TODAY the re-imagining of the Disney classic is available on Digital HD. The Bluray Combo Pack is available for purchase August 30. While in Los Angeles, I watched “The Jungle Book” Reimagined,” where director Jon Favreau sits down with producer Brigham Taylor and visual effects supervisor Robert Legato to discuss the film and reflect on the time spent around the tale. It was such a joy afterward that we had the opportunity to participate in a Q&A with Brigham and Rob themselves!
Let me just say… hands down one of the most innovative films I saw this was year was THE JUNGLE BOOK! The tale of Mowgli and his furry companions, Bagheera and Baloo, entranced audiences worldwide, coming in at $949 million at the global box office to date. It was pretty cool to sit down with Brigham and Rob to learn more about the behind the scenes dealings of the film.
How long does that whole process (for the film), from start to finish, take? What was the actual time?
Brigham: There’s a period of time where you’re just working on story before you’re really engaging… This movie is probably about six to eight months, something like that. So from the time you’re really starting to prep the film to about the time we first met and started talking, you’re talking about a year of pre-production. And another year to finish it.
Rob: Yeah it was very short to actually produce the film from the moment we started shooting until the moment we released it. Up till now it was impossible to do a film that has this many shots in it, in 3-D, all computer generated. It was a miracle. And so it was about 2-1/2 years when I originally came on to start talking about it. We had built up and make sort of in house mechanisms to do this movie with the art department and the virtual art department and all the various things. But 2-1/2 years I think is a full-on production.
Brigham: But for me, it wasn’t unique to see the better part of the year in post-production to finish all these shots, whether you’re working on a complex movie like “Pirates” or “Narnia” or something like that… For me it was the nearly a year spent making all of the many specific decisions to get to the point of photography because once you saw that kid on the stage, everything had to have already been worked out in terms of the scale of each creature, the scale of the jungle, you had to know exactly where you were pointing, what you were looking at.
Rob: Well part of the drill was also to create something that when you go on stage you have great authority. You know exactly what it’s going to look like or what it wants to look like and to us, even though when you see all the previews and things like that you are actually seeing sort of a cartoon version. It may be hard to picture but when we’re seeing it… we’re seeing the finished shot. I’ve worked on another film before where I was showing somebody a test, what it ultimately would look like, and they were only judging it for what it was and so “Oh my God, it looks awful. That’s horrible, why do you like that?” Well it’s going to look good.
But in our heads we’re not really seeing that. We’re seeing the finished piece. We’re seeing what the art direction is going to look like, seeing what the lighting is going to look like. But you have to kind of bed that in something firm so when you walk on it, because the blue screen stage is really difficult to come up with ideas because there’s nothing there. It’s almost stupefying. You need to have in your head a very clear idea so you can actually direct the shot and even judge it if it’s working out.
Brigham: Well, different amounts at different times. When you were fully staffed, when everyone was in full swing… you are talking about the massive teams and visual effects. The crew when we were actually shooting on set was modest in that, a couple hundred. But you’re talking over 800 people.
Rob: There were probably 1,000, maybe 2,000 people, all in all. If we could count all the musicians and all the musicians in New Orleans and if you count everybody that was actually on the film at one point or another, it’s probably close to 2,000 people.
I have a two part question. What would you say was your favorite part about creating this and then 50 years from now, what do you want people to remember most about this version of the film?
Rob: Boy there’s a lot of favorite parts! That’s a hard question. I think the first time — let me answer the second question. For me, doing this for a long time, having worked on these various films, what I always wanted to be able to do is to say okay now that we have all this ability to do anything we want to do, let’s do something very specific in the tradition of why I was interested in the movie making in the first place.
I think in everyone’s mind, you have a backlog of every movie starting from “Casablanca” on that impressed you in some way or saw a thing, a sensation and all that stuff. So you want to make a movie that uses all this technology that doesn’t remind you of CG oriented movies, or superhero movies. It reminds you of films that you loved when you were growing up and so you almost do so much technology to make it disappear into the background. What I would like for the audience to respond to and then the future audience to respond to is, that is starting to make a demarcation where the digital portion is no longer a dirty word.
It’s the same artifice of movie-making from the beginning. There were fake walls. There were fake sets, people wearing costumes, people wearing makeup. They are not saying their own words. They are saying words that are written for them but we divorced ourselves from all that when we get into the movie and so CG should be the same thing and so what I’d like for people to remember is that that’s what really uh, occurred. That is the first time you forgot you were watching something that could have been done on a computer and it hearkens back because it continually reminds you of live action shots you’ve seen so you must be watching a live action movie.
And for me, we were making a live action movie. We were not making an animated film, we didn’t want to look like an animated film like that. I guess the first time I think I got a big thrill from it was for some reason of all the characters, and they are all great, is something about Idris Elba playing that character and the melding of his voice, his performance, the character he was playing, the way it was animated, that represented his emotion and then the way it was photographed and the sole total of the composite of that went wow, that’s a real character. That’s not a guy voicing a cartoon. That’s a real specific thing. And everybody else is great but for some reason he just like clicked in one notch. He went to a level and made that.
