While Disney’s The Lion King is chock-full of photoreal animals that were created using CG technology, that doesn’t mean the filmmakers didn’t use the real thing as inspiration. Indeed, in order to create a photoreal version of Simba or Timon or Pumbaa, director Jon Favreau and his team extensively researched how actual lions, meerkats, and warthogs move, emote, and react to ensure their feature film counterparts rung true. And part of that research entailed visiting Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom theme park.
To that end, a team of animal experts were key to bringing The Lion King to life, and I recently got to speak with two of them as part of the press day for the in-home release of the film, which is currently available on Digital HD, 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD.
During the press day for the film at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom theme park, I spoke with Claire Martin, Senior Manager of Conservation Programs and Partnerships for Disney Enterprise Social Responsibility, alongside Jon Ross of Disney’s Animals in Film and TV department. Martin and Ross both talked a bit about what they do for Disney, with Ross explaining how Favreau and his team spent six weeks at Animal Kingdom to observe animals in their natural environment while also minimizing their impact on the animals from day to day. They captured a bounty of reference photography for the movie, so when production got underway to create the photoreal characters, they could ensure their representations were true to life.
Martin, meanwhile, discussed the educational nature of the Animal Kingdom theme park, and the efforts of the Disney Conservation Fund to help save wildlife around the world. In terms of new conservation efforts, Martin talked about launching the Protect the Pride initiative in concert with The Lion King, which raises awareness for the fact that lions around the world are in trouble—we’ve lost half the lions in the world since the first Lion King hit theaters.
Check out the full interview above, and click here for my interview with Oscar-winning The Lion King VFX supervisor Rob Legato.