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Lion King (2019) was “shot” entirely within VR – here’s how

How Lion King 2019 was created in VR
How Lion King 2019 was created in VR

How do you direct a CGI movie using traditional filmmaking techniques?  In the case of the CGI remake of the Lion King, director Jon Favreau achieved this by “shooting” the movie entirely within VR.  Here’s how.

Director, producer, and actor Jon Favreau may be best known for producing the Avengers movie series, but he is also a VR creator, and in 2016, he directed the VR short Gnomes and Goblins, which is one of my favorite VR experiences.  In the Lion King remake, Jon used VR in an astonishing way.

For the Lion King remake, Disney created a multiplayer filmmaking “game” set in the world of Lion King.  Jon, cinematographer Caleb Deschanel and other crew would wear HTC Vive VR headsets and would be able to see the virtual world as though they were truly there.  They could then use the controllers to go anywhere in the virtual world, or even fly through it.  They could also make changes such as changing the lighting, or add, remove or move the animals, and see the result in realtime.

That’s already incredible but they didn’t stop there.  For some scenes, they didn’t just use Vive controllers as cameras.  Instead, there were real-world stages with real cameras that were equipped with Vive controllers to be tracked in VR.  Caleb could hold and control these real world cameras as controllers for the virtual cameras.  “There are times when I follow the animal and it jumps and I miss the action and we have to do it again because I didn’t operate perfectly, and there are times when I didn’t operate perfectly and it looks even better,” said Caleb.

Here’s a video by Brian Tong that explains how Lion King was created in VR.

This revolutionary approach to filmmaking is truly astounding, and I have a feeling we’ll see more movies directed this way.  What do you think?  Let me know in the comments!

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  • Correction: Favreau directed (and starred in) the first two Iron Man movies, he did not produce The Avengers. And you might want to mention The Jungle Book which features similar CGI and was also directed by Favreau. That one has a couple of short 360 CGI promo videos that are worth watching.