Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Lion King - Film Review

On Monday night the Empire Leicester Square hosted a preview of The Lion King for BAFTA members. I went along fully prepared to dislike the new film - how could anyone top the original? And why bother with a re-make of such a great movie, other than to please the Disney shareholders?

Of course, I am very biased, having worked on the original film back in 1993, so I was doing my best not to enjoy it, and to persuade myself that the original film would still be the One True King.

But MPC, the London VFX house that did all the animation, have raised the bar for animal and creature animation to such a level that it's impossible not to be impressed by the sheer skill of the digital artistry.

The Lion King is a triumph not just of technology but of great storytelling, as the film-makers kept most of the original film but wove in new elements to keep the story fresh.

Director Jon Favreau and Chiwetel Ejiofor, voice of Scar
Story and technology
The animal animation feels so believable that you forget you're watching animation; as you slip into a David Attenborough world so realistic that you are seldom aware the entire film is just pixels.

During the Q&A one young audience member asked "were the animals real?" - to general audience laughter.

But the question is a fair one; the animals feel so real that it's easy to get confused.  The characters look and feel as if they inhabit a documentary world - except that they speak.

Digital artwork
Director Jon Favreau explained that the entire film is digital - every blade of grass, every whisker. Apart, that is, from one shot, which was filmed with a camera; this is Favreau's cheeky (and very confident) challenge to audiences to see if they can spot the one element of the film which isn't created with CG magic. 

Creature animation
The fundamentals of animal and creature animation haven't changed much since 1993, but the level of detail and believability that can be achieved is much, much greater.  And, today, we have much more powerful tools to help animators shape the performances.

Animation houses nowadays take a library-based approach animating shots, creating walk and run cycles that can be accessed by any animator on the production, and working with live-action footage to re-create photo-realistic performances.

Still, I feel a certain nostalgia for the original hand-drawn movie, where I cut my teeth as a junior animator. The original Lion King still holds up well, but for a new generation of children the 2019 re-make will now be the real Lion King.

You can also see an interview with me about The Lion King at Huff Post here

For more on the experience of studying at Bucks New University, come and visit us at one of our Open Days, take a virtual tour of one of our animation studios, check out what our students think of our course, and see why we're ranked in the top 12 creative universities in the UK.

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