Disney’s animated classic The Lion King has received the 3D treatment and will debut in theaters September 16th and on Blu-ray 3D & Blu-ray Hi-Def Combo Packs October 4th. The person in charge of the project, Stereographer Robert Neuman, takes some time from his busy day to answer some questions regarding this endeavor.
How long has 3D cinema been around?
We all know that 2D cinema has a rich history spanning more than a century, but 3D cinema has been around much longer than most people think. Back in the 1930s, the Lumiere brothers â€“ who invented film â€“ remade one of their features in 3D. They were convinced that 3D was going to be the next evolution in storytelling, but it didnâ€™t catch on in that period of history. This means that 3D cinema has been around for nearly 80 years, but thankfully weâ€™ve now gone past the gimmick stage. Today weâ€™re ready to use 3D in order to tell a better story.
What does 3D add to an animated movie like The Lion King?
From my standpoint as a filmmaker, the most important aspect of a movie is the story. I knew we could add something to the storytelling of The Lion King with 3D. If we couldnâ€™t use 3D to enhance the story, I wouldnâ€™t be interested in the project. However, I knew we could take a classic and plus it â€“ and I think thatâ€™s exactly what weâ€™ve done with The Lion King 3D.
*** Check out a slideshow after the break that shows the 3D process. ***
What does the job of Stereographer entail?
As Stereographer on The Lion King 3D, Iâ€™m responsible for all of the 3D aspects of cinematography. I designed the 3D look of the film, which involved working out how the characters were going to look in 3D, as well as what was going to move back into the screen and what was going to come out of the screen when you watch it in 3D. I also had to come up with a way to use depth to enhance the storytelling, which was of paramount importance.
How do you use depth as a storytelling tool?
The way I approach depth on the movie is to create a depth score, which is a similar process to the way that a film composer creates a musical score. A film composer uses the rises and falls of the score to echo the emotional content of the film. I try to do the same thing with depth in the movie.
How did you achieve that with The Lion King?
To do this with depth, I created a chart by going over the story of the film. I quantified the chart from a scale of one to ten. At a level of one would be a scene that has very low emotional content, for example an expositional scene. At a level of ten would be a big emotional moment in the movie, a big action sequence or a climatic action point. The chart is called my â€˜depth scriptâ€™.
What do you do with the depth script?
I equate stereoscopic depth to emotional depth. In other words, the shots in the depth script with a value of one get the minimum amount of depth. Weâ€™d pull out all the stops on shots with a value of ten by using as much depth as possible. Additionally, if thereâ€™s a scene where weâ€™re supposed to feel detached from a character, then I put the character further back into the background. If weâ€™re supposed to feel connected to a character, I bring them further forward. In this way, weâ€™re not using 3D randomly. Weâ€™re using 3D as part of the narrative.
Is a Stereographer responsible for anything else in a movie?
I also spend a lot of time researching viewer comfort. There have been plenty of 3D movies that donâ€™t consider viewing comfort when they are made. They donâ€™t maintain depth continuity to ensure a great viewing experience, but that was extremely important to us. I wanted to make sure that the viewer would be comfortable and that their eyes arenâ€™t strained when they watch the action in 3D.
How large was the team that worked on the conversion of The Lion King?
A team of 60 artists worked on the project, alongside four Sequence Supervisors and myself, the Stereoscopic Supervisor. We divided the artists up into teams that would take on one sequence at a time. That way, we were able to ensure there was 3D continuity within that sequence.
How long did it take to convert the movie into 3D?
It took four months to complete the conversion. It was extremely challenging and a very busy four months, but we got there in the end. We couldnâ€™t be more proud of the outcome.
What was the first step in the conversion process?
At the onset, our technology team had to de-archive the original movie. The Lion King was one of the first features created with a pioneering digital ink and paint system that Disney developed called CAPS. Before that, everything had been painted by hand and was photographed on multi-plane cameras. The technology team had to convert the old system into images that we could use. Once we had the images, we could start the conversion.
What was the most difficult scene to convert into 3D?
The wildebeest stampede was very difficult. There were a lot of effects elements in that sequence and there was an entire herd of wildebeest to deal with. We also discovered that some of the movieâ€™s characters were more difficult than others. The idiosyncrasies of the design of the bird Zazu were challenging because he has very angular features in his beak, wings and tail. Angular details are more difficult to work with in comparison to the more rounded features of other characters, such as Simba or Mufasa. That was certainly a challenge, too.
Is the same 3D version used in theaters and on Blu-Ray?
Itâ€™s basically the same version; although we slide everything back a little for Blu-Ray because a television screen isnâ€™t as big as a movie theater screen. We take the final images and slide them along by a few pixels. But other than that, everything is identical.
How much input did the original filmmakers have into the 3D version?
One of the great things about working on this project was the fact that we had access to the original filmmakers. The input we were able to get from the original directors, Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, and the producer, Don Hahn, was extremely reassuring. It was great to make sure that what we were implementing was their vision.
Why did Disney decide to convert The Lion King into 3D?
Why do this with such a great, classic film? In creating this 3D version, weâ€™re creating a whole new art form, a whole new medium. You have all of the charm and the energy of the hand-drawn line that the original artists put down on paper, but thereâ€™s a tangibility that you usually only get out of something that has more dimensional framework. Let me give you an exampleâ€¦ It feels like you can touch the characters in Toy Story because theyâ€™re starting from this truly dimensional framework. The Lion King 3D has the same characteristics. It has this tangibility, charm and, in my eyes, it has become a distinct form of animation. Even if youâ€™ve seen the movie a hundred times, youâ€™ll feel like youâ€™re seeing it for the first time when you see it in 3D.
Will we see more classic Disney animations in 3D?
Itâ€™s certainly a possibility, but nothing has been decided yet. We have the technology available, but there are no specific plans to do anything else right now. Personally, I think it would be amazing to see something as vintage as Snow White come to life in 3D. Iâ€™m keeping my fingers crossed that it happens one day soon â€“ and that I get the opportunity to work on it.