The VFX of The Jungle Book

Update: The Jungle Book won the 2017 BAFTA for Best Special Visual Effects.

In the run up to the various film awards, here’s a look at the VFX of The Jungle Book with Adam Valdez, a VFX Supervisor at The Moving Picture Company (for whom I used to work).

The Jungle Book took a plethora of trophies at the recent Visual Effects Society Awards, so I reckon they stand a good chance at this year’s BAFTAs and Oscars.  I sincerely hope MPC win – it would be another major award for them, and deservedly so.  I’m also betting on Kubo and the Two Strings, a beautiful animated film from independent studio Laika that also deserves to win for their technical and creative achievements.

MPC are currently working on Jon Favreau’s “live” adaptation of The Lion King.

Buster the Boxer

The new John Lewis Christmas TV ad is here!  Huzzah!

Love the advert.  VFX (including CG animals), VR and post-production by my former employers, MPC.  Well done to all.  MPC’s creature department is one of the best in the business – evidenced by recent productions such as the Jungle Book.

Fun fact: my parents met while they were both working at John Lewis, so I think I can say that I owe John Lewis my existence.

Weekend Roundup: Samsung’s a tad busy – The Jungle Book may be the best VFX movie ever

Samsung’s going to be a bit busy for the next couple fo weeks

Now that the cat’s out the bag, I’ve been in touch with Carphone Warehouse (where I purhcased my Note 7) to try and clarify what I need to do to get a new, non-exploding Note 7.  They’ve said:

I’m really sorry to hear you’ve been affected by the recent news about the Samsung Galaxy Note 7.

I called you today on [REDACTED] to discuss this further but I wasn’t able to reach you. As you’ve heard, there have been some reported faults with the battery on this particular phone. Because of this we have halted further handsets being ordered, and put a stop to any more handsets being dispatched as a precautionary measure.

Samsung have released the following status:

“Samsung is committed to producing the highest quality products and we take every incident report from our valued customers very seriously. In response to recently reported cases of the new Galaxy Note7, we conducted a thorough investigation and found a battery cell issue.

“To date (as of September 1) there have been 35 cases that have been reported globally and we are currently conducting a thorough inspection with our suppliers to identify possible affected batteries in the market. However, because our customers’ safety is an absolute priority at Samsung, we have stopped sales of the Galaxy Note7.

For customers who already have Galaxy Note7 devices, we will voluntarily replace their current device with a new one over the coming weeks. For more information, customers need to contact the customer service team on 0330 7261000.”

Alternatively, a replacement can be provided by ourselves directly as soon as we receive the stock. We don’t have a date at this point however as soon as we’ll know we’ll make an official announcement.

Please accept my sincere apologies for any upset or inconvenience that this matter may have caused you.

If you have any other questions please reply to this email or alternatively, you can call our Customer Support team on 0370 111 6565. Our lines are open Monday-Friday 8am-7pm, Saturday 9am-6pm and Sunday 10am-5pm.

I never received any notification that Carphone Warehouse tried to call.  I did get a text message from them to say that Samsung were definitely recalling the phone, but that’s it. Anyway, I’ve swapped back to the Galaxy S7 Edge for the time being and tried to call Samsung UK when their office opened on Saturday only to be kept on hold for nearly an hour before I gave up.  So I used their web site’s contact form to leave a message (along with serial number, etc.) to ask them what I need to do to get the phone swapped.

I’m giving Samsung until the end of the week to reply, otherwise I’ll just go through Carphone Warehouse (after all, that’s whom I paid and my contract is with them for the sale).  If all else fails within the next two weeks, I’ll just return the phone and get my money back.

While I don’t have plans to go back to Apple, I’ll be watching this Wednesday’s presentation with interest over the iPhone 7, which leads me to think that the biggest problem with technology at the moment is that with everybody releasing a new device every year, Quality Assurance is being compromised.  There’s not enough time to test the hardware and software: everything is being released too quickly.  While I appreciate these companies have got to keep making money, they’re also harming their own products and reputation at the same time.

The Jungle Book Made Me Weep With Joy

I’ve always enjoyed the 60’s Disney version of the Jungle Book, but was blown away by the most recent live action/animation blend.  Featuring complete artificial environments and creatures by my former employers MPC and Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital, this retelling of the Rudyard Kipling classic is much, much closer to the book than the cartoon.  In many ways this reminded me of the John August/Tim Burton version of Charlie & The Charlie Factory – a more faithful (at least in tone) adaptation against the book than the previous incarnation.

