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Disney classic Lion King goes hi-tech

lion king

It's a pretty cool experience flying above the African savanna with trailblazing Hollywood filmmaker Jon Favreau.

There we are, controllers in our hands and virtual reality goggles over our faces as we perform flyovers of the stunning Pride Rock, the haunting elephant graveyard and other majestic sites fans of the 1994 hand-drawn animated Disney classic, The Lion King, would recognise.

This is how Favreau goes location scouting with his cinematographer Caleb Deschanel and other members of their filmmaking team for their extraordinary new update of the beloved film.

It's as if we have jet packs on.

"It's really a game we have created - a multi-player, VR (virtual reality) film-making game," Favreau, describing the technology, tells AAP.

We are not actually flying over the African savanna.

It's not a video game.

It is a new method to make what is tipped to be one of the biggest box office films of 2019.

We are in a nondescript building in an industrial area of Playa Vista, a Los Angeles suburb south of Santa Monica.

Ordinary on the outside, on the inside the building is a cutting-edge film studio combining the future of filmmaking with simple, old-fashioned techniques to make the 2019 version of The Lion King.

It has been a two-and-a-half-year endeavour.

The story about Simba the young lion destined to succeed father Musafa remains largely the same, and the chart-topping music from Elton John, Tim Rice and Hans Zimmer returns, albeit with help from Beyonce Knowles.

Knowles also voices Nala.

Another Grammy winner, Donald "Childish Gambino" Glover, voices adult Simba, James Earl Jones reprises his role as Mufasa, Seth Rogen is Pumbaa and Chiwetel Ejiofor the villainous Scar.

Favreau and his team loosely describe their movie as a "virtual production", but so much care has been taken and the technology so advanced audiences will believe they are watching walking, talking lions, warthogs, meerkats and mandrills in the savanna.

They have drawn on high-tech video game technology to build "a movie studio inside of a video game".

A virtual Serengeti and The Lion King's iconic locations were built using a video game engine, allowing the film crew to move from location to location without lugging tonnes of cameras and other equipment.

The film is entirely digital and all of the characters are animals, but just metres away from where we are standing with our VR goggles flying across the savanna, Favreau's crew are using live-action cameras, dollies, cranes and steady cams to make their shots more realistic.

Favreau wants imperfections, or, as he calls them, the "happy accidents" traditional film equipment brings to shots.

It creates a more realistic viewing experience compared to flawless animation or effects.

"We just want to win over the audience with innovation, hard work and artistry," Favreau says.

"The story is what it is.

"The casting is strong.

"The music is strong, but we could use these digital tools to present a version that nobody has done."

Favreau, who broke into Hollywood starring in the 1996 low-budget comedy Swingers and is now one of the industry's most successful directors with two Iron Man blockbusters and Disney's 2016 reboot The Jungle Book among his credits, was wary with messing with The Lion King.

Jungle Book gave him a taste of what he could do with new technology.

But, as cutting edge as The Lion King is, Favreau went back to basics with his voice actors.

Instead of conducting the regular process for an animated film and locking his actors in sound booths to record their voices separately, he brought actors together to perform scenes as if they were on a stage.

He describes it as a "black box theatre".

"I make it like theatre rehearsal," Favreau said.

"There's no crew."

He had six cameras with long lenses shooting from a distance to capture the actors moving, interacting and improvising.

Their voices were recorded and used in the film.

But there was one initial problem.

The actors originally held their scripts as they acted, but the paper would make noise that would be picked up by microphones - not a common sound produced by animals on the African savanna.

A high-tech, low noise solution was found.

"We gave the actors iPads," Favreau said.

The Lion King opens in Australia on July 18.

© AAP 2019 Image credit: Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

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