The Jungle Book is available for home-release today, and I’m just as excited about the film as I was after I saw it in theaters. I seriously didn’t think I was going to like this new version of The Jungle Book, but it completely blew my thoughts and expectations out of the water. Getting to sit down with Producer Brigham Taylor and Visual Effect Supervisor Rob Legato while in LA for #PetesDragonEvent was an honor, and we learned a lot about the making of The Jungle Book!
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. – Brigham Taylor
8 Things You Didn’t Know About The Jungle Book
#1 Roughly 2,000 People
You pretty much only see one human the entire movie, aside from a scene when Mowgli happens upon a village. There are memorable voice actors including Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley, Lupita N’Yongo, Scarlett Johansson, and Christopher Walken. But I bet you never guessed there were roughly 2,000 people in total that worked on The Jungle Book! From writers, to actors, to musicians; there were a lot of people who helped bring The Jungle Book to the big screen.
Well, different amounts at different times but when you were fully staffed.The crew when we were actually shooting on set was modest but you know, you’re talking over 800 people. – Brigham Taylor
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. It’s a lot of people. – Rob Legato
#2 Puppeteers Brought a Human Element Onstage
The role of Mowgli in The Jungle Book was the first role for Neel Sethi. Mad props to the kid because it did a phenomenal job in the film. Acting with blue screen didn’t come easy for Neel and he needed assistance getting the emotional reactions needed for the scenes, take after take after take. Enter Henson Company puppeteers and a little creativity from the crew.
For experienced actors, they are used to it, and this happens all the time. People ask, ‘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 everybody on their iPhones, the crew kind of bored and they are talking to an ex on C-SPAN , 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 makes it look like they are looking at it, but they are not. So, they are used to all that stuff. You could put in a TV screen, you could put in some other thing that would be the other actor, or what the scene looks like, but for a kid who was never an actor before, that is probably pretty daunting. I thought it was a brilliant idea that you have somebody who will capture his imagination with small little things, put little eyeballs on them, and they did that. They would adlib a couple of things that were not in the movie, but his reaction would be of that that is in the movie. – Rob Legato
That was one of the most discussed things, because the puppeteers also brought a human element performance onstage. So, 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 when we figured this out, we needed that, they turned it around quickly and they also turned us onto some of these fun performers with Artie and Allen and Shaun. 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. – Brigham Taylor
#3 There Isn’t Anything That We Wanted To Do That We Couldn’t Do
The Jungle Book took live-action to levels it hasn’t been before. The CG is incredible and you literally forget you are watching something that was created with green screen. Exactly the result that Brigham Taylor, Rob Legato, and Jon Favreau wanted. Being such an innovative film that pushed boundaries, it’s no surprise that there isn’t anything they wanted to do that they couldn’t do technically.
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 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. – Brigham Taylor
I know, I already said that ‘CG is incredible and you literally forget you are watching something that was created with green screen‘ but seriously, it is. If you haven’t watched the film yet, you will know what I’m talking about once you do. And you will walk out of the theater thinking ‘no way is Baloo not real!‘.
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, and 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 and what I would like for the audience to respond to, and then the future audience to respond to, is that this is starting to make a demarcation where the digital portion is no longer a dirty word, CG. 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. What I’d like for people to remember is that that’s what really 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. – Rob Legato
#4 Idris Elba
Idris Elba deserves his own category for The Jungle Book because holy voice! Your hair stands on end when Shere Khan is on screen and his voice literally brings the character to life. He’s not necissarly one of things you don’t know about The Jungle Book, but the magic he brought to the film probably is.
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 clicked in one notch. He went to a level and made that. – Rob Legato
#5 One Of the Harder Things To Do Was the Very End
After watching The Jungle Book all the way through, you get a little treat from the classic film. If you’ve seen the original animated version of The Jungle Book, you may recall an actual book titled The Jungle Book at the very end. A beautiful old book that dances upon blue fabric, and it once again busts some moves for the new film.
One of the harder things to do was the very end of the movie, which was the book. 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. Rob Legato
#6 Homage Makes You Feel Like You’re Watching an Old Disney Film
A little tip in case you are the kind of movie watcher that uses the opening credits to get your popcorn ready, don’t. We’ve become familiar with the opening scene of Walt Disney films, Cinderella’s castle. Depending on the movie there is often a theme or twist to that opening scene and The Jungle Book is no different, just on another level with a homage that makes you feel like you are watching an old Disney film. When you bring home The Jungle Book Blu-ray make sure you watch it closely.
I need something in the back of my head to produce, something like the idea of 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, and there is something very charming about the brilliant idea that they had with the multi-plane camera and so, ‘how do we subtly create a homage that makes you feel comfortable, like you’re watching an old Disney film?‘ and then we magically transfer you from that, into our modern technology of being able to play it, without hitting you over the head with it. We found a Disney animator to do all the fireworks and all that stuff, and I had my son shoot it in the technicolor way, just the way they did it back in the day, and we recreated it on the computer enough with the multi-plane camera, which was actually in one of the buildings here, the science and industry of it, the idea of it, that’s the kind of the paramount thing. – Rob Legato
#7 Standing On the Shoulders of Disney
It is really hard to create something original anymore. So much has been done and those things help spur ideas for other things and so forth. It’s not a bad thing, it’s a creativity fueling aspect of creation.
Even as a filmmaker you’re subtly reminded that you didn’t really come up with anything original. When you look at Snow White and you start doing research, well we’re roam scoping — essentially motion capture is roam scoping. It’s just an automatic way of roam scoping. Well, they did that back then to give Snow White the feeling of her dress moving and her moving around and everybody was ‘how do they get such life like quality to it?’ It was top secret at the time. They filmed it and then the animators used that as a reference. And it’s no different than what we do. We have different tools. We have more modern equipment. We can see it instantly. They would have to wait a day to do it. So, there’s something about that, that we are standing on the shoulders of Walt Disney and his group of people who were trying to push the envelope creatively to give a more emotional experience to the audience, and so the fact that we sprinkled that in. When I hear stuff like that, that I feel it, but I don’t exactly know what it is, that there was an idea behind it, it wasn’t just ‘oh, that would be cool’ because that’s not good enough. That kind of diminishes over time, just like it’s a flavor of the month and you forget about it. But if it’s something that resonates, 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. – Rob Legato
#8 2 1/2 Years of Full-On Production
Now you know a little more about all that went into making The Jungle Book, and it may surprise you that it took about a year of story development, and about two and half years of full-on production to finish the film. Impressive work and I’m glad we didn’t have to wait any longer to have this film back in our lives, in a new way.
There’s a period of time where you’re just working on story, before you’re really engaging and for this movie it was probably about six months, you know, 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 sort of pre-production and another year to finish it. – Brigham Taylor
Yeah it was very short to actually produce the film from the moment we started shooting, until the moment we released it. Up until 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 it was about 2-1/2 years when I originally came on to start talking about it. We had built up and made, sort of in house, mechanisms to do this movie, 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, but I don’t know what happened prior to that. – Rob Legato
Just story development that was, like I said, about six to eight months. – Brigham Taylor
If you didn’t get a chance to experience The Jungle Book in theaters, bring home The Jungle Book Blu-ray and DVD for your family move collection. I’m 35 and I left the theater feeling the same way Brigham Taylor’s kids felt. Oh the glee and wonderment and simple bare necessities of life.
By the time it was done, to be able to sit and watch the film, and 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 having them respond to it, 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. That was really exhilarating. – Brigham Taylor