But what struck me about this version of the Jungle Book is just how brilliant the visual effects came out.  I’ve seen many films in which the effects, while pretty nifty, look more like an unplayable console game.  Getting photorealism into VFX produced on computers is very, very difficult.  But I do believe both MPC and Weta Digital have outdone Avatar in producing a very believable photorealistic environment, similarly populated with talking photorealistic animals.

The interaction between Mowgli and his wolf mother before Mowgli heads alone in the jungle made me shed a tear.  It made me believe in the characters rather than think that, other than the actor playing Mowgli, the entire scene was completely artificial.  THAT, my friends, is the sign of good VFX work.  Of course, all this  visual work is all helped along with great performances from the likes of Bill Murray as Balloo, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, and Idris Elba as Shere Kahn.  Christopher Walken as the massive King Louie is just brilliant.

I am incredibly proud of my former colleagues (many names stand out in the credits of people I worked with over eight years ago) at MPC for their work on this film.  It’s by far the best work they’ve ever produced – more so than Prometheus which also blew me away with the quality of the visual effects work.

I’ll be buying the Blu-Ray as a keepsake.  Jon Favreau is to be heartily congratulated on producing a film that everybody can enjoy.  Including this soppy 40-year-old.  This is Kipling done right.

The Making of The Jungle Book

While I’ve yet to see the film, I am still nonetheless incredibly proud of my former employers MPC who, along with New Zealand’s Weta Digital, are responsible for the wholly virtual environment and talking creatures in the live action adaptation of The Jungle Book.

Here’s a little look behind the scenes.  Sometimes I think it’d have been easier to film in a real jungle with real talking animals, but there you go (although I hear that talking bears’ agents are unbearably difficult to work with).

Speaking of MPC, apparently there are still grumblings about unionisation and working conditions.  I’d say to MPC that they should embrace it with open arms rather than trying to fight it.

As for the Sky Bar – my favourite story concerns a certain very, very famous lady singer of a certain age being completed and totally ignored by all when she visited the Sky Bar. Whether that was through fear, or being told not to address her at all, I don’t know.  But it makes me chuckle.  Otherwise the Sky Bar was never off limits.  You could get a cup of a tea, and when you were working the late shift, that’s where you collected your food.

Game of Tax Credits

I think that if we’re discussing making US corporations pay all their taxes, we (and Canada and Australia) need to rethink how we support our respective film and TV industries. The following has been taken from the end credits of Game of Thrones season six.

IMG_0016

IMG_0017
This article from Empire Magazine probably best explains WHY tax credits exist.  But I don’t believe it’s sustainable.  The film & TV industries – especially in the States – have become far too reliant on these schemes – it’s like a crutch: they’re being propped up by taxpayer money to offset risk.  When you’re a government trying to reduce a substantial deficit in the annual budget – this sort of thing just ain’t going to help anybody but corporate fatcats and NOT up and coming independent filmmakers.  When another country comes up with better terms (think of a pound shop, then think of another one offering all items for 99p), all those jobs are now suddenly at risk unless that offer can be matched or improved.  Wonderful!

Plus we can’t be seen to say to one industry, “oh – you owe us more corporation tax: pay up”, then give away something like $240 million in tax revenue to a US multinational in another (industry).  I don’t think that’s fair.  And what’s even more unfair is when Hollywood constantly moans at us Brits about not giving them enough tax credits.  We can’t let them them threaten our economy and our industries.  Which is why this article that quotes BECTU wanting previous, looser UK tax credit terms to stay in full force rather surprised me.

The deplacement factor in tax credits is yet another concern.  If I were still working in the film industry today, I could quite easily move to Canada to work (and come back to the UK if things don’t ultimately work out).  This is a lot harder if I were still married, and even more difficult if I had kids.  And what happens if the finance minister of the relevant Canadian province decided that they can no longer afford to absorb Hollywood’s tax bill (which is roughly some $500 million a year) and everybody shuts up shop – what happens then?

We definitely need to encourage new and upcoming filmmakers, and tax credits seem, initially, to be a good way of doing this.  But then again, the UK government shouldn’t be taking all the risk for US (or even UK) corporations.. As Matthew Vaughn, the highly successful film producer and director (who has financed many of his films himself) has suggested, how about providing the money as a bond/loan that’s ultimately repayable?

As for HBO, one hopes they enjoy the free money from the UK taxpayer – many of those taxpayers that probably don’t subscribe to Sky Atlantic.  Perhaps HBO could offer the taxpayer some White Walker toenail clippings by way of thanks?