Jon Favreau has been active in Hollywood since 1992, acting and directing in a wide variety of projects. After helming films such as Elf, Favreau kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe by helming the original Iron Man (where he also co-starred as Happy Hogan). Nowadays, Favreau has kept himself quite busy. In addition to reprising Happy on numerous occasions in the MCU, he's helped push the limits of moviemaking technology with Disney remakes The Jungle Book and The Lion King, the latter of which is now in theaters. He's also executive producing The Mandalorian for Disney+. Screen Rant had the opportunity to interview Favreau at the Lion King press junket.
Back in December of 2017, I was kind enough to go to the set visit for The Lion King, and it was just a black room. But then you put on those goggles, and I was in Pride Rock. The scene come to life was amazing, but I want to talk to you a little about how you talked about gaming engines helping develop this and bringing those two worlds together.
Jon Favreau: Yeah. Look, there’s so many breakthroughs in game engine technology. A lot of it is the speed of the new video cards; Nvidia has some great hardware. And both Epic and Unity, I’ve worked with both of them, are making such breakthroughs in the gaming space. All of that can be applied to virtual production. And I’m using it in certain ways, like here, to create an environment that looks enough like the finished product – like a good video game, so that you could bring in a cinematographer like Caleb Deschanel, animate the characters and set up the lights and the cameras as he would in VR as though it were a live-action film. But like on The Mandalorian, I’m also using – I worked with Epic on the first season – video walls to have set extensions and on-camera visual effects because that game engine is getting to the point that it’s so robust that for certain shots you could actually use the renders from the game engine to help complete certain shots instead of having blue screen.
So if you know enough about it, there’s opportunities to plug it into various types of production.
I thought it quite fascinating too on set that even for your cinematographer, the weight of the camera was the same as it would be.
Jon Favreau: For this specific application, we really wanted it to feel as thought we were filming a documentary. Just having a positional puck on a wand or something didn’t feel like a real camera, so we would have weighted shoulder mounts so that the physics of the operator is felt through the positional data; the metadata taken from the tracking.
Now I’m sure you’re going to get this question a lot, but after making The Jungle Book, what are some of the things that you were able to kind of fix or change in taking it over to The Lion King?
Jon Favreau: I think VR coming online, having all that consumer-facing hardware and building a volume not using the tools that essentially we inherited from Avatar ten years earlier for Jungle Book. Which is motion capture, motion builder; software and hardware geared towards motion-capturing performances. We knew we’d have to capture performers, but what we knew is that we needed to create a volume that we could all get into together. And so we used HMDs from like Vive and Oculus and the Lighthouses, all this stuff that’s relatively inexpensive, and OptiTrack. So we could create the volume that you visited, [which] allowed us to hang out together on the set. When we popped on the headset so that we could have that iterative creative process, like we would if we were on a location scout in the real environment.
Obviously, you’ve been working with Disney streaming on The Mandalorian. Any chance for a [The Lion King] spinoff? Because the original had a spinoff for Pumbaa and Timon. Any chance for a spinoff for Disney+?
Jon Favreau: For Lion King? Oh, I don’t know. I’m not sure, I certainly think there’s opportunities with this new streaming platform to explore the properties that Disney has in ways other than just remaking a film. A lot of these films might not demand the same type of treatment as a sequel on the big screen, but now it’s such a moving, shifting landscape of: what’s a theatrical release, what’s something that could be at the same quality level of a theatrical release that premieres at home on a streaming service, what’s on mobile, what’s a game? So I think as I get older, I try to really keep an open mind to see how people are enjoying these stories. But I think it all comes down to using the technology properly and telling stories that have thematic elements and human elements that warrant being shared with the next generation.