The New King of The Swingers
♦Recently, director Jon Favreau spoke about Disney’s new version of much-loved movie The Jungle Book, which he is directing and Tripwire’s editor-in-chief was there to hear him speak…
Here is a partial transcript of the event which took place at The Moving Picture Company (MPC), in London’s Soho, which had Favreau present as well as Rob Legato, visual effects supervisor, Andy R Jones, animation supervisor and Adam Valdez, MPC supervisor
JON FAVREAU: Hello, everybody. I’m Jon Favreau, for those of you haven’t met me yet. We’re getting close to this movie coming out in April, which seems like a long time to a lot of you, but to us, it’s a blink of an eye, when you’re doing digital work. A lot of times, like on the Iron Man films [and] the Marvel films, we divide the work up among a lot of houses. But we figured with a work of this scope, where we wanted to create a digital world that was photo real, we wanted consistency across everything. And it also required a big investment on the part of the facility to try to come up with a lot of new digital tools for fur, for water, for just the rendering stuff that I don’t wanna really bore you with the details of, nor would I explain properly.
But there’s a lot of infrastructure that goes into a film like this, and so, by developing a partnership with MPC and having them really do things that impressed me at every turn, it’s very appropriate that we’re here in their screening room. Everything you’re gonna be seeing has been done by this facility and they really have outdone themselves this time
We’re doing doing artificial intelligence [to generate some of these effects] but there is really a tradition of Walt Disney, which is, can you use the state of the art technology and present something that is purely emotional, that makes you feel something? And what did Walt so effectively was, he would take all the old stories from all the cultures around the world and find a way to introduce a new audience to them, usually, by Disney-fying it, or by presenting it in a way that made it fresh for a new generation. And whether that was what he constructed with DisneyLand, or DisneyWorld, what he presented in the films… We think of him as kind of old-fashioned, but really everything he was doing at every turn as extremely high tech for the time and so it’s kind of fun in that tradition, to [re]introduce this very, very old story. And when I say old, I just mean the ’67 animated film but also the Kipling stories that [Walt] drew from and took some liberties with.
We tried to investigate the roots of the stories and some of those myths go way beyond Kipling as well and try to infuse some of that into [what we] remember from the Disney movie: how do you combine those things and present it in a tone that feels complete and correct to both? I also tried to incorporate a lot of the stuff that I grew up with.
We also looked a lot to the Big Five, the first five animated Disney features, where the tone was never meant to be a kiddie movie at that time, it was meant to be for all audiences – kids loved it, but there were intense parts, there were funny parts, and so we really tried to draw upon all those traditions.
But the real question is why do a movie like this? Because the [original film] is very beloved to many people and there were other versions of the film. This was a real pet project of Alan Horne, who runs the studio and he felt that this was a moment to do this film. And they’re doing a lot of Disney properties as live action films; a lot of old animated films; I didn’t necessarily understand why this was the time [to do that] or what to do with it. What[Alan] had seen with films like Life of Pi, what had been done with Avatar and these world building films, where you could use digital technology to create something really special and different, they saw it as an opportunity. Not just to do it as a movie where you shoot some of it and you add some visual effects in, but to actually build a whole world out. And that was that was interesting to me, because I was a real fan of Avatar and I’ve gone on to work with a lot of people you’re gonna meet today that have worked on that film. I thought it was a bit of a game changer, a 3D experience that felt like it was worth being a 3D experience and I felt like a world was being presented before me.
And on one hand, I liked the story, but I also liked what it meant for cinema, I liked what I was being presented, it felt like a real experience, a very immersive experience. And so that technology was interesting, and nobody’s really done much with that technology since Avatar, I mean, people have done 3D movies and people have been successful in certain ways, I thought Gravity was very successful, about being an immersive experience, but nobody really built out a whole world. We thought, well, if we build everything from scratch, we can take some liberties, subtle liberties, with scale, with design, to make it appropriate to the genre, to make it accurate as far as what types of foliage and animals are in this part of the world. But, maybe, push things a little bit and make it a little hyper real, while never losing sight of the photo reality of the images. A lot of times with animated animals that have been key frame animated, they get very human, there’s a bit of an uncanny [valley] and we wanted to see if we could study the animal’s actual behaviour and make them in their own language, present these human emotions and story lines.
