different about the way we capture actors' 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 that, instead of having actors standing in front of music stands with their reading glasses and script, we took it to the next level and built a theater in the round to let the actors engage and emote."

Says VFX supervisor Rob Legato, "The idea of the black box theater is to help the actors feel uninhibited. They could walk around, ad lib, improv a certain thing, spark off each other. And then the performance that comes off of that is now much more elevated or another iteration of performance.

"We photographed with multiple cameras so the animators could see the intent of the actor even though it's not a direct translation because they're not an animal," Legato continues. "But when they pause and they look and you see them thinking, you know that that's what drives the performance. You make the translation-what does a lion do 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 a scene and bouncing off your idea. If you make a mistake and I cover it, maybe that's more interesting. That's like the happy accident again that you take advantage of all the time in a live-action movie."

Ultimately, says Favreau, the performances-rich, layered, provocative and poignant- not only helped him achieve his vision, they helped him shape it. "It is a director's dream to assemble a talented team like this to bring this classic story to life. I've been very fortunate to have had a front-row seat to a lot of wonderful performances, collaborating with people who have tremendous talent that I learn so much from just watching what they do."

SIMBA is destined to be a mighty king from the moment he's born. As an overconfident 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 on Pride Rock and filling his beloved father's great shoes will prove far more difficult than 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 of their research trip in Kenya's Masai Mara. "We came across a pride of lionesses and their cubs, who had just feasted on an eland," he says. "They were all super-stuffed and sleepy. But a young cub woke up and began moving about throughout the pride. Right away, we had a sense that this guy was special. It was so exciting to see him so close."

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 him," says Favreau. "He and I come from similar comedic roots. Donald came up with a lot of the people that I came up with on the Chicago improv scene, overlapping with UCB [Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre] and Tina Fey's world, so I knew that we were going to share a 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 would bring dynamism to the part in the way he would creatively engage, and that audiences would respond to him."

It wasn't hard to sell Glover on the role. "I feel very connected to Simba's journey," says Glover. "'The Lion King' is a very human and honest story of what all of us go through. I think that the story is such a beautiful way of showing how permanence is not the point. The point is to be here and to be responsible for each other and love each other. Traumatic things will happen-the point is not to allow that to consume your entire life. You can grow and learn from that experience."

Simba, however, is introduced as a newborn cub, so Favreau needed to cast a different actor to help bring Young Simba to life. JD McCrary, who is the youngest artist ever to sign with Hollywood Records, filled the bill. "He's great," says Favreau of McCrary. "He was somebody that we were lucky to find. And it just so happens that, in addition to being a YouTube sensation as a singer who now has his own single, he collaborated 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 hearing them both sing, is wonderful. I think he brings tremendous humanity and personality in 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 Africa- virtually-to hang out on set. "I put on a VR headset, and I could look around and see Pride Rock and the Elephant Graveyard," he says. "I had little controllers in both hands, and I got to go all the way to the top of the world. I could see everything. It was just so awesome."

NALA befriends Simba as a young cub. Playful, competitive and equally matched, they 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 of the Pride Lands. When she and Simba find themselves together again, hope returns to the 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 of as cool, because you're irritating to your children. But having Beyonce in my film definitely 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 something that she can share with her family, too," continues Favreau. "I find in making these movies, what's so fun are the opportunities to have shared experiences. Kids have very strong opinions, and I've made a lot of good decisions on my collaboration on these family films because I've listened to my family. They definitely are not shy in telling me what they think about what I'm planning to do."

For Young Nala, Favreau needed an actor who could bring a lot of personality to both the acting and singing performances. Enter Shahadi Wright Joseph, who portrayed Young Nala in the Broadway production of "The Lion King." Says Favreau, "There was little discussion about who should play our Young Nala. It was hers right from the beginning. I remembered her from seeing her on 'Hairspray Live!' on TV."

Having portrayed the character on Broadway, Wright Joseph was familiar with Young Nala. "She's super enthusiastic," she says of her character. "She's so smart and really, 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 flees Pride Rock in search of a different life. Timon and his buddy Pumbaa take in the lonely cub and teach him how to survive in their habitat-there's no need for hunting here. Timon's no fool; having a lion in your corner can't be a bad thing-even if he is destined for greatness.

Comedian and actor Billy Eichner lends his voice to Timon, who was voiced by the legendary Nathan Lane in the original version. "I grew up in New York City and went to 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 whole 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 honored what 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. Following his buddy's lead, Pumbaa befriends Young Simba-just as soon as it's established that the little lion isn't planning to eat them. Pumbaa, whose name means "silly" in Swahili, has a big heart and a sensitive soul.

