The Jungle Book: Directing and Lighting Previs
Barbara Robertson
April 14, 2016

The Jungle Book: Directing and Lighting Previs

“I’ve wanted to do this for some time,” says  The Jungle Book’s Visual Effects Supervisor Rob Legato. “The ability to virtually shoot something and make it look like it was shot with a traditional camera. I believe we have scenes that if someone showed them to me, I’d be surprised that they weren’t photographed. I can be less than humble about this because the geniuses at MPC and Weta Digital created the digital work. I’m really pleased that our virtual cinematography plan helped yield these results.”

Legato has received two visual effects Oscars – one for Hugo, the other for Titanic – three Oscar nominations, five BAFTA nominations, and a BAFTA Award. In addition, he counts six VES nominations and three VES Awards to his credit. The VES Awards are for supporting visual effects in Aviator and Hugo, and for outstanding virtual cinematography in Hugo. 

A strong advocate for virtual cinematography, Legato used a scaled-down system to previsualize Aviator, and a bigger system to help plan shots for Avatar and for Hugo.

“Often in live action,” Legato says, “visual effects are created by someone who has never photographed a live-action film, and they have a different sensibility. For The Jungle Book, we did the opposite of that. Things were blocked and staged for lighting, just as they would have been for real. Bill Pope [director of photography] would shoot virtual scenes on the live-action stage, and I would, too. The camera lenses and lighting were chosen as if it were a live-action film. That’s what makes this movie feel like a conventional film. The planning was infused with this analog nature. If you do previs without analog choices, it leaks through. Our idea was to have educated choices made the people good at doing that work.”

Legato believes the combination of “analog” previs and truly photorealistic digital environments and characters, as evidenced by The Jungle Book, might result in new filmmaking possibilities. 

“I think it opens the way to have more realistic films,” Legato says. “That’s what I liked as a kid. I didn’t like fantasy films; I liked things that could be real. Imagine The Lion King without being a cartoon. I’m excited for the future.” 

For an extensive look at the creation of the film, see “Virtual Verite” in the March/April 2016 issue.