Visual flavor is uncompromised in Hollywood. Its substantial use of visual effects is a clear proof to that and it is no surprise ‘Best Visual Effects’ is one of the most strongly contested categories in the stage of Academy Award. And this year ‘Jungle Book’, directed by Jon Favreau has merged out as the winner beating its other nominees ‘Deepwater Horizon’ by director Peter Berg, ‘Doctor Strange’ by Scott Derrickson, ‘Kubo and the two Strings’ by Travis Knight and Gareth Edwards’ ‘Rogue One – A Star Wars Story’. ‘Jungle Book’, the modern day remake of Walt Disney masterpiece was a stunning revisit to the adventures in Rudyard Kipling’s fictional forest. It is amazing how centuries old literature works still inspire storytellers around the globe!
The goal of Jungle Book team was to find a balance between modern age photo realism and the appealing charm of their 1967 cartoon musical version. The filming was done entirely on a blue screen stage in Los Angeles. Mowgli and the small set where he climbed and stood were the only live action elements in the film. Everything else right down to the leaves, animals, twigs and moss were computer generated! The Jungle book team spend considerable time in Indian forests to analyse its nature and surroundings. Ray tracing, a technology that follows light’s path as it bobs around a scene, was used to recreate the entire environment to the tiniest of detail. But the jungle’s setting was not the only impressive aspect about the film. The inhabitants of the jungle was even more mindblowing. They moved and talked like humans! For this, the team invested a lot of time to research around videos of animals and studying their behaviour pattern. To create, animate and render characters that appear real to the human nature one needs several skills and knowledge in their armoury ranging from physics, sculpting and even anatomy. The visual effects team in Moving Picture Company and Weta Digital, who oversaw the work of ‘Jungle Book’, are definitely equipped with these skills. The creatures were designed to have a distinct character of their own but the animators did rely upon the performances of their star cast too. ‘Baloo’, the witty Bear was designed upon the facial cues of the actor Bill Murray and for this, the visual effect supervisors also studied Bill Murray’s performances in other movies. To create the giant ape Louie, the facial features of Christopher Walken, the actor who gave voice to the character, was directly integrated.
Aside from visual effects, the other achievement for computer graphics and animation came through ‘Zootopia’, which won Best Animated Feature Film and ‘Piper’, which won Best Animated Short. ‘Zootopia’ is another golden feather in the cap of Walt Disney. To develop realistic hair of nonhuman mammals, a fur controlling software called iGroom was developed and it helped animators brush, shape and shade fur in a more advanced manner. Another striking feature of the software was that it controlled an imaginary underlayer that gave fur a richness like never before. Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde, the two main characters of the film had around 2.5 million strands of hair! The path tracing renderer, ‘Hyperion’ was used in this film for the second time after they were first used in the 2014 ‘Big Hero 6’. ‘Bonsai’, the tree and plant generator was used to design the innumerable variants of trees with very detailed leaves.
The Animated Short category was curiously followed by fans and tech savvies because for the first time, a Virtual Reality film ‘Pearl’ was nominated for Oscars. But the honors went to ‘Piper’. Written and Directed by Alan Barillaro, this six minute film narrated the tale of a hungry baby sandpiper who overcomes her fear of water. The film’s duration might only be six minutes, but it took three years of effort to create this visual stunner! To give the sandpiper and other background birds a realistic touch, Alan and animation team spend substantial time in the beaches of San Francisco Bay and Monterey Bay Aquarium to research their appearance and behavior patterns. Every little detail was given careful attention and it is especially evident in the bird’s feathers which were rendered to the tiniest detail.