‘The Lion King’ visual effects artists on transforming the ‘crown jewel of Disney animation’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

How do you translate the “crown jewel of Disney animation” into something that looks and feels like a live-action film? That was the challenge for “The Lion King” visual effects supervisor Robert Legato. The multi-Oscar winner wanted to take what he had accomplished on “The Jungle Book” (2016), which also featured a variety of talking animals, and see “what we could do better and what we could do more realistically.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Legato and his fellow visual effects artists Andrew R. Jones and Elliot Newman above.

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Directed by “Jungle Book” filmmaker Jon Favreau, the film takes a photorealistic approach to the 1994 animated classic, which centers on the quest of young lion prince Simba (voiced by JD McCrary as a child and Donald Glover as an adult) to retake his throne from his evil uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Unlike their previous Disney adaptation, which featured the human boy Mowgli, this film was exclusively composed of CGI animals and locations that needed to appear lifelike.

“Everybody upped their game,” Legato says, with animation supervisor Jones working to get “to the point where you absolutely believe those were real animals behaving the way they do.” That went for Newman as well, who worked to “complete the illusion” that they were filming in actual locations with his background work.

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Both Legato and Jones won Oscars for their work on “The Jungle Book,” which Newman also worked on. Legato earned additional Oscar wins for “Titanic” (1997) and “Hugo” (2011), with an additional nomination for “Apollo 13” (1995). Jones also won for “Avatar” (2009) and contended for “I, Robot” (2004). Newman just received his first BAFTA nomination for this film.

They appear to be well on their way to an Oscar bid after the film’s strong showing at the Visual Effects Society Awards, where it picked up five bids including Best Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature, the top award from that industry group.

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