To tell the adventure of a human boy named Mowgli, raised by wolves in an Indian jungle and who is being forced to flee back to humanity, Favreau opted for a cutting-edge “virtual production” process that the head of Disney production called “one of the most technologically advanced films ever made.”
As the lead VFX vendor on the project, MPC created most of the photo-real creatures and backgrounds in The Jungle Book—a total of 1,200 shots under guidance from MPC VFX supervisor Adam Valdez, who collaborated closely with the film’s visual effects supervisor, Rob Legato and the project’s on-set visual effects supervisor, Michael Kennedy. MPC was asked to virtually create the entire cast of the movie outside of Mowgli. Best friend Baloo the bear, Mowgli’s wolf family, Bagheera the panther, Kaa the python, and the villainous tiger Shere Khan would be built bone, skin, hair and whisker. 54 species and 224 unique animals were created and new computer programs were coded to better simulate muscles, skin and fur.
The character animation work had to be done at MPC by hand, keyframed, rather than motion-captured, both because it was obviously not feasible to motion-capture dozens of species of wild, and usually dangerous, animals, and also because they were, despite the photorealism, required to act—in particular, the creatures were required to talk. This was a key element of MPC’s work—making animals talk without destroying the illusion of believability.
“People have done some of this kind of work for years," noted multiple Oscar-winner Rob Legato, "but The Jungle Book allowed MPC, which previously had not been known for focusing on animals, to show what they are capable of in terms of photo-real work, and they upped their game. Now, they are at the highest level for this kind of thing.”
“In fact, there were a few shots they sent me that I found it hard to believe there was no live-action photography in the background shot. It was magnificent, and it fooled me, even though I knew what they were doing. To me, that is a whole new level of realism.”
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