Earlier this month in Los Angeles, I got to go behind-the-scenes and learn about the making of The Jungle Book, which releases on Digital HD today and Blu-ray/DVD August 30. We interviewed The Jungle Book Producer Brigham Taylor and Visual Effect Supervisor Rob Legato where they shared their experience of creating The Jungle Book.
I’m always interested to learn facts about the making of movies when I do these interviews. Start to finish The Jungle Book took about 2 1/2 years, including all of the pre- and post-production work. Also, somewhere around 2,000 people worked on The Jungle Book total by Brigham Taylor and Rob Lagato’s best estimation. That includes musicians, visual effects, the crew, etc.
Read on to learn about why nothing in the film was easy, what their favorite filming moments were, and how they decide what makes it to the bonus content on a Blu-ray/DVD release.
On their favorite part of filming
ROB LEGATO: 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, 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—they did it and CG is a dirty word.
It's the same artifice of moviemaking 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 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. 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 TAYLOR: Spinal Tap reference. For me, my favorite part was the opportunity to sit in a room early on with a storyteller like Jon [Favreau] 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 down, 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, and so that was really exhilarating.
50 years from now, what do you they want people to remember most about this version of the film?
BRIGHAM TAYLOR: 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, like you said, the variety of tennis balls and actually using puppeteers to add to the movie.
ROB LEGATO: Part of the decision, too, was the fact that it was Neel [Seethi]’s very first film. 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, you just take, put little knuckles, eyeballs on them, and they did that and they would, ad lib 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, and this happens all the time, people ask about, ‘Well, 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 iPhones, the crew kind of bored, and they are talking to an ex on email, and so they are really used to the artifice of moviemaking. 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 a little, all that stuff, so 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 and 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, you know, one of the best ones for this kid.
BRIGHAM TAYLOR: Yeah that was one of the most discussed things cause the puppeteers also brought a human element performance onstage and 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 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 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.
And they became family, too, because it's like a family of troop players so he became the big kid's lead stand-in. He became, you know, all the rest of the characters and so they were used to, were very comfortable I think for Neel to suspend his disbelief. I mean, and he saw everything we were doing. One of the great things about him, motion-captured him, put him in a sort of cartoony version of the film and so we have at least the sense of what the scene was going to be about, who he was looking at, why they were saying what they're saying and then so when he got into it, he at least knew. He could see through it, like a real actor does, can see through to, you know, see him looking at the crew while he's talking.
On the most daunting scene and any difficulties that they really had to work through
BRIGHAM TAYLOR: I don't know if I'll have the same answer here, but one 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. Again, 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. And so, that was one that a lot of, you know, uh, discussion, you know, was had early on. I think, 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 and 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, 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 LEGATO: Yeah, for me it's a slightly different challenge cause I'm sort of used to doing all that stuff, so I was not as daunted by it cause I've done things and I knew the technology was at a certain point we had really spectacular people doing, so I was not as nervous about the mechanical stuff, to be able to put his fingers through, and I knew that we could get there from here, so that was harder for me cause it was hard to come down and there were so many people.
So there's the Peace Rock scene where there's so many animals and so many different things and 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 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, and so to me those are the harder scenes to do. The other ones, you know, 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 TAYLOR: We probably had more iterations—there’s a scene where Mowgli is first seeing all the animals, the watering hole—probably more versions of that than had earlier, and 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 2 years than any other.
ROB LEGATO: 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 that was about it. That was the hardest I think for me. The rest of it I think was fairly straightforward.
BRIGHAM TAYLOR: But not easy.
ROB LEGATO: But not easy.
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 LEGATO: 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, you know, 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, and 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 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.
And also then, you know, part and parcel to that is the restraint that even if you see a David Lean movie, if you have the scene where there are 1,000 or 2,000 people, they don't really have that for that long a time and cinematically they set it up so that's the payoff shot and then you move off, just like music there is a melody to it.
BRIGHAM TAYLOR: 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 LEGATO: 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…
BRIGHAM TAYLOR: All the animation that came out of the book.
ROB LEGATO: Well again, the concept of it, because it's all loose until it all kind of comes together and then when it comes together we are releasing the movie.
On which behind-the-scenes moments they were you most excited to share with the audiences
BRIGHAM TAYLOR: 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 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 LEGATO: And I think for me, again, I need something in the back of my head to produce something, is the idea of the the homage to Disney, the very opening piece which was there 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 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.
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 so it was to come up something we found, a Disney animator to do all the fireworks and all the 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 multiplane 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 is the creative idea.
And then in the process of doing it, 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—essentially motion capture is roam scoping. It's just an automatic way, 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. I always like, 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,' cause that's not good enough. ‘That would be cool,' cause that kind of diminishes over time, just like it's a flavor of the month and you forget about it. But 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.
On deciding what makes it to the bonus footage of a blu-ray/DVD
BRIGHAM TAYLOR: The trick is you try to capture everything and seasoned filmmakers, like we had on this film, Jon included, brought in a crew very early on just because we felt this was going to be an interesting process and project so we were capturing stuff at every key point throughout so that we would have options and you kind of get it all. We have a great team at Disney that produces this stuff and so they come back and start to say, because they have fresh perspective in saying this was really fascinating.
This was fascinating and luckily we have material to support all of that so it's a dialogue about we'll give you everything and I think we're a very user-friendly production and then Disney says wouldn't it be great if we looked at this, that, and in this case, I think there was enough to talk about that they were able to produce a nice piece like this which was kind of going above and beyond because it's a really fun visual narrative to making this movie. So, luckily we had just sort of grabbed everything. It’s hard to decide at the beginning of the process what is going to be interesting but you do know when you go to New Orleans and you have Chris and you have Bill and you have Jon, you know you're going to cover that. But in this case, we tried to kind of cover everything from behind-the-scenes perspective.
ROB LEGATO: Yeah and the behind-the-scenes team at Disney actually was the ones that just really knew, getting all this material and they were coming up just like an audience member, I didn't know you did it that way and they were being enthusiastic about it and any time, I mean there's always a regret when we do this stuff because you wish to document it after it worked, but while you're doing it you're under tight pressure to get it done. You don’t know if it's going to work or not. You don't want to look like an idiot and so you don't give it the, kind of the due where you really, let's stage this almost for a camera so people kind of do it.
We never do that. We're just like, ‘Oh my God, we're going to lose it in 10 minutes, let's get this shot and you're done.’ It's like, ‘Oh that would have been cool to record.’
BRIGHAM TAYLOR: But it contains cameras regionally around.
ROB LEGATO: Yeah everything we do has reference cameras so no matter what, somebody's got it somewhere. There are probably 1,000s of minutes of material out there at least.
I’ve been invited to an all-expenses paid trip to LA. As always, all opinions are my own.