With films that have grossed more than one and a half billion dollars worldwide, Rob Minkoff is one of only a few filmmakers to have directed both live-action and animated features, and innovated the use of the combined mediums. Along with supervising the creation of The Lion King, he’s worked with an incredible array of award-winning talent throughout his career. Now, the animated masterpiece that has won Oscars, inspired a hugely successful Broadway show, and is the best-selling home entertainment release of all-time is returning to theaters in 3D, for the first time ever.
At a press day for the film that was held at the Walt Disney Animation Research Library (ARL), which houses over 60 million pieces of art from over 80 years, the film’s co-director spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about the decision to convert the much-loved animated feature to 3D, how much more immersive the entire experience is now, how animation has changed since the film’s original release, the difference between directing an animated feature versus a live-action one, and how exciting and gratifying it is to see animation brought to life. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: What was it about The Lion King that made you decide to convert it to 3D? Did you have any hesitation about converting it, at all?
ROB MINKOFF: Well, when I first heard about it, I was excited about it because 3D was all the rage and everybody was talking about 3D, and you don’t want to be left behind, technologically speaking. And then, of course, I was also a little apprehensive about how it would be done and if it could be done well. I didn’t want to tarnish the memory of the movie for anybody. So, when we first met with Robert [Neuman], we expressed our concerns, and he was very mindful of that. When he walked us through the process that they were going to use and showed us some of the results, we were very pleased about the potential and very excited about going forward with it.
How do you feel the 3D impacts the viewing experience?
MINKOFF: I think it just makes it more immersive. When we make films – even 2D films – you’re always trying to create this illusion of 3D, anyway. You’re trying to create a believable world with characters walking, in and out of the perspective, to create the illusion that there’s a world. The desire and drive to create this illusion of three-dimensional space is something that is true about every kind of film because you want the audience to really be experiencing it, first hand. It’s a natural extension of the storytelling and the process of filmmaking.
How has animation changed since making The Lion King? Did going back and doing it in 3D make any of those changes more obvious to you?
MINKOFF: I suppose, in a way. Films are made the same today, as they’ve ever been made, in certain respects. The scriptwriting, the pre-production, the storyboarding, and the designing are all the same. The technique of animation has changed, in the sense that rather than drawing it by hand, we use a computer as a tool. The computer has become a pencil to draw or paint the images that we see in a film. Before, you’d have to learn the technique of holding a pencil or a paintbrush, and how to move it around a piece of paper. That was a skill that you had to learn, in order to create animation. Today, you have to use the computer as a pencil or a paintbrush, to do the same thing. That’s really the big difference.
With this being the best-selling home entertainment release of all-time, were there things that you wanted to be sure to include with the Blu-ray to get people interested in picking up a copy of that as well?
MINKOFF: We shot material, but there are producers who do a lot of the work on the DVD bonus material. There’s a whole team of people that produce and direct that stuff.
Why do you think it is that people love animation bloopers so much?
MINKOFF: It’s really all about character creation. A big part of filmmaking, and a big part of the power of filmmaking, is creating characters that people fall in love with. So, those things, like the bloopers, create more reality and dimension, and the sense that these are not drawings or shadows, but they are living, breathing, thinking characters. That’s the illusion.
In doing this film, could you ever have imagined that this film would have become such a classic animated film?
MINKOFF: No. When we made the movie, it was on the heels of Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, which are also classics. Our feeling was that we just didn’t want it to suck.
When the film was being converted, were there things that you rediscovered, or certain moments that you remembered fondly when seeing them again?
MINKOFF: In a weird way, it hasn’t really been that many years because we revisited the film for the IMAX release. When you make a film like this, you see every inch of it, so it’s all part of my cell structure now. It literally feels like no time has gone by, since we made it.
Are there aspects of the film, or specific characters, that you find audiences are most fond of?
MINKOFF: There are a number of different things, but one of the more powerful things is the opening of the movie. “Circle of Life” has a great power and impact. And, when we get to the end of that and show the title of the movie, people are really involved and engaged in a way that’s really powerful. And then, a scene like the stampede in the gorge is very exciting and powerful, and does things in an animated movie that wasn’t typical of the time.
What are the challenges of directing an animated feature versus directing a live-action film?
MINKOFF: It’s important to remember that, in its most basic element, it’s the same exact thing. A film is a story told in pictures. The beginning process of the film is coming up with the idea, developing it into a story and writing a screenplay, although in an animated film, it’s possible to storyboard to create the story. Through that process, which is a storytelling process of creating the story as it evolves, it’s no different than live-action. You’re doing exactly the same thing. The difference comes when you actually get into production. Then, I would talk to an animator, as opposed to an actor.
But, animators and actors are pretty much going to ask you exactly the same questions. They want to know what the character is thinking, how he’s feeling, what he wants, what he’s trying to get and what he’s trying to do. Those are the questions that an actor would ask about the character because they have to perform the character. An actor uses his body as a tool and an instrument. In the same way a musician plays an instrument, the actor uses his body to convey feeling and emotion. An animator uses a pencil or a computer to create the same thing, the same exact way. They have to think about, “What is the character thinking, and how will that affect his movement?” It needs to be married, to be authentic. An actor is taking words that are not his own, and he has to bring some kind of authentic life to those words. It’s the same goal, to create this authentic life. Even if it’s a drawing, or if it’s a cartoon, you’re still trying to create authenticity because, if the character emotes authentically, it has a power to connect with the audience.
How was it to work with the voice actors and then see it all come together for the final animation?
MINKOFF: That’s very exciting. It’s very gratifying when you have an idea about a character that is just drawings at first, but then eventually it starts to become more flesh and blood. And then, you hire the actor and record the voice, and you start to marry the animation with the voice. When you see it for the first time and it really comes across with a life, it has a great power.
The Lion King 3D is in theaters September 16th, and comes home on Blu-ray 3D & Blu-ray Hi-Def October 4th.