I’ve been, and for those of you have been following my career, [you’ll know], I’m a bit of a Luddite! I’ve always sort of veered towards practical effects: in Elf, [the] stop motion’s all real stop motion and [the film uses] very little visual effects, we did a little bit of digital work, but I was always very reticent about it. And then, in Zathura, I used a lot of the old Star Wars technology in that movie, [such as] motion control rigs. Eventually, with Iron Man, [I felt] the CG [effects] were [more] convincing but I was always taking baby steps. For me to do this, I really had to be convinced that what I was looking at would look real and that I wasn’t just presenting something else that felt a little gimmicky. I wanted people to forget that they were watching something that was CG. And that’s where the sort of Turing Test comes into it.
And so what we started with was looking with the animators at footage of real animals, building out our rigs, looking at what was really in this part of the jungle of India, and coming up with the real animals and see if we could create things.
I talked to a lot of people, [asking] how much work was this? Because this is really hard to fool people with, this part of the face. [I was told] 80% of the work as an animator went into making this convincing. I thought, what was interesting with Gravity was, the magic trick really worked for on Gravity, I didn’t know where the CG began and the people ended, but I knew there were real people in there.
[With The Jungle Book], the challenge wasn’t to make this look real, the challenge was to make it all fit together. And even when you look at like a CG movie, or animated film that looks photo real, [if you] put a real thing in it, that goes away really quickly. It’s hard to be convincing as you think, when you have something right next to it to compare it to.
[The challenge was] how could we make the animals talk convincingly, without it looking like some weird TV commercial, how to make them talk in a way where it makes sense that the words are coming out, but it’s not distracting, it doesn’t feel too human – get a little hyper real, but yet feel photo real.
[Looking at the film,] I like the little things like the water, the personality of the animals and seeing the animals that are indigenous to Goa, to different parts of India and the jungle… There was something kind of cool and magical and otherworldly about it.
We have a great cast, you know: Idris Elba who plays Shere Khan, [we asked] how do you infuse that personality into a photo real animal like Shere Khan, how do you get the performance to carry through? Most of the performance here is key frame so it’s done by animators. So the animators on the one hand are studying real animal movement, as they did with… in the times of Bambi they would actually bring animals in. Well, now thanks to the Internet, we have access to footage of the animal behaviour. And so we would pick out what types of behaviours the animals would do. The animators would look at that, they would [watch] Idris perform it, use video reference of that – sometimes, we actually used motion capture reference [of] a performance. And then the animators would get all that information and then work it out into the performance of the animal. If you just did motion capture and put it on a tiger, it would be very weird, ’cause tigers don’t emote the same way humans do.
I want to say something about the 3D. When Avatar was done, it was done, it was captured in 3D native and then all of the effects were done [post], of course, in 3D. And so you got this really immersive experience. And then there were a lot of films that converted and… they’re not always converted well. Conversion, sometimes, can be very effective and sometimes it’s rushed. In this film hopefully, you’re getting a sense that we captured [in-camera]; we pulled a lot of the technology out of mothballs that hasn’t been used since Avatar. We captured [performances] native in 3D so when you see the kid’s hairs on his face, you’ll start to see that it’s very intuitively shaped and then the environments are [then] built in 3D.
In our new version, there’s a lot that’s from the [original] Kipling [story] but there’s also a big part of the Disney version that I remember growing up. I was born in ’66, it came out ’67, it was the humour, the music, the fun… But how do you let that exist in a world with these other images?
