How Different Animation Specialists Collaborated To Bring The Jungle Book To Life

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The Jungle Book is clearly a VFX Oscar frontrunner for its state-of-the-art integration of animated characters and virtual environments, with Neel Sethi as the only live-action component bringing Mowgli to life. MPC created the bulk of the virtual work in the film, which includes 54 species and 224 unique animals, along with plants, vines, trees, rocks, vines and rushing rivers, as well as grasses blowing in the wind and incredible mudslides. It took a team of extraordinary animation specialists to bring this marvel to life.

Weta Digital took on the brilliant King Louie sequence, key-framing Christopher Walken’s iconic ape along with his minions that he whips up into a frenzy. Jon Favreau, director of The Jungle Book, had an aha! moment when Disney chairman Alan Horn suggested that he needn’t be constrained by live-action integration, and that he could instead build whatever he wanted.

This inspired Favreau to build the virtual world around Mowgli, making it look entirely seamless. To achieve this, he teamed up with animation specialists and master of hybrid moviemaking Legato, and together they studied Walt Disney’s method for making classic hand-drawn cell animation. Inspired by both “Bambi” and the original “The Jungle Book,” they recreated the three-dimensional multi-plane technique to exquisite effect. View more about how this visual marvel was brought to life with this behind the scenes video.

Keeping Things Photo Real

The mantra for the predominantly virtual production was to keep it “photo real”, while at the same time conveying the real world physics of the part of India they drew inspiration from. Since Favreau is still most comfortable with a live-action approach, he married both approaches by pre-making the movie using mocap stand-ins for the animals beside Mowgli, and decided with Legato how much virtual environments were needed.

In terms of lighting, the film’s cinematographer, Bill Pope, established the look after studying the background environments, which Legato matched with virtual lighting. To balance the shadow and light, they used panels of LEDs with pre-animation of elephants casting shadows beside Mowgli.

Legato also rigged a 30-foot turntable that made it look like Mowgli walked on terrain for up to a mile. Jon Favreau’s approached The Jungle Book as a window into another world, inspired by Disney but with the kind of updated imagery that Walt himself would find compelling.

In many ways, this is where the team at Totality finds inspiration, and we work hard to achieve similar standards of quality!