Brigham: For me, my favorite part was the opportunity to sit in a room early on with a storyteller like Jon and our writer Justin, just to be involved in the conversation about what the film was going to be and we knew what this find was going to be. We knew what the material was but there were still a lot of decisions that were very unique to this movie. So to be involved in that early on is really exhilarating when it’s all sort of blue sky. And, secondarily to that I would say that by the time it was done to be able to sit and watch… when you have a film that does get the desired reaction, a lot of films you work on don’t unfortunately, but this one did.
You don’t know that until you sit in that audience and for me it was sitting with my kids and, and having them respond to it and, and both having the glee of experiencing these characters that they are really engaged with, which is always the hope, but also the wonderment of not being sure how it even happened, and so that was really exhilarating. And to answer your second part of the question, that is the takeaway is that people look back at both as a point of demarcation about saying that was a kind of landmark, cinematic moment for me but more importantly I had an emotional response to the movie.
At one point, Jon Favreau says they want you to feel overwhelmed and not even realizing the things that are going on behind the scenes, one of the biggest parts for me was the adding of puppetry. Can you discuss that a little bit about how actually usuing puppets added to the movie?
Rob: It was Neel’s very first film he has ever been in and how do you elicit a response from somebody and keep it fresh take after take after take? So, that’s why I thought, I even mentioned in there, I thought it was a brilliant idea that you have somebody that will capture his imagination with small little things. Like you could just put little knuckles, eyeballs on them, and they did that and they would adlib a couple of things that were not in the movie but his reaction would be of that is in the movie.
So that part, for experienced actors, they are used to it. This happens all the time. People ask about if you’re in a blue screen stage, how many actors know what you’re doing? It’s like well they never see that. They are seeing this. They are seeing everybody on their I-phones, the crew kind of bored and they are talking to an ex on C-SPAN and so they are really used to the artifice of movie-making. They are not even looking at the other actor, even if they are doing it off-screen, they are looking just slightly off so the camera looks, makes it look like they are looking at it but they are not.
So, they are used to all that stuff. But for a kid who was never an actor before, that is probably pretty daunting. So Jon being an actor… the reason why he was good at this sort of thing, of interpreting that, is to give him something that could change and then we’ve taken the line organic because ultimately at the end of the day it was going to be that way, for the audience to see. And so he needs to experience it to make you believe that he’s seeing the animals speaking to him and, and it’s a sort of an unrehearsed speech. He reacts to what they say and organically, so I think that that decision was one of the best ones for this kid.
Brigham: Yeah that was one of the most discussed things, because the puppeteers also brought a human element performance onstage. When we needed to build some, not every shot required a scale puppet but sometimes we did, whether it was to cast a shadow or to get the right byline and also to get a performer in there and so we turned to the Henson company to build those. They didn’t have much time because we figured this out, we need that and they turned it around quickly and they also turned us onto some of these fun performers with Artie, Allen and Shaun (the puppeteers). These guys were very used to working that way but also were just great at feeding these lines and giving the performances so that was vital, something that Jon paid a lot of attention to because he knew how important Neel’s performance was.
What was the most daunting scene and did you have any difficulties with maybe one particular scene that you really had to work through?
Brigham: One scene that was much discussed in this piece, which was saying goodbye to the mother, because of the interactivity and also because of the level of performance. We had Neel in his first film, having done no acting prior, and it was a heavy emotional scene. It was also one of the most demanding technical scenes. I feel like we could talk about that scene for a year, both in terms of how we’re going to accomplish it.
But then also to have performers from the day and there were shots of Sara Arrington, another one of our off-screen sort of performers, who was really key to just being there in the moment for Neel and giving the emotion of the mother in that moment. Then I also look at the stampede in terms of you saw that little muddy trench that we built, which was all we had for that scene. Neel didn’t particularly love… he’ll be the first to admit he didn’t love being muddy.
So it was a challenge for him physically. But then also just us running all those stuntmen up and back, up and back, and the technical lighting we had to generate there. Sending our cameraman, Bill was in there, just mud up to his gills for days. That was kind of a challenge.
Rob: Yeah, for me it’s a slightly different challenge because I’m sort of used to doing all that stuff. So it’s like I was not as daunted by it because I’ve done things. I knew the technology was at a certain point we had really spectacular, obviously you could tell, spectacular people doing. So I was not as nervous about the mechanical stuff.
So there’s the peace rock scene where there’s so many animals and so many different things. It had to look like and felt like the way it feels in the movie, and you’re starting with a blank page and what you really want in, you and your shooting specificity, why am I looking there? What am I seeing what I’m seeing there? What are we going to put there eventually to justify why we were looking over here? And all those things, there were so many and so many things out of the animator that, that without having a firm foundation, that’s why it’s sort of the technology of doing what we’re doing so you can at least see something to react to cause I’m a visual person and I needed to have something and it determines other things.
