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Lessons Learned From The Success of "The Jungle Book"
The State of the Art in VFX and Virtual Production
- Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017
LOS ANGELES and LONDON
With the success of director Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book (having been reaffirmed with major industry awards from the British Academy BAFTA Awards, the Visual Effects Society, and the Annie Awards) certain forward-looking lessons can be gleaned from the unique filmmaking methodologies employed by Mr. Favreau’s crew -- including the global teams of artists and color- scientists from Technicolor and its visual effects division, MPC – the lead VFX house on the project.
Technicolor’s president of Production Services, and deputy-CEO of Technicolor Tim Sarnoff addressed certain distinguishing facets of the production and some very valuable, holistic lessons from The Jungle Book.
“I believe one of the great successes we had as a team,” noted Sarnoff “was that we worked on this project as part of the production. We were not separate from any other category; we were perceived as a company making the movie. We learned that we are all better together in making a single project. When we were at MPC with Jon Favreau he did not look at us as a postproduction facility. He looked at us as the company making his movie. We were thrilled. With every frame that came out we felt we were making the movie together.”
Technicolor specializes in bringing together the best artists, the best technicians, and the best production teams and focuses them on the tasks and problems any one production might present. The Jungle Book included pretty much every problem you could possibly imagine; and every solution needed to be brought to bear to make this production work. “They were able to take our many years of experience,” said Sarnoff, “gained from the countless movies we’ve worked on over the last century and say ‘This is what is needed to create the team for this movie.’ As a result, when Jon Favreau, said, ‘This is what I want,’ we had the team in place to make it happen. From Day One, we had an infrastructure set up so that no matter where in the world production was being done, that work went through the Technicolor Production Network.”
As lead VFX supervisor on The Jungle Book, multiple Academy Award®-winner Rob Legato has a long history of working with Technicolor teams on a myriad of projects, dating to first working with the company on director Martin Scorsese’s Oscar®-winning films, The Aviator; The Departed; and Hugo, for which Legato received his 2nd VFX Oscar®. His virtual production methodology, first developed for The Aviator, and expanded dramatically for director James Cameron’s Avatar, was the basis of production of The Jungle Book, a process that was fully integrated in Technicolor’s production and finishing pipeline.
Addressing the specific methodologies employed on The Jungle Book Rob Legato noted:
“Usually visual effects are brought into a live action world, but in the case of The Jungle Book, live action was brought into a visual effects world. The aim, of course, was to make it not look like a visual effects film. Visual effects tend to get short shrift as an art form because, if you do your job very well, you encompass all the cinematic parts within the label of visual effects. It is photographed; there are sets; there are set dressings; there are costumes; there is hair; and there is makeup. With The Jungle Book, all the various things that go into making a movie are under the umbrella of visual effects. So you have to bring in the ability to create a visual effect that feels as if it uses all the cinematic arts.
Further, in this case, the phases of preproduction, production, post-production are all the same. As you are visualizing the film you are shooting it. Then you are editing it. You are in postproduction that day, literally on the stage. And you are pre-producing it because you are discovering how much of the set you need to build, and all those kinds of things. We don't plan everything out in preproduction and then go and shoot it, even in a virtual way and then edit it and then turn it over to post-production.
With the schedules and the money and all the various things that happen on a visual effects-oriented film you have to start turning over the movie before you have actually made the movie, and that is very difficult. We had to be pre-producing, producing, editing and post-producing all at the same time. And when we felt confident we had a theme that was worthy of being turned over, we could turn it over, because we were not going to be finished with the movie in the first couple of months of the turnover, but we had enough information to tell us that a scene was going to live forever and that we liked it. And we also knew that if there was something we did not like we could go back out onto the virtual stage and re-imagine a new angle. We were always improving the film.”
Adam Valdez, The Jungle Book’s Oscar®-nominated Visual Effects Supervisor with MPC, a Technicolor company, oversaw the work of over 800 MPC artists to deliver on the vision of Jon Favreau’s stunning achievement. Valdez explains how teamwork, talent and a pursuit of excellence combined to create a movie that has been widely acclaimed for its artistic and technological accompaniments.
“When we were first contacted by Disney about the film they described it as a largely virtual film. We would shoot a live action boy but mostly on a blue screen stage. That was something of a head-scratcher. Many films these days have synthetic sequences, or actors, or set pieces, but it was pretty daunting to contemplate doing an entire film that way.”
On working with Technicolor, Valdez stated, “One great example of how we came together with the Technicolor folks was on the color pipeline for the movie. This was a movie where we wanted to really take advantage of high dynamic range (HDR) imagery.
I started consulting with the color scientists at Technicolor Hollywood and Steve Scott, our finishing colorist who Jon Favreau had worked with several times before. And we worked with our overall visual effects supervisor for The Jungle Book, Rob Legato, and our director of photography, Bill Pope.
We all started talking out what would be the best color pipeline for the show, and I started working on a way to do color for the show that was familiar to myself and Rob and Bill, who had worked in film and wanted to have some of that familiarity. By setting things up properly with our Technicolor cousins in Hollywood we knew we had a good set-up that was robust and that would allow me to proof the color at the end of the chain.
Technicolor’s senior supervising finishing artist Steve Scott, who oversaw the grading of The Jungle Book worked closed with director Jon Favreau, VFX supervisor Rob Legato, ASC and cinematographer Bill Pope, ASC, on applying the final touches to the film and ensuring that the photo-realism of the project was fully realized. Scott is well known around the industry as the dean of color finishing, having been a big part of the three films photographed by Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC, winners of the Oscars for Gravity; Birdman; and The Revenant.
Reflecting on the huge success of the film, Scott commented: “All the technology that’s been used to create something like The Jungle Book has existed for a while. The key in any of it is the level of talent and skill you have at the helm. Who’s guiding this? Who has the artistic expertise to know what great imagery is and how to use these tools in a way that’s going to give you that?
So, you start with Bill Pope who’s a brilliant cinematographer and does great work, and totally embraces this new world of kind of filming and virtual.
Then you go to Rob Legato, who is absolutely brilliant and who I’ve had the pleasure of working with since the Star Trek days. I learned back then how meticulous he was and how well-informed he was about the visual world. So he has this great aesthetic, great judgement, and he carries it through by finding people like Adam Valdez. And the work is brilliant.
So it’s about working with people who you can trust their aesthetic judgement and who are going to deliver art and beauty in ways that surprise you constantly.”
Learn more about the unique filmmaking methodologies employed by Mr. Favreau’s crew at http://thejunglebook.technicolor.com