Favreau turned to Seth Rogen to bring the beloved warthog to life. "I was secretly hoping that I would get the part," says Rogen. "And Jon just emailed me and said, 'Would you like to be Pumbaa?' And I said, 'Absolutely!'"

With his background in improv, Favreau came to the recording sessions of Rogen and 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 bombing. Whether you're working on your standup or a movie that you're about to unveil, it's all about delivering, making people laugh and getting direct feedback from the audience. You become sensitive to that. And that's why starting off on stage was so good for me, because you get an inherent sense of timing in what's entertaining. You know when the 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 ideas.' 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. A kind and loving partner to Sarabi, Mufasa is always up for some fun with his cub. He's driven to teach Simba everything he knows in hopes that his son will one day lead the Pride Lands with compassion and integrity. An ardent believer in the Circle of Life, Mufasa knows he won't be around forever. His devotion to his family and kingdom knows no bounds.

According to screenwriter Jeff Nathanson, the bond between father and son-and the wisdom Mufasa imparts-was a key thread in the film. "Mufasa says to Simba, 'While others search for what they can take-a true king searches for what he can give.' This 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 in the role," says Favreau. "It's the same character, it's still the same guy, but James offered a slightly different take on Mufasa because this is a different point in his life."

The emotional story still hits a chord with Jones. "It is a story about the universal son 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 relationship and 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 a great lioness. Says Favreau, "Within the culture of a lion pride, the female lions play critical roles. Having such a wonderful actor as Alfre Woodard voice Sarabi brought gravitas- the feeling of her being royalty, the queen and Mufasa's counterpart-to the role."

According to Woodard, Favreau's approach will leave audiences in awe. "Our eyes and our sensibilities get sort of refined in terms of what is possible and what becomes the norm," she says. "Little ones will be of course transfixed. But for those of us who are 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 eyes and 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 as 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 of having an emotional reaction to anything."

RAFIKI is a wise primate shaman and royal advisor to Mufasa. He's there when Simba is born, and he's there for the future king when he finds himself at a crossroads. His laugh-infused with equal parts wisdom and whimsy-is both baffling and contagious. The character was tapped for an early test that showcased the potential of the new medium filmmakers were developing. "I'm sure if you took that Rafiki test and showed it to an audience, they'd say that's footage of a real baboon," says producer Jeffrey Silver. "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 character. "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 wisdom, humor and his loyalty to the Mufasa dynasty is what warms our hearts towards him. [He's] always happy and wisecracking jokes as lessons of life and survival."

According to screenwriter Jeff Nathanson, creating the character in a more true-to-life form wasn't easy. "Rafiki posed many challenges," says Nathanson, "such as how he would actually draw a picture of baby Simba on the tree. In our reality, this would be impossible. So, it was fun to sit with Jon and his army to try to solve these puzzles-and 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 believed that he is the rightful ruler of the Pride Lands-if only his painfully noble brother would just step aside. When Simba is born, Scar's dreams fall further from his reach, so the 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 over Pride Rock.

Chiwetel Ejiofor was cast as the villainous uncle. According to Favreau, Ejiofor's 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. "He brings that feeling of a Shakespearean villain to bear because of his background as an actor. It's wonderful when you have somebody as experienced and seasoned as Chiwetel; he just breathes such wonderful life into this character."

Ejiofor surely enjoyed the role. "Scar is such a complicated malevolent character, therefore kind of fun to play," he says. "There's nothing mundane about him. He wants 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 he's 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 heroes, great villains. It's an amazing story with a real sense of social consciousness at its heart, and these characters actually take you on an extraordinary, complex and emotional journey."

THE HYENAS serve as Scar's allies, soldiers and evildoers. Though they fear Mufasa- his roar is intimidating and darn impressive-the hyenas are quick to team up with Scar when he promises them the prestige and respect they crave. Filmmakers decided their 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 comedic 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 the story rather than the comedy. We wanted to raise the stakes with Shenzi while offering some comic relief with Azizi and Kamari."

SHENZI is the leader of the pack. Shenzi, which means "savage" in Swahili, will do almost anything to gain power. Florence Kasumba was called on to voice the ambitious character. "Shenzi is someone who wants to have power," says Kasumba. "She enters a room and everybody's quiet-they're scared of her. But she doesn't feel comfortable in her life. I didn't feel that when I watched the original animated version. Those hyenas were funny. These hyenas are dangerous."

