Recently I was able to participate in a virtual round table interview with Disney producer Don Hahn, producer of The Lion King. The focus of the interview was The Lion King 3D but through the course of the event, other topics were brought up as well.
The Lion King 3D has had two very strong weeks at the box office since being re-released on the big screen in that format. Here is what Don Hahn had to say specifically about The Lion King 3D:
Q – What scene in The Lion King is really blew you away once it was in 3D?
A – Don Hahn: That would have to be Circle of Life. It was like all of Africa came alive on the screen right in front of us!
Q – You’ve been involved in the 3D conversion of both “The Lion King” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” How did converting 2D animation compare to converting stop-motion animation?
A – Don Hahn: Nightmare was a nightmare to do in 3D. There was no separation on the characters and the stereographers had to literally build a complete 3D version of the puppets and sets, then “project” the original film onto that geometry. The Lion King had its challenges but the original film was stored in separate levels which gave us a great advantage to start the 3D process.Q – Which is your favorite character in The Lion King 3D? How it is changed from the 2D version?
A – Don Hahn: I love Pumbaa! And he’s even bigger and rounder in 3D!Q – The Lion King 3D is topping the US box office. Can you give us 3 good reasons for our readers to come back to the theatres?
A – Don Hahn: Story, Story, Story! Nobody goes to the theater just to see a technique. The Lion King is a great story and that’s why it’s come back with such a roar!Q – Why did you pick The Lion King for the 3D version? Which other Disney movie would you like to see in 3D too and why?
A – Don Hahn: Converting a hand drawn film into a 3D experience was a risk so we wanted to start with two films that we knew had audience appeal. The Lion King was at the top of the list. Beauty and the Beast next. The Lion King 3