Another beautiful morning in the City of Angels. We’ve arrived at the ABC Studio Building. We wind through the hallway, up the elevator and exit. A continental breakfast awaits. I fill a cup with coffee, take a seat and prepare for our interview with The Jungle Book producer Brigham Taylor and Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor Rob Legato.
Brigham Taylor has roots to my home state, Utah. He’s a graduate of Brigham Young University, where my daughter aspires to attend. Aside from being a BYU alumni he is the executive vice president of creative development and production at Walt Disney Company. He’s also produced some of my families favorite movies: Remember the Titans, The Rookie, Tron, Tomorrowland, Pirates of the Caribbean, Million Dollar Arm, Bridge to Terabithia, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Oz: The Great and Powerful.
Rob Legato known for his work on Titanic, Apollo 13, The Wolf of Wallstreet, Avatar, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Cast Away, Interview with a Vampire, and Hugo–all movies my family also has seen over and over again.
We walk into the Screening Studio and take a seat. A brief introduction. A screening of the bonus features of The Jungle Book movie coming to DVD August 23rd, and then the interview begins.
Both gentlemen are warm. It’s like inviting them over for conversation. They sit in director chairs, slightly elevated above our seats in the theater.
Brigham Taylor is the more jovial of the two. His hair is a snowy white that catches the light often. It complements his light eyes. Rob Legato speaks more slowly and animates his kind voice with hand movements.
Having just watch the bonus features of The Jungle Book that they worked on together, one has to wonder how long, from start to finish, did it take to create?
Taylor speaks first.
“Tell me if you agree with this Rob, something in there was sketchy. There is a period of time where you’re just working on a story before you’re really engaging. This movie took about six month, maybe eight months. From the time you’re really starting to prep the film to about the time we first met and started talking, we’re talkgin about a year of pre-production and another year to finish it.”
Rob Legato chimes in:
“Yes. It was very short to actually produce the film. Up until now it was impossible to do a film that has this many shots in it, in 3-D, all computer generated. It was a miracle! It was about 2-1/2 years when I originally came on to start talking about it.”
“Just story development was about six to eight months.”
He then continues with more insight on his role in creating The Jungle Book:
“It wasn’t unique to see the better part of the year in post-production to finish the shots. Whether you’re working on a complex movie like Pirates of the Caribbean or Narnia, for me it was the nearly year spent making all of the many specific decisions to get to the point of photography. Once you see Neel Sethi (Mowgli) on the stage, everything had to have already been worked out in terms of the scale of each creature, the scale of the jungle. We had to know exactly where we were pointing, what we were looking at. “
Legato talks about the challenges of creating The Jungle Book:
“In our heads we are seeing the finished shot. We have to know exactly what it’s going to look like or what it wants to look like. What we are seeing is the template for the finished shot. On another film, I showed somebody a test, what it would ultimately look like, and they were judging it only for what it was and said, ‘It looks awful. That’s horrible, why do you like that?” I had to reply, “Well, it’s going to look good!”.”
“We see what the art direction is going to look like, what the lighting is going to look like, in our heads. You have to bed it all in something firm. The blue screen stage is really difficult to come up with ideas because there is nothing there. It’s almost stupefying. You need to have in your head a very clear idea so you can actually direct the shot and even judge if it’s working out.”
The two share the massive teams and visual effects crews that helped create the film at first as modest, “a couple hundred” and then expand to say, “we’re talking over 800 people.”
Legato sets the record straight:
“If we count all the musicians, including the musicians in New Orleans–if we count everybody that was actually on the film at one point or another, it’s probably close to 2,000 people. Precisely? It’s a lot of people.”
If you have seen The Jungle Book, you know that the only live thing in the film is the boy. Everything else is computer graphics. It is an amazing thing, so much so, that as my family viewed the film, my husband at one point, leaned over and whispered in my ear, “The boy’s real? Right?”
Legato shares taking on the task and what it means to him.
“I have a backlog of every movie starting from Casablanca. Something that impressed you in some way, a sensation, all that stuff. I wanted to make a movie that uses all this technology, but didn’t remind you of CG oriented movies, or superhero movies. I wanted it to remind you of films you loved when you were growing up. I wanted this the beginning. To make a demarcation where the digital portion is no longer a dirty word.”
“It’s the same artifice of moviemaking from the beginning. In previous movies, there were fake walls. There were face 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 move and so CG should be the same thing.”
“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.”
Legato makes it clear The Jungle Book is not an animated film.
“For me, we were making a live action movie. We didn’t want to look like an animated film. The first time I think I got a big thrill from it was that there is something about Idris Elba playing his 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.”
Taylor takes a different approach to filming The Jungle Book and what he hopes carries on from the film:
“Spinal Tap memories, for me, my favorite part was the opportunity to sit in a room early on with a storyteller like Jon (Favreau) our writer Justin (Marks). Just to be involved in the conversation about what the film 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 and watch the film, and when you have a film that does get the desired reaction.”
“Sitting in the audience with my kids and having them respond to it and both having the glee of experiencing these characters that they are really engaged with and also the wonderment of not being sure how it even happened. That was really exhilarating. That is the takeaway–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.”
Based on Rudyard Kipling’s eponymous collective works and inspired by Walt Disney’s 1967 animated film of the same name,Disney’s The Jungle Book brings storytelling to live action.
After a threat from the tiger Shere Khan forces him to flee the jungle, a man-cub named Mowgli embarks on a journey of self discovery with the help of panther, Bagheera, and free-spirited bear, Baloo.