When we think of combining virtual reality (VR) and films, it’s usually from the viewer’s perspective—what would it be like to be inside a film, with the ability to walk around and look at the action from a different perspective? Or to interact with the scene?
Renowned director and actor Jon Favreau—the man behind the live action remake of The Jungle Book, released in 2016—has added a new dimension: What would it be like if VR could be used to shoot an animated film in the same way as a crew would shoot a regular, live action film?
Favreau’s version of The Lion King uses no green screens or real animals. Everything from Pride Rock to Mufasa’s fur and gait are generated by the latest in computer graphics, leading to photo-realistic shots of sun landing on a hyena’s face, or the shadow under the bones of an elephant.
What’s different from other animated films is that Favreau does have a crew of camera operators and directors, each of whom is tasked with standing in the right place to capture action from the right angle at the right time. How? By getting everyone to don a VR headset and enter a complex, fully-explorable digital world.
Favreau told Entertainment Weekly that he insisted on this process “to make an animated film feel live-action — to have a real crew come in, interface with an animated film, and make all the camera decisions that you would on set, instead of somebody sitting at a keyboard programming in the camera moves.
“If you look at the way we’re covering and cutting [the animated performances], all of that is related to traditional cinema,” he said, adding that the team had essentially “created a multiplayer VR” experience as a way of shooting the film.
A picture in a Wired article shows what the directorial process looked like: Favreau and crew members sat in individual chairs, VR headsets on, staring in different directions. Each person was free to roam around the digital environments, laying down camera positions and searching for shots in the same way as they would do on a physical set—avoiding worries about a change in sunlight, or having to motivate a group of actors, or even to lug around heavy filming machinery.
In essence, the idea was to shoot the film in a way that used the beauty and precision of computer-generated graphics but took place amid the relative uncertainty of human-controlled cameras.
Favreau added a belief that the film is a “culmination” of live-action adaptations done by Disney. “We hope [the film] will feel like something different and something that’s as emotionally engaging as a film with real animals using real cameras,” he added.
“And as we introduce the material to people, they’ll begin to understand — or at least be confused in a way that’s creatively compelling.”