Lion King animator says live-action remakes can be as good as Disney's cartoon classic movies


Digital Arts

The industry has seen the trend of 'live action' remakes boom over the last few years, from the recent release of Beauty and The Beast, to last year’s VFX Oscar winner The Jungle Book. With more and more adaptations being announced, the excitement for these films isn’t dying. As an animator, it’s fascinating to see this trend develop… in fact I welcome it.

While I am still very fond of the original Disney version of The Jungle Book from 1967 – it’s one of my favourite animated films of all time – I saw the live-action The Jungle Book animated by MPC and others and loved it. Read: How the 2017 Oscar-winning VFX of The Jungle Book were created

I worked on Disney’s original animation of The Lion King, and I was lucky enough to work on the creation of Scar (below), alongside lead animator Andreas Deja. I am still proud of the animation I did on that film almost 25 years ago. The movie still holds up today, and I think it will still look great in 25 years’ time – no matter how good the planned live-action remake is. But there is plenty of room in the market for new material.

Hand-drawn animation still survives as a traditional craft, from long-running TV series such as The Simpsons to the occasional low-budget theatrical release. As head of animation at Escape Studios, I supported the choice to not include traditional animation in the course, as the opportunities for paid employment are limited. That said, traditional drawing skills are still helpful, especially for the planning stage of animation. Being able to thumbnail a shot with clear body poses and facial expressions is still a very useful skill, even if the end result is a digital performance. Read: The Simpsons' original animator: 'all artists and animators should study architecture'

Audiences have favoured CG animation over traditional animation in recent years – whether that CG is rendered as 'Pixar-style animation' or photorealistically as in Beauty and the Beast – and producers have responded to this trend. These are business decisions, and I don’t see the trend reversing itself anytime soon. For example,

Making films is an incredibly risky business, especially the big VFX-driven movies that have the heft and spectacle to pull in big crowds. John Carter was an expensive project for Disney back in 2012 and was expected to be one of their bigger releases. Despite amazing effects work, it didn’t get the traction with the public that was expected.

Disney's 1991 Beauty and the Beast's iconic ballroom scene, vs the 2017 version.

It is of course far less risky to go through the back catalogue of hand-drawn Disney hits and re-make them as 'live action'. And why not? It’s an easier process as much of the conceptual work is already done, and audiences are considerably more interested as they know the franchise or IP.

It’s hard to say if any of live action adaptations will become classics in the long run. There are still a number of children’s stories told as an animation, despite the boom in live action.

For some years now the line between live action and animation has become very blurred, as the technology has forged ahead. The Jungle Book was almost completely CG – only the boy, Neel Sethi, was real. Recently ILM came to show us their workflow on the James Bond film, Spectre. What was amazing was how much of the film was digital – even the bits that looked like they were filmed on set or location. Read: Spectre's VFX work from Framestore, MPC and Rushes.

Directors now have many creative choices available to them; all they have to do is pick the look they want and then assemble the right team to pull it off. So it isn’t really a question of what is better, it’s all about the look that any given director is trying to achieve.

Alex is head of animation at London-based Escape Studios, which provides industry-level education across VFX, animation and games.

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