Okay, confession time: I am not a huge fan of 3D. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an incredible technology and has come a long way since the days of red-and-blue glasses, but I still have my qualms with it. Unless filmmakers take the time (and budget) to shoot completely in 3D (and sometimes, even then), the picture quality is always darkened so much by the conversion process, it tends to ruin the experience for me. That’s why, at a recent press preview for Jon Favreau’s live-action The Jungle Book, I was excited but slightly skeptical about watching scenes from the film in full 3D. Luckily, I was proven totally and completely wrong.
We gathered at the El Capitan theater in Hollywood for a chance to finally see some of the amazing new technology at work in Disney’s latest live-action venture. A visibly excited Jon Favreau took to the stage to preview footage and tell us a little bit about the magic at work. Favreau shared that they didn’t just use CG or mo-cap, but a blend of multiple styles and technologies to achieve the dreamy, mythical look for which he was searching. Mo-cap actors did in fact portray many of the animals on set in order to capture body movement and facial expression, but another special camera also shot the sets they built for the animated backgrounds. Mowgli, played by newcomer Neel Sethi, was shot as his own element. All three versions were combined to create the result on screen, which was nothing short of incredible.
We were treated to test footage of birds and the savannah, where each feather or rustle of leaves or tumble of pebbles felt photo-real, all while maintaining that magical feeling of something more than reality. Favreau also showed clips of Idris Elba as the terrifying tiger, Shere Kahn; Christopher Walken as an eerily playful (and MASSIVE) King Louie; Sir Ben Kingsley as the stern caretaker panther Bajeera; and of course, Bill Murray as the lovable goof of a bear, Baloo. Each character looks like a blend of CG and animation, with all the features of these hyper-expressive veteran actors. Hearing Baloo softly sing “Bare Necessities” in the first trailer evokes a lot of emotion for fans of the original 1967 animated classic, and the character introductions accomplish that same feeling.
Of course, we only saw clips and visuals, so we’ll have to wait for the final film to see how it all comes together, but Favreau and Disney were both determined to make a movie worthy of the original. “It’s a high water mark of emotion, character, and music,” Favreau said. And, while this new live-action version is not a musical, it does feature music by another Disney legend, Dick Sherman (Mary Poppins). Favreau is also heavily influenced by the music and culture of New Orleans, as evidenced by Chef, and that makes its way into The Jungle Book, too.
Favreau added that he is a huge fan of the original Jungle Book (who isn’t?), so to remake this film meant that it had to bring something new, not just in terms of character and story, which Disney is known for, but in technology as well. Not only did this team use new technology to shoot the film, they also only worked with two visual effects studios — The Moving Picture Co and Weta Workshop — to achieve a unified vision. Lastly, the 3D we saw was screened by Dolby Extended Dynamic Range Laser Projection, and to say that the 3D was unlike anything I’ve ever seen is a vast understatement. Each image was crisp and clear, and oh so bright. Everything I usually hate about 3D was fixed and updated to create an absolutely beautiful result.
The Jungle Book is releasing in this 3D Dolby projection wide for the first time. Not everyone will have access to a theater that uses this technology, but if what I saw was any indication, you should try to see this film in this format if you can. Again, we still have to see the final product to see if the humor, story, and emotion are up to par in this new Jungle Book, but I’m looking forward to the film more than ever after seeing the stunning imagery in this preview.
The Jungle Book hits theaters April 15, 2016.
Rachel Heine is the Editor-in-Chief and resident Disney devotee of Nerdist. Send her animation GIFs on Twitter @RachelHeine.