‘Gravity,’ ‘Avatar’ artists tap latest tech for Disney’s ‘The Jungle Book’

Filmmakers explored the best way to immerse audiences in the world they’d imagined in their new version of Walt Disney Pictures’ reimagined “The Jungle Book.”

Says director Jon Favreau, “We asked ourselves, ‘How can we create a world? How can we use this technology, these storytelling tools to their fullest potential?’ Ideally, we wanted the audience to forget that it’s technology—they’ll just get transported.”

Filmmakers assembled a team of experts with movies like “Life of Pi,” “Gravity” and “Avatar” under their belts. Visual effects supervisor Rob Legato boarded the project very early on to design a workflow, a system and VFX pipeline, employing the very latest iteration of movie magic, which would allow his director the freedom to push the limits of what’s possible in filmmaking. “It’s a photo-real film grounded in the real world,” says Legato. “There’s something very interesting about that.”

Says Favreau, “We take the best of the photo-real animation process, the best motion-capture techniques and the best of live-action shooting and combine these three things in a way that that nobody’s done before. We discovered that we could use cutting-edge technology to create something that appears completely realistic and organic to the audience.

“If you want believability, the physics must be real,” the director continues. “Mowgli and the designs are executed in a real way, but we took a tremendous amount of liberty when we made the jungle. Not unlike Disneyland, we realized that we could make the animals a little bigger than life to help accentuate how vulnerable this little boy feels in the jungle. Every corner of the screen is filled with tremendous detail. We have this beautiful, lush jungle canopy and you have the art direction and the cinematography that’s evocative of the old multi-plane camerawork from the animated films.”

Legato’s VFX team collaborated with Andy Jones’ animation team, kicking off the effort with extensive research. “Footage of animals in the wild, in the proper sunlight is our basis and foundation for reality,” says Jones. “Photographic real references of animals are our backbone and starting point. We then slightly tweaked some of the renderings of the animals based on the voice actors’ performances, but never to the point of crossing the line into becoming cartoony.”

Filmmakers employed cutting-edge CGI to capture the animal’s performances. “Each animal has a unique emotional language,” says Favreau. “A tiger expresses anger much differently than a wolf or a bear would.”

In lieu of matching CG environments to an actual jungle, filmmakers decided to build an almost entirely digital jungle. “We found we were able to exaggerate and enhance certain elements like scale,” says Favreau. “We can take foliage from India’s jungles and heighten certain colors. But it’s all rooted in reality.”

“The audience will feel the grandeur of the Indian jungle,” adds Legato. “They’ll experience this exotic land. That’s part of the fun of going to the movies—seeing a place you’ve never seen before. Living it. Walking through it.”

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The process called for careful planning and extensive pre-visualization work, particularly considering that the film’s human character, Mowgli, touches and interacts with the environment he’s in. Designers built a practical set—creating only what was needed for a particular shot—that was later blended with the CG environment. “We could look at the monitor and see the virtual set we’d already built and how it married perfectly into that environment,” says Favreau. “We could get the full picture when we looked at the monitor with the Simulcam in it. We could move the camera and see off into the distance—we could see every mountain and tree that was supposed to be there.”

Concludes the director, every choice was made with the audience in mind. “The audience has to be taken on a ride. They want thrills, adventure, excitement, laughs. And they want emotion. I tried to make a movie that I’d want to see.”

The wild adventure swings into Philippine theaters in 3D on Thursday, April 7, 2016. “The Jungle Book” is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures through Columbia Pictures.

Follow the official social media accounts of Disney in the Philippines, namely, (FB) WaltDisneyStudiosPH, (Twitter) @disneystudiosph and (Instagram) @waltdisneystudiosph and use the hashtag #JungleBookPH.

‘Fantastic Beasts’ trilogy to begin with ‘History of Magic in North America’

Leading up to the November 18th release of Warner Bros. Pictures’ highly anticipated feature “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” J.K. Rowling has crafted a collection of new original writing entitled Magic in North America, to introduce audiences to a new place and time in the wizarding world that she has created.

The first installment, “History of Magic in North America,” was introduced today with the global launch of a 100-second specially produced video that serves as a prologue to the new original writing by J.K. Rowling. The video may be viewed below.

