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The Jungle Book filmed in Los Angeles studio

Jon Favreau’s remake of The Jungle Book for Disney created a digital jungle from a production base at LA Center Studio in Los Angeles.

The film was an especially unusual big-budget visitor to Los Angeles as the project set up in the city despite not getting any tax relief support from the state of California.   

jungle book

The Jungle Book’s setting is the dense jungle of India, but rather than film on location the production team used 100,000 photos of real-life jungle locations in the country to create the film’s environment almost entirely digitally (pictured above). 

Favreau was inspired in part by James Cameron’s sci-fi epic Avatar. The film remains the most successful movie of all time and is widely thought of as the gold standard for modern visual effects as the filmmaker oversaw the creation of a complete world digitally in a studio.  

For The Jungle Book, photos were used of parts of India that in reality were sometimes hundreds of miles apart, so that the story's settings became more diversified for audiences.

“Each scene is handcrafted plant by plant, detailed down to thousands of scattered broken leaves, and vines that grow across the landscapes,” says visual effects supervisor Adam Valdez. 

“There are rushing rivers, mudslides and grasses blowing in the wind. Contributing to 80% of the frame 100% of the time, the jungle itself is the single biggest creation in the film.”

Child actor Neel Sethi as Mowgli is among the only physical elements present in the movie. The production process involved the use of partial physical sets to give Sethi reference points to interact with during the studio shoot. 

While Cameron used motion capture as an integral way of creating his alien characters in Avatar, Favreau instead used it to pre-visualise how Mowgli would interact with the animals of The Jungle Book, all but one of which were created entirely digitally.

Actor/director Andy Serkis is in fact working on a separate adaptation of The Jungle Book that uses motion capture technology to realise the story in full, rather than restricting it to a pre-visualisation tool. Serkis is a leading authority on the technology and his shoot could further innovate the form. 

Hollywood is currently seeing a conflict of preferences when it comes to how cinematic worlds are built. More big-budget studio productions are choosing digital creation, rather than location filming. 

Still, however, the studios are wary of an audience backlash against the overt use of digital effects.

Disney and Lucasfilm have made physical set-building and location shoots major elements of the rebooted Star Wars franchise, while pioneering new pre-production techniques with the use of advanced tools such as holographic technology.   

The Legend of Tarzan (pictured), scheduled for release this summer, took a more traditionally physical approach by building its jungle settings at Leavesden Studios near London.   

Studio filming enables production teams to have complete control of their environment and visual effects help render new worlds precisely tailored to the director’s vision. In contrast, exotic and remote locations may have challenges with access, permissions, the weather and communications.

A recent high-profile example has been Alejandro G Iñárritu’s survival drama The Revenant with Leonardo DiCaprio. The production notoriously spent months filming in the wilds of Alberta in Canada and faced challenges with freezing temperatures, parkland filming restrictions and the need to build roads to access some of the more remote locations.   

Favreau’s version of The Jungle Book has had a warm critical reception, which could help convince more filmmakers down the digital pathway.

For more on filming in California see our production guide.


The Jungle Book images: Disney Enterprises