On set of Jungle book
article by Sean Wesley
The making of Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book was set in a lush jungle with lovable characters. Aside from Mowgli, played by youngster Neel Sethi, every other character is a CG animal. Bill Murray as Baloo? Idris Elba as Shere Khan? Christopher Walken as King Louie? Epic cat fights, Bears taunting monkeys, freaking elephants being all elephant-y.
The movie is based on Rudyard Kipling’s timeless stories and inspired by Disney’s classic animated film. “The Jungle Book” is a live-action epic adventure about a young boy named Mowgli, a man-cub raised in the jungle by a family of wolves. Mowgli finds he is no longer welcome in the jungle when fearsome tiger Shere Khan, who bears the scars of Man promises to eliminate what he sees as a threat. Urged to abandon the only home he’s ever known, Mowgli embarks on a captivating journey of self-discovery, guided by panther-turned-stern mentor Bagheera (voice of Ben Kingsley), and the free-spirited bear Baloo. Along the way, Mowgli encounters jungle creatures who don’t exactly have his best interests at heart, including Kaa (voice of Scarlett Johansson), a python whose seductive voice and gaze hypnotizes the man-cub, and the smooth-talking King Louie (voice of Christopher Walken), who tries to coerce Mowgli into giving up the secret to the elusive and deadly red flower: fire. The all-star cast also includes Lupita Nyong'o as the voice of the fiercely protective mother wolf Raksha, and Giancarlo Esposito as the voice of wolf pack’s alpha male Akela.
With an impressive cast and Jon Favreau behind the lens, it’s hard to not already be sold on this movie. And here's the craziest part – the film was shot entirely in a building. Lots and lots of blue screen (and CGI).
Mogwli filmed all his scenes against blue screens; small pieces of the set would be created if he had to interact with something (like a log, a rocky outcropping, or a slick, muddy field). This approach was pioneered by filmmakers like George Lucas, but to mostly deleterious effect. In the scenes, Mowgli successfully manages to sustain heartfelt conversations with realistic-looking wolves, bears, panthers, orangutans, and tigers and the scenes feel seamless.
Digital characters and filming technologies including the virtual cameras and computer simulations used to create a seamless experience for the audiences. Director Jon Favreau, Production VFX Supervisor Rob Legato and The Jungle Book’s production team made the bold decision to film the movie without any outdoor locations.
How were they to shoot a single actor on blue screen, and create a world around him that is so realistic that audiences would believe took place in the jungles of India? A new approach to filmmaking would be required, harnessing the latest technology and creative talent. In the video, a team of computer graphics artists animated over 50 species of animal, crafting full CG environments and simulating earth, fire and water.
To put the jungle in The Jungle Book, MPC began by creating a wide variety of plants, trees, vines and rocks. Artists at the studio took thousands of photographs of real locations in a jungle, and built a massive library of resource material that was then recreated down to the finest of detail. The result is moss, bark, rock and water that the audience feels they can reach out and touch.
Each scene is handcrafted plant by plant, detailed down to thousands of scattered broken leaves, and vines that grow across the landscape. It’s also a world of rushing rivers, mudslides and grasses blowing in the wind. Contributing to 80% of the frame 100% of the time, the jungle itself is the single biggest creation in the movie.
Before a single frame was shot, each scene was meticulously prepared, camera moves designed, animal co-stars roughly animated, detailed lighting plans made, and models of terrain and trees arranged into technical plans. MPC (The Moving Picture Company) were involved from the film’s very beginnings. A team of senior artists, led by MPC VFX Supervisor Adam Valdez and VFX Producer Philip Greenlow planned the script and storyboard development and guide the filming on set. MPC’s visual effects team developed characters, worked out just how they would talk, and began crafting the movies full CG environments.
MPC brought the film’s most iconic characters to life. Best friend Baloo the bear, Mowgli’s wolf family, Bagheera the panther, Kaa the python, and the villainous tiger Shere Khan would be built bone, skin, hair and whisker. New computer programs were made to better simulate muscles, skin and fur. For each shot and each movement, animation artists followed extensive research in animal behaviour, so that even the subtlest behavioural traits would translate into performances the audience would recognize from the animal kingdom. MPC’s Animators used finely tuned animation tools to hand animate the jungle animals, from the kings of the jungle to the smallest of insects.
In the interview, Scarlett Johansson elaborated on Kaa, saying that she uses both her voice and hypnotic gaze to entrance Mowgli so that he would not be able to resist her embrace. She also says Kaa uses her story-telling to seduce and entrap Mowgli and describes Kaa as a "window into Mowgli's past". Johansson explains that the way Kaa moves is "very alluring", describing that way as "almost coquettish".