"As Shenzi, Florence just really brings a wonderful quality," says Favreau. "Her voice has a beautiful texture, and she has incredible focus. She gave us a fantastic foundation to build on."

AZIZI really doesn't embrace the cunning spirit of his pack. Nuance, metaphor and sarcasm typically fly unnoticed over his head. Eric Andre was tapped to bring Azizi to life. "Any character where I can laugh maniacally, I'm pretty excited to play," he says. "My character takes everything literally and doesn't understand figures of speech."

KAMARI, on the other hand, is clever and impulsive. His wit is as sharp as his teeth. Keegan-Michael Key portrays Kamari, providing a perfect counterpart to Andre's Azizi. "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 he has a lot of patience with Azizi."

Says Favreau, "Keegan-Michael Key and Eric Andre have improvisation and comedy 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 found how much and to what extent we could incorporate humor."

Above all, Favreau was determined to let the actors embrace the characters and the story, which ultimately wasn't hard to do. Says Key, "I think the reason 'The Lion King' 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 are destined to be," continues Key. "I think that's what resonates with people. Simba figured 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
Photoreal Approach
Disney's "The Lion King," directed by Jon Favreau, journeys to the African savanna where a future king is born. But before the script was final, before the cast was fully assembled and before the digital sets could be designed, filmmakers committed to doing their homework to ensure the authenticity and believability of the creatures and habitats that would ultimately be created for the film.

"We did a tremendous amount of research," says Favreau. "For this film to appear photoreal, we had to make sure we were getting everything right. What was nice about the 1994 film was that they really did a lot of research then, too. And although it's 2D and it is stylized, you can still see and understand what they were drawing from. We tried to go back to the source material, and we looked at where they scouted. That's the 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 and film- filmmakers watched documentaries that captured the migration of animals in Africa, 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, in an effort to capture their true behavior and mannerisms. And, perhaps the highlight of their 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.

Filmmakers partnered with the animal science department at Disney's Animal Kingdom (DAK) in Orlando, Fla., to set up a nonintrusive camera system to record about 75 percent of the animals that would be featured in the film. The images captured would later serve as reference for animators at MPC Film.

They also recorded the resident lions and other animals at DAK to infuse the film with 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 roar.

To experience the world of "The Lion King" and its wild inhabitants, filmmakers needed 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 with Disney about "The Lion King." It was during that trip that he realized the impact the story and 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 experience 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 everything as natural as possible-the right species, the right colors of rocks, the light of a sunrise or 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 safari to scout throughout Kenya, to observe firsthand the natural environment and animals of the Pride Lands, the primary location of "The Lion King." Throughout the trip, the team observed every species of animal that was featured in the original film, visited the entire region from North to South, stayed in five lodgings, used three different helicopters and 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 inspiration. 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 Karen Gilchrist. "We have reference video that he shot of a baby lion. We liked the way 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 lot of documentaries. "But being there opened my eyes to a lot of different possibilities," he 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 and how dry it is at times. The animals learn to cope with all of it and survive. It's really amazing." Adds producer Jeffrey Silver, "Andy became our Doctor Dolittle. He went out in search 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 grazing patterns, studying their movement patterns. It was really an incredible experience for 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 believable, authentic world-not a perfect one. Says Silver, "We wanted the exercise of actually 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 the real world with all the challenges of the real world. If you do a perfect digital movie, you've 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 test basis informed us as we created the film digitally."

The subjects of their shooting offered perhaps the biggest lessons. Says Deschanel, "What's extraordinary about Kenya is the variety of landscapes-everything from desert sand to incredible mountains to lakes and streams and the most beautiful and lush vegetation. And there are obviously the most extraordinary variety of wild animals you could possibly imagine. It was a real eye-opener."

Chinlund went to Africa with an important objective. "Jon [Favreau] is invested in 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 and pieces of what he actually saw and experienced on safari."

For Valdez, it was the animals that left the biggest impression. "We were lucky enough to helicopter all over. In the north, we saw camels in the desert on dry, cracked lakebeds. In the south were green plains of Masai Mara. It's all so different, but there were animals everywhere-just interwoven with the human population. It doesn't matter 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," continues Valdez. "If you get all the little details right, they just feel right. So, we watched them 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 sun to consider, and it's a bright equatorial sun. The atmosphere changes depending on the 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 a dynamic and compelling way.

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