Our Mowgli, who we found after endless searching; he’s literally the 200th kid we read. ‘Cause when you’re dealing with [young actors], they don’t have a big body of work, generally. Neel Sethi is a ten year old from, all places, Manhattan – he really seemed to capture the personality of Mowgli from the film. And most importantly, I just loved watching him and when you have a kid on screen that much, you want somebody who [doesn’t] outstay their welcome!
the elephants are much more the way it was treated by Kipling and even with Bagheera reciting parts of from the Jungle Book as he’s talking about the elephants. It’s a bit of a mix and match but we really felt that we wanted to evoke more the ’67 film, than from the Kipling with Baloo, because I grew up [with] these images of these characters and [they] were a very early frame of reference for me, the ones that I grew up with; images that I really had as very deep seated memories as a child. The first dream I ever remember having, Mowgli was in it! So, maybe it’s Kismet that I ended up working on this thing because it does have a lot of significance to me and now, helping to breathe life into these characters.
One of the most fortunate aspects was that I was able to get the illusive Bill Murray to be part of this project. I had not known him, other than his work – I had grown up, of course, idolising him, [staying] awake and watching Saturday Night Live with my mom, he made quite an impression. And now, to actually work with the guy, and then to try to give him enough room to be loose and perform and get Neel Sethi, who plays Mowgli, in a room to perform and record with him and to film both of them, was kind of cool. And yes, he sings in the movie too!
We were faced with another thing, which was a bit of a conundrum at first, with the character of King Louie: there are no orangutans in India, they don’t exist. We felt that we couldn’t eliminate this character, because it was part of the Disney version of it [that people remember]. So, in our research, we found that there was a creature called a Gigantapithacus, which lives some bones have been found; the closest real modern day relation to its DNA is the orangutan, but it was much bigger. And nobody, of course, has photographs of it; they’ve just found bones and remains. And so, our imagination started to run away with us and so we started to figure out, what would this creature look like? And how could you use what we know and how could you use the old movie? But of course, that movie was bit scary, but a bit goofy too, and we wanted to make it fit within our reality. And then the idea of casting Christopher Walken came in. And then my mind started to go…!
ROB LEGATO (Visual Effects Supervisor): The part that appealed to me about [working on] the film, and working with Jon, is when you see like a Disney film, it’s gonna be animated, there’s gonna be talking characters… the tendency is that it’s gonna be larger than life, not like any movie that I’m used to seeing or even the movies that I enjoyed working on, from my past history. The challenge with trying to create tools and things to give to Jon, to the animators, to our director of photography, to make it feel like it’s a regular film, where you kind of threw away all the magic that you can do with a computer, the kind of Photoshop quality of every scene could be Photoshopped, just throw all that away and act like you really filmed it. The impression is that you were working on a live action film. What appealed to me, when John asked me about the film is, to kind of, shorten the suspension of disbelief into something that you saw before that you could relate to, if it were you in the jungle: this is what the jungle might look like.
Also, as preposterous as it sounds, if an animal could talk, what would it really look like? What would it really be like? Hopefully, the engagement of all the performers and all the people that John directed, [the audience will] just forget that and now, they’re characters that you know and love. The challenge was how to create things that I have done before, to actually take live action tools, creating virtual camera, go on a stage and make choices like a cameraman makes choices in a live action film. And then the sum total of that is you bring it to an editor, who makes these kind of quick editorial decisions and the way you piece it together feels like every movie you’ve ever seen. And so the end result is something that you can easily relate to.
One of the successes of Avatar [was to create] a photo realistic world that you’ve never seen before – how do you create a photo-real world that we have seen before and use this technology to actually film it like you really went to a jungle and actually had talking animals and staging it and John could direct?
