Jon Favreau Talks Balancing Realism and Fantasy in ‘The Jungle Book’

     September 15, 2015

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Earlier today, we got a first look at Disney’s The Jungle Book when the studio release the first trailer for the live-action adaptation of the animated film. Director Jon Favreau brings a new approach to the classic material with a photorealistic approach to the CGI animation that captures the fun spirit of the beloved animated film while putting a new spin on the story. For Favreau, that meant a balancing act between the realistic and the fantastical.

One example? King Louie, the jazz singing Orangutang from the animated film, who the director transmuted into a Gigantopithecus — an extinct genus of Ape that actually inhabited the part of the world in which the film takes place.

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Image via Walt Disney

In an interview with Yahoo, Favreau had a lot to say about the difficulty of striking the right balance between the playful fun of the 1967 animated film, the more serious tone of Rudyard Kipling‘s novel, and the reality-based action he wanted to bring to the fore in his new adaptation.


“People expect action from this adventure. The original film felt so young. And the musical memories we have from that film [don’t] fit tonally with a film that’s photo-real, where there’s real danger and emotional stakes. The storylines and the mythology behind Kipling’s stories are very different from the animated film. Navigating those waters is one of my toughest jobs as the director.”

A specific example would be that iconic image of Mowgli hitching a ride down the river on Baloo’s belly.

“To me the iconic image [from the original film] is Mowgli floating on the belly of the bear…And that was a challenge because the physics of it is not easy to do realistically. So we studied a lot of polar bears, buoyancy… to get it right.”

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Image via Jesse Grant/Getty for Disney

During a Q&A on twitter the director revealed that the behavior and mouth movements of the animals were drawn from real animals, while the animation reference pulled from the actors’ performances. He told Yahoo about the process a little more in depth.

“For a character like [King Louie] all of Walken’s facial expressions are worked in…the further you get away from the human, the less it matters. For Baloo, if you put too much of Bill Murray’s performance completely on [the bear], you start to hit an uncanny valley. But if you watch Baloo on screen, you will see Bill Murray come through.

 

“But when it comes to a snake, there’s no reason to motion-capture Scarlett Johansson’s performance. If you use her performance to drive a digitally puppeted rig, the human expressions on a reptile start to look weird. It’s not the right effect. We really tried keep the performances within the believability of the animal species.”

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Image via Walt Disney

Favreau also noted that he gender-swapped the character of Kaa because the original film was “a little male-heavy”, and he though Johansson would be perfect for the role because her voice is “so emotive”. No arguments here (or from anyone who’s seen Her).


The director was also keen to discuss the technology behind the production, which allowed a film shot entirely in Downtown Los Angeles to re-create lush, photo-real jungle landscape. Indeed, almost everything on-screen but Mowgli is animated. “We used techniques that haven’t been used since Avatar, and we built upon those,” said Favreau, who shot the entire film and native 3D and encourages audiences to watch the film in “its best form” — 3D Imax — when it hits theaters. Favreau shot the film using Arri Alexa digital cameras in conjunction with the PACE system and Simulcam. He continued, “If you get the lighting and physics correct, your subconscious brain gets snapped into the belief mode. You feel like you’re watching something real.”

Be sure to check out Favreau’s full interview over at Yahoo and read below for a few more interesting tidbits from his twitter Q&A.

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