'Lion King' Director Jon Favreau Talks Virtual Production and Working With Beyonce in 'Behind the Screen' Podcast

The film's inventive virtual production process is now in use on 'The Mandalorian.'
Mike Marsland/WireImage

The Lion King director Jon Favreau is featured in a new episode of The Hollywood Reporter’s Behind the Screen series.

In a conversation with THR tech editor Carolyn Giardina, Favreau discusses a wide range of topics, including the Disney film’s groundbreaking virtual production process; new music from Beyonce, Elton John and Tim Rice; working with composer Hans Zimmer; and honoring Disney’s beloved 1994 animated classic, on which his movie is based.

"This movie is nothing without that film,” says Favreau of the 1994 Lion King. “This is building on what they created."

Virtual production loosely means that the filmmakers used techniques typical of live-action filmmaking, though the final result is a photo-real, fully CG movie.

Describing it as a "multiplayer VR filmmaking game" that incorporated virtual reality headsets and a real-time game engine, Favreau reported that he’s already used some of the techniques for his upcoming Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, for  Disney+. "It allows us to make the movie together virtually before we ever shoot the episodes. [It] informed how much set we have to build, what is in the background. ... In the first season, we used video walls and gaming engine technology."

"When you learn what the technology can do and you understand it, it will inspire you to either tell different stories or alter the technology to fit whatever story you are trying to tell,” Favreau said, adding that they welcomed other filmmakers to their set to learn about their process, just as James Cameron had welcomed Favreau. “I think there’s a nice spirit of collaboration between people in the industry who are interested in technology ... Now that we have more tools, your imagination can run more free."

Favreau also talked about putting Beyonce’s original song "Spirit" (which appears on her Lion King-inspired album, The Lion King: The Gift) in the movie, as well as "Never Too Late," another new song from Elton John and Tim Rice. He also describes working with Hans Zimmer, Pharrell and Lebo M, “and Donald Glover brought Chance the Rapper around [who in the end did animal voices] and some singing in part of The Lion Sleeps Tonight."

Hosted by THR's Giardina, Behind the Screen features conversations with directors, cinematographers, composers, editors and other artists behind the making of motion pictures and episodic series.

Hear it all below on Behind the Screen — and be sure to subscribe to the podcast to never miss an exciting episode.