The writing will be posted on pottermore.com over four consecutive days beginning tomorrow, March 8th, at 6am PST. These four pieces will enlighten readers about a previously unexplored corner of the wizarding world: North American witches and wizards, their history and their magic. The video broke simultaneously on selected media sites around the world and links viewers to “History of Magic in North America,” which will soon be available exclusively at pottermore.com.

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The video and the writing provide context and backstory for the feature film “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”

Rowling, who first conceived the wizarding world in her enormously popular Harry Potter books, had introduced wizards and witches from other parts of Europe in the series, most notably in the Quidditch World Cup and Triwizard Tournament. However, this marks the first time we’ll learn the fascinating story of the history of magic in North America.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is an all-new adventure returning us to the wizarding world created by J.K. Rowling. Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”) stars in the central role of wizarding world magizoologist Newt Scamander, under the direction of David Yates.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” opens in 1926 as Newt Scamander has just completed a global excursion to find and document an extraordinary array of magical creatures. Arriving in New York for a brief stopover, he might have come and gone without incident…were it not for a No-Maj (American for Muggle) named Jacob, a misplaced magical case, and the escape of some of Newt’s fantastic beasts, which could spell trouble for both the wizarding and No-Maj worlds.

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“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” also stars Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Ron Perlman, Carmen Ejogo, Jenn Murray, Faith Wood-Blagrove, and Colin Farrell.

The film marks the screenwriting debut of J.K. Rowling, whose script was inspired by the Hogwarts textbook Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, written by her character Newt Scamander.

The film reunites a number of people from the “Harry Potter” features, including producers David Heyman, J.K. Rowling, Steve Kloves and Lionel Wigram.

Opening across the Philippines on November 17, 2016, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.

Zack Snyder pits Batman against Superman in ‘Dawn of Justice’

Certified fanboy and acclaimed director Zack Snyder pits the Dark Knight against the Man of Steel in a Super Hero face-off for the ages, in Warner Bros. Pictures’ new epic, action-adventure, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” The film stars Oscar winner Ben Affleck as Batman/Bruce Wayne and Henry Cavill as Superman/Clark Kent.

To Snyder, Batman versus Superman is the Holy Grail of Super Hero showdowns. But to do it justice means orchestrating the collision of not just these seminal characters but the worlds and mythologies that come with them into one sprawling cinematic universe.

The film’s official synopsis reads:

Fearing the actions of a god-like Super Hero left unchecked, Gotham City’s own formidable, forceful vigilante takes on Metropolis’s most revered, modern-day savior, while the world wrestles with what sort of hero it really needs. And with Batman and Superman at war with one another, a new threat quickly arises, putting mankind in greater danger than it’s ever known before.

The epic story he’s telling with this film emerged as a provocative idea while he and producers Charles Roven and Deborah Snyder were brainstorming during production on 2013’s “Man of Steel.” “We were talking about what could be Superman’s challenge for the next movie,” the director recalls. “[In Man of Steel], a giant spaceship comes from space and tries to terraform the Earth. How do you raise the emotional stakes higher than the destruction of the planet? At one point I asked, ‘Well, what if Batman was the bad guy?’ And once you say that out loud, there’s no going back.”

Once the prospect was out there, however, the gauntlet was thrown. “As the audience, you think, ‘How the hell are they going to fight?’” Snyder laughs. “And I agree! They can’t fight. But if you can line up the Super Hero chess moves just right, clearly you can figure it out. That’s the fun part – figuring out not only how but why they fight.”

In Snyder’s view, their monumental clash is “an easy fire to stoke.” In contrast to Batman’s 20 years hunting down the worst of Gotham’s worst, Superman, he details, “has a much more straightforward view of right and wrong. He can take the moral high ground because he hasn’t gone through the process of losing his innocence, as Batman has. He still believes in the system, and, as you can imagine, doesn’t look kindly on someone he believes is acting as judge, jury and executioner in a vigilante position.”

Batman’s rough style of justice has divided the public and alienated him from the Gotham Police Department. But underneath the armor, he’s still a human being. Unlike Superman. “We know Superman as this amazingly benevolent and kind individual, but you can see how his powers would be pretty scary for someone like Batman,” Snyder offers. “The potential for abuse would be staggering. Human rights violations could go on big time and no one could stop him.”

Opening across the Philippines in 3D, 2D, and IMAX 3D theaters on Black Saturday, March 26, 2016, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.