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Things We Learned From Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ Press Conference

Disney’s live action film The Lion King‘s press conference kicked off on Wednesday afternoon in Beverly Hills with a live performance of ‘The Circle of Life’ by original 1994 singer Lebo M and Clydene Jackson (who replaces Carmen Twillie for the new soundtrack).  They were accompanied by the choir who were also part of the film’s soundtrack.

Director Jon Favreau, composer Hans Zimmer (also part of the original film), and Lebo were in attendance on stage as well as many of the stars from the film, including Donald Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodward, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Dr. John Kani, Keegan-Michael Key, Eric Andre, and Florence Kasumba.

Here are some stuff we learned from the press conference:

1. Jon Favreau had been working on the technology for the live action The Jungle Book and The Lion King for the past six years. The Lion King took three years.

Favreau got the hang of the technology by the end of The Jungle Book and just in time for The Lion King. “With the team that we had assembled for it, all the artists, because a lot of attention is paid to the technology,” said Favreau. “But really, these are handmade films. There is animators working on every shot, every environment that you see in the film other than actually, there’s one shot that’s a real photographic shot but everything else is built from scratch by artists.”

One of the new technology pieces included virtual reality (VR).  Favreau explained, “We started experimenting with it at the end of Jungle Book and realized that we could build this really cool system of film-making using game engine technology and this new VR technology. So, we essentially were writing code as we were going for a multiplayer VR film-making game and that way I could bring in people who don’t have any background in visual effects. We would design the entire environments. We took all the recordings that we had from the actors. We would animate within the game engine. In this case, it was Unity. And the crew would be able to put on the headsets, go in, scout, and actually set cameras within VR. And whenever anybody visited, I would pop them into the equipment.”

2. Donald Glover’s son didn’t know his father was Simba.

“I didn’t tell him anything,” said Glover. “I really didn’t. It’s his favorite movie. I was like oh, I’ll just wait until he gets there. But somehow he found out about it, but still didn’t know I was in it. He was just like oh, the one with Beyoncé. And then during the movie, he’s like oh, dad’s in it, too. This is great. Bonus. You know. ”

3. Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner recorded every scene together and added a lot of improvisation.

“It was a lot of improvisation with Billy,” said Rogen. “Yeah. And we were actually together every time that we recorded, which is a very rare gift to have as someone who is trying to be funny in an animated film, of which I’ve done a lot, and you’re often just alone in there. And I think you can really tell that we’re playing off of each other.”

This isn’t the first time Eichner and Rogen worked together. Rogen was a guest on Billy’s series ‘Billy on the Street’ where they sparked comedic chemistry. It was no wonder they were cast as Timon and Pumbaa.

“Being able to riff off each other and really discover our chemistry together in the same moment,” exclaimed Eichner. “You can feel it when you’re watching the movie. I had not seen the finished movie until last night and I was shocked by how much of the riffing actually ended up in the movie. And I think it works. And I think it feels very unique to other movies in this genre, which can often feel a bit canned.”

4. Billy Eichner essentially played himself in Timon.

Rogen revealed, “It’s an incredibly naturalistic feeling and they really captured Billy. That is what is amazing. I would say, he essentially played himself on a TV show for years. And this character is more Billy than that character somehow. It’s like endlessly, it’s remarkable to me how his character specifically makes me laugh so hard.”

“Yeah. I wish I was as cute in real life as I am in the movie. The Timon they designed is so adorable. And I think the juxtaposition of my personality in that little Timon body really works,” Eichner added.

5. Jon Favreau was behind the Easter Eggs in the film.

There is a notable scene between Timon and Pumbaa with the hyenas that revolved around another Disney movie. Eichner and Rogen revealed it was not improvised. It was completely Favreau.

“There’s a gag that references another Disney property in there,” Favreau explained. “And I drew inspiration. They do that in the stage show. They threw in the joke about Frozen in there. That must have happened after Frozen came on Broadway and so we kind of doff the cap to another live action adaptation of a Disney animated classic in the film.”

Disney’s The Lion King opens in theaters on July 19.

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