JON FAVREAU: And I did, I felt like I could direct it like I could direct a regular movie. We talked very much about how do you get to the level, how far could we push it and still believe that the animals are actually making these sounds, how subtle do you go? We actually listened to transcripts from [the sessions of the making of] Bambi because there would be a stenographer on all the Disney story sessions, they would talk about the same issues, as they went from Snow White, was very cartoony with the animals, to Bambi that was very photo real. They were wrestling with many of the same things. And so this process from beginning looked like a lot like a Disney or Pixar movie in the beginning, it was all pencils and we had animatics of it all. We then went to a motion capture stage, where I could direct the camera with the actors, we had sets built. We then could talk to different department heads and direct. And then we cut the movie together and from then, that’s when we starting filming the live action portion. So we had to re-do the movie again and then it was completely key-frame animated by Andy [R. Jones] and his team. Andy was our Head Of Animation Supervisor who oversaw the hundreds, even thousands of people working on this thing.
ANDY R. JONES: When I first met Jon, the thing that excited me the most about this thing was Jon’s sensibilities of trying to show these animals in their natural state and be as realistic as possible. That’s kind of my background, working on movies like Avatar and I, Robot. My animation background is more about trying to animate something so that you don’t realise it’s animated, on that level of detail and that level of subtlety. And to do it with [big] cats or do it with all these animals that we have in this movie, it was a massive challenge – and it sounded like a lot of fun!
We needed a big team, we needed MPC and a big animation team to really dive in and look at all the details and look at performances, like you said earlier, from, you know, the way the actors really delivered their lines and how they talked and gave a performance to it.
JON FAVREAU: These guys were Oscar-nominated for their work on Babe and what was cool about Babe was that there was something inherently convincing, even though it was a fairly simple solution of just talking mouths on regular animals – it was the real animal behaviour, edited together and then they added the performances. And so we set out to do that, except animating the entire animal in this case! But still hopefully, maintaining those little cues that tell you that the animals are behaving in a way that are consistent with what or memories of these animals are.
ADAM VALDEZ (MPC): I remember two things from the first meeting, one was that we talked about the wish fulfilment of this movie, how there’s so many people and kids in the world who wish that their dogs would talk or have a special bond with their cat, late at night, alone in their bedroom, they’re talking to their cat and there’s this real intimacy that people desire to have a relationship with animals – if it was for real, if the illusion worked, what a powerful experience that would be.
And then I remember the next meeting, which was us looking at all of my previous work and you saying, tell me what you don’t like about it! And I had to go through and explain like, well, if I had a chance, I probably would have done this, or this is what I still think doesn’t work about that shot. And it was the very beginning of a very honest dialogue, that I think we’ve all had with each other, in probably what’s been the most collaborative film I’ve ever done.
We were invited, a bunch of us from London, were invited to go to LA and be a part of the team right from the beginning. And it’s on a film you have all of these departments, you have people designing, people editing, all these things. And somehow we found ourselves in the middle of everything, tried to make sure that we were absorbing all the lessons learned. I think there’s an urban myth about film making that in the end, you’re fixing everything. And I think it’s more a process of refinement, you’re taking all the things you’ve learned over all the chapters of the film making and your distilling down to the essentials. You’re really building a language within a film inside the film itself, that the audience is gonna listen to: the colour palette or the animal performances work. And we started right at the beginning: trial and error, trying things out, throwing things away. We careered headlong into this thing and we were developing new tools – the first time these things came up, it was kind of a ‘hold your breath’ moment. How’s this gonna be received? How’s it gonna go? And, I think, everybody felt like this is a little bit larger than life, this is a little more resolved than I’ve ever seen a real bird before, it’s closer than I’ve ever been to a real bird, but it feels like I’m watching the real thing. And that’s like everybody clicking together and making it work.
As well as a big team in India, working on the movie, there have been at peak about 850 people who’ve been working on the movie for about two years: a really large workforce, working for a long time. Software engineers, animators, set builders, painters…
JON FAVREAU: So often, visual effects are seen like it’s put in a computer and it [just] comes out… This could not be further from the truth on this film; this is the most handmade film I’ve ever done. It’s just the tools are different. But people are there, it’s like a mosaic, with everybody painting each individual tile. And so, because it is a non linear film where we were going back and forth from the beginning, it wasn’t a hand off, like “Here’s the movie, put the animals in!” It’s not that. These [artists] were there on set, they were when we were doing the animatics, these artisans and film-makers and people who are building technical things.
