How do you categorize Disney’s 2019 feature film The Lion King? The African savannas look photographed. The lions, wildebeests, meerkats, hyenas, and other animals look like they stepped out of a BBC documentary. It has a live-action look and feel. And yet. These animals talk. And they and their environments are CG.
Disney’s wildly popular and highly acclaimed 1994 animated feature The Lion King spawned a Tony award-winning musical stage adaptation, theme park attractions, sequels, spin-offs, and video games. But to call this year’s adaptation a “CGI remake,” although technically accurate, oversimplifies the filmmakers’ accomplishment.
One thing is certain: The Lion King 2019 would not have been plausible just a few years back. Disney’s 2016 The Jungle Book came close, but Jungle Book and Disney’s other remakes that followed starred live-action actors. There are no live-action actors in The Lion King. With the exception of lighting information captured from the real world and photoscans used for some environmental models, there are no real-world elements in the film. Modelers referenced photography of the animals in their natural environments as they created the CG characters, but they didn’t scan animals, and no animals were motion-captured. The film was created by hand, by visual effects artists.