Well, if there are a lot more animals in the scene and the shot is slightly wider, I’m doing a camera move. I’m doing something that if it were real I would do but nothing is real. Nothing is really there. We have to invent it all as we are shooting it. So to me those are the harder scenes to do. The other ones, since I’m used to doing a lot of visual effects sort of stuff and have to see not what’s there but what’s going to be there, but I have to really know in my head what it is and that was like something that we all didn’t have in our head and we kind of working on…
Brigham: We probably had more iterations, that’s a scene where Mowgli is first seeing all the animals, the watering hole, probably more versions of that than had earlier. It was mostly done in one take, primarily, although we wound up cutting it up but yeah, we probably ran more versions of that over the course of two years than any other.
Rob: Yeah it was the one that you just do how many and then when you put them in and you put them in and even in a crew phase they are just sliding on the ground so they don’t really quite look quite right. It’s a little harder to picture that one. The reason of it was straightforward but hard. Everything was hard. So, there was no easy shot. Everything was difficult but um, that was about it. That was the hardest I think for me. The rest of it I think was fairly straightforward.
It’s such an innovative film and you’ve really pushed the boundaries, is there anything you weren’t able to do or had to compromise on that you wish you might have been able to or looking forward into films in the future that you would like to do?
Rob: Well, for me, I mean it’s all based on individual’s personality what they like, what they don’t like. I’m not a big superhero movie fan. So knocking down a zillion buildings and all that stuff, it doesn’t really do anything for me and any kind of emotional audience would respect, so for me the, enjoying the cinema of it. There are some shots I would like to have been or have more sort of cinematic quality, like if you were really there and you had Titan Crane and you would do this kind of sweeping move and all that.
We kind of tamed that down quite a bit because at some point when you have something that nothing is real, you add this other bit of flourish to it that you really would do on a big set like a David Lean movie, you kind of shy away from because you are adding, uh, as Nora Ephron said, you are putting a hat on a hat. You already have something and now you’re trying to top it and it kind of gives itself away. Now that we are able to achieve what we are able to achieve, then you can stretch the art form a little more to be really what you would do if you had 1,000 extras at your disposal for a shot.
Brigham: The cool thing is there isn’t anything that we wanted to do that we couldn’t do technically. There was discussion about well I’d rather not do something if we can’t do it well, and it turns out that everything, the only restrictions were self-imposed. We didn’t want the film to be too long. We were trying to be very strict about the duration, in terms of the overall experience but there was nothing to my recollection that we set out to do that we didn’t accomplish and that was really neat.
Rob: One of the harder things to do was the very end of the movie which was the book. We came up with that concept in January, or Jon came up with the concept in January, and before April we were finished with it but that was really challenging to produce that kind of caliber of work in that short a time without all this —
Brigham: All the animation that came out of the book.
In putting together the bonus content for the home release, which behind the scene tidbits were you most excited to share with the audiences?
Brigham: For me, just as a movie fan, I like hearing about little inspirations and tidbits that you wouldn’t have necessarily understood and this isn’t just one piece. It’s sprinkled throughout the pieces, like when Jon mentions how we were looking at the piece for Bambi and in terms of the inspiration for the first move and then there are six or seven of those moments. I find it interesting. I find it all engrossing and I worked on it. I like having digested in 30 minutes what took 2-2-1/2 years and looking at it that way, but I love hearing about the sort of behind the scenes creation inspirations in terms of why stuff wound up on the screen the way it did.
Rob: And I think for me, I need something in the back of my head to produce something. The idea of the the homage to Disney, the very opening piece is a very slick animated CGI opening to all Disney movies now and they take advantage of everything. There is something very charming about the brilliant idea that they had with the multiplane camera and all that, so how do we subtly create a homage that makes you feel comfortable, like you’re watching an old Disney film… It’s something that lives for a long time and you kind of have some deep-rooted psychology to it. That to me was fascinating. I love the history of movies. I love all that. It’s the reason why I got into it in the first place.
Now get ready for this great treat… Not only can you own THE JUNGLE BOOK on home entertainment, but you will have the opportunity to experience the movie AGAIN at select IMAX locations for a limited time only from August 26 through September 1. How awesome is that?
The Jungle Book on Home Entertainment
Want to learn more on my most recent adventure in LA? We can connect on head on over to Twitter (@AshBG) and on Instagram (@ashb4211). As you browse my social media feed, simply look for the hashtags #PetesDragonEvent, #JungleBookBluray, #QueenOfKatwe, and #Moana.
While I’attended an expense paid trip by Disney to Los Angeles, all opinions are 100% my own. THE JUNGLE BOOK film images provided by Walt Disney Publications.