I just want to make sure, and I hope I don’t lose sight of this as the movie come out, at how beholden I am to the hard work that they put in, and the artistry. And then also being able to adjust to my sensibility, because when you could make something, it’s very hard to make it not look ‘beautiful’ and that is so much of why the film I think is beautiful, is because it looks real.
Q&A: When it comes to creating photo realism, you’re obviously very into the technology of it, but do you have to consider a psychological element as well?
ANDY: Yeah, it’s all psychological, because the art of cinematography is interpreting the story and figuring out where the camera goes to best tell that story, which includes light and camera movement. So the psychology of the shot is what you have to have in your head, before you can even try to do anything technical, to actually recreate it. So, it always starts with story, which is part of the art form. And then now, hopefully, if you have enough skills that you’ve developed over the years, you put the camera in the right place, you put the light in the right place, you stage it the right away and then when it goes down the line, the other artists can sort of transcend their ‘tech’, and it becomes art again. How do we shade it? How do we shadow it? How do we do this? How do we create what you had in your head? And there, it becomes an art form. They’re all film-makers, there’s no ‘technicians’ really – they’re film-makers.
Q&A: Jon, you briefly talked about music, and I think I heard the Baloo whistling. Where in the film do give to music and songs in a movie?
JON: Well, you know, it’s a tricky thing, because you don’t wanna make it a musical, because the minute it becomes a musical, there’s you lose an emotional connection, I think. Film-making in general, you want feel like you are emotionally invested [as an audience]. I was just listening last night to an old 1960 interview with Buster Keaton and he was saying the same thing: sometimes they had to cut jokes from movies, because the audience gets so invested in the reality of what’s happening – it’s a very fine line to walk. [With this film], where you could have music in it, you don’t wanna have it be a musical, where people feel there’s a different set of rules, where people can’t get hurt or killed, the consequences of the jungle, when it’s this photo real, the audience gets invested, you don’t want it to feel like you’re pulling the rug from under the audience.
But yet, these songs are classics, and so a lot of the challenge for me, as a director, the one area that I’m responsible for where there’s no redundancy, is tone. Really, if you like the tone of a film, that’s something you could squarely put on a director. Everything else, the people are doing the performance, the camera, the lighting… for me, I have to be the one who’s kind of watching all that. And I think that we found a tone where you can have the fun and excitement of what you felt as a kid and the memories you have of the movie, but yet, it doesn’t make the movie ever feel like it’s not embedded in reality. So there’s not as much music as in the original, but there are the key moments that you’re looking for, that we honoured.
Q&A: There have been many remakes of Disney classics within the past few years. So, what’s up with the studio? Are they running out of new ideas?
JON: Ha! Well, The Jungle Book was actually a remake of Romulus and Remus when it was made originally too. I think we could talk about what’s happening with film right now and the polarisation of either very low budget films and very big budget event type movies. The way that studios see themselves fitting into the economy now, the midrange [films] are, unfortunately, really disappearing. Fortunately, on the small screen, the budgets are coming up and the quality is rising fill that gap. But the movies that I grew up seeing, certainly the ones that won the awards when I was growing up, and even not more than a decade ago, those movies aren’t being green lit, because of of film economics. I think that what’s nice about the Disney classics being made into live action films is there’s an awareness the stories and the brand
If you really look at film history, each time there’s a new technology, people re-explore a lot of material that people have connected with in the past. So I don’t know that it’s an anomaly of our times, but what’s nice is that these technologies and these artists and this amount of commitment of resources are going into stories, because when these technologies first emerged, it was used mostly for big explosive action movies.
And so to see emotional movies being told, using these same artists and tools, to me, is extremely refreshing. As a filmmaker, I have to be completely engaged by something to work on it for so many years, to the exclusion of most other things in my life, it has to be an obsessive process. I’ve done two big super hero films and at a certain point, each film-maker runs out of things to say in a particular genre. So this was extremely fresh for me and to be able to tell a story for all ages. It was also was kind of fun to not set to a specific audience. I see [making this film] not only as an opportunity – it is an interesting time in the film world and it’ll be interesting to see how all of this plays out.
Q&A: So the book is actually quite violent and quite dark in some places. How did you decide how much of that to keep?
JON: Yes, the book does get very, very intense and violent at times. I think that Walt Disney, certainly when he was looking at Kipling, there was a lot of challenges around it, because it doesn’t necessarily lend itself to something that’s kid friendly. But it looks like we’re gonna be, get a PG rating on this – we haven’t officially got a rating yet but that’s what we’re aiming for, because we want it to be something that’s appropriate for young people.
What’s nice about the old Disney tradition is that there is a lot of intensity to those films and I think, if you balance it properly with emotion and humour, there’s a certain range that you could live within that feels consistent. But it definitely was something that we looked at because, as we read the books, a lot of the stories were too dark for us. There’s a lot of there’s a lot of things that are in the Kipling, that if you showed in a photo real way like this, would play a lot more intensity, than they do when you read them in the pages of a book. And so we gravitated to certain characters, you’re showing a tiger in 3D and in certain moments, you forget subconsciously…Your palms will sweat, you are the presence of this animal!
Q&A: While making this film, how conscious were you of the fact there’s another Jungle Book movie in the works? (Andy Serkis’ JUNGLE BOOK: ORIGINS)
JON: Yes – I’ve heard! So, Warner Brothers is doing one and, at first, we didn’t know when both be coming out. If we were coming out close to each other, it would have been a big issue but they’ve announced a date that’s clear of us by a whole calendar year I believe. We just wanted to do the best version of the film that we could. And also we’re not just honouring the tradition of the Kipling book but we’re also honouring the Disney version so [our two productions] have different sets of goals, I think.
Q&A: Are you interested to see their take on it?
JON: Oh, sure. Any time, you’re curious to see for the same reason as the superhero movies – after wrestling with a lot of the same problems, with the challenges that you’re faced with Iron Man or Avengers, I’m curious to see what’s going on with DC. But to me, we’re all fighting the same fight and you always learn from watching from your experience, and watching how other people wrestle with the same challenges.
Q&A: You spoke a lot about the collaboration involved with the digital studios and with 850 people working at peak – how difficult is it, to make not just feel like a effects house film but to make it feel like a Jon Favreau film?
JON: Hopefully, it doesn’t feel like ‘my film’! Hopefully, it feels like it’s own [animal]. I never consciously try to make it feel like it’s of my weird subgenre. Though, when I look at it though I see things after they’re done, [I do say], “Oh, that’s a moment that’s like in another one of my movies.” I look at Chef and I thought it was something so different. And [yet] there’s a lot of things from Swingers in that. So, I think part of it comes from how I cast [a project] and the people that I work with – they bring a certain sensibility, you know, when you cast a movie. I used to a show called Dinner for Five, where we have five us talking about movies around a table. How you invite guests informs the way the conversation goes and I think, by having Bill Murray and Lapita Yongo and Idris Elba and Ben Kingsley and Christopher Walken, it creates a tone just by what their sense of humour is, that they’re all kind of, when they’re funny, they’re funny in an offbeat way and I think there’s a quirkiness that emerges to this too. And hopefully a sense of excitement that I learned from working on the superhero stuff too. But it definitely is another step in my journey. And maybe you could tell me afterwards if I managed to make it feel l like a movie that’s of my own brand!
Q&A: Did you all have fun putting in any Easter eggs and hidden Mickeys?
ADAM: We haven’t really like hidden anything, like [anything] that doesn’t belong. Yet! But I think that more what you’ll see it, that if you watch a scene, there’s more work on that screen than you can than anybody can almost consciously, one person could design and create. You’ve got every person like, the background animators, doing background characters coming up with their own little pieces of business, or the people who build the set, dressing plants and flowers things, it’s very rich if you just let the eye wander around, there’s lots of things going on, you know, that the individual artists are putting in and their own, they’re volunteering.
JON: That being said… Anybody read Mad Magazine growing up? There was a cartoonist, Sergio Aragones, who would draw in the margins these little great cartoons, there was no bubbles or balloons or writing in it, and it may have been because he was from Mexico and didn’t have a great command of the language at first and he was a very visual artist. And I was a huge fan of his, I still am, he’s still around. And I would tell them that my favourite part of Mad Magazine were these Aragones cartoons that were in the margins. I think movies have to be like that. Everywhere you look, you got a little taste of that, [for example] in the stuff with King Louie, if you look, there’s little monkeys crawling through his fur and…
ROB: There’s a Mickey shadow in there, too!
JON: [LAUGHS]. And so, yeah, so we’ll have hopefully some stuff for the Disney fans, but again, just for the fans of it. Having worked on Chef, it’s another thing I earned a lot from studying under chefs, because It’s the same type of thing, you have these great skilled talented people who all have to work in a line, to present this vision. And, as a Chef, you have to be there with them and say, if you want the Michelin star, the microgreens have to be perfect! That’s the difference; there are great restaurants, but the difference between the great ones and the supremely great ones are the tiny margins of difference, and usually it comes from attention to detail and the fussiness with which you don’t accept even minor flaws You get into this culture of this obsessive compulsive that it has to be, if we just push a little further and make it a little bit better, it could really be special. Especially with all the work that’s gone into it. And so that’s the culture we really have tried to instill [on set] and everybody has risen and then that inspires us to go further with it – that’s been a wonderful part of it.
Q&A: I was interested how much did the young boy have to work with? Because it’s really hard for a young actor to get the truth when there’s so little there. But when, like as he was climbing through the jungle, it felt like he was coming through that jungle…
JON: So the question was how, what do we have for the boy for Neil to work with? It’s an interesting question; it was a big challenge, because a little kid, especially who hasn’t done a movie before, it’s hard to perform [to] a tennis ball! And so, one thing we built [were] the hunks of the set that he actually walked through and we would either have a performer, puppeteers, because when kids are talking to a puppet, they don’t look at the person. They look at the puppet and the puppet can also improvise and be very spontaneous with the kid. I’ve also had some experience of that as an actor from movies, when I worked with young actors. I could also sometimes get in there and then sometimes the kid would be looking at me. So, if it’s him walking with Baloo, I would be the right eye-line and I would talk with him. But often times, we had like people that we got from Henson and we would either build puppets that were the right, that would cast the right shadows, which is another big important part – if you cast a shadow on a kid, one of the things that Rob told me early on, there are certain things you gotta really do. We’re not good yet at making fake shadows, so we have to commit to where the shadows will be. Sometimes, we use projectors to project the shadows, sometimes it would be a big puppet that was at the right shape. Sometimes it would be a person, sometimes it would be piece of foam core.
ROB: Specifically, when we put the shot together, it looks like [Neel’s] actually riding a particular animal and we would build in things and obstructions that he could really step on that when the full composite is done so he could react naturally – he looks like he lives in that world and is comfortable in it.
JON: You can’t fake it, you can’t fake that later. So we had to commit to certain things. When the elephants are walking and he’s bowing down, Andy had to animate all those elephants and we would use LED panels with the elephants moving and casting the proper shadow on the kid. When he’s riding on the back of Baloo, we he had to programme and Adam had to come up with walk cycles for Baloo that we would use to programme into this rig we built. Nobody’s ever done this before, a rig that moved like the bear, so when he’s riding, you see his weight shift so it’s not just a kid on a rig.
ROB: Do your remember what the rig’s name was?
JON: We called it the Favreauator! [LAUGHS] Yeah, it’s called the Favreauator.
The Jungle Book is out in UK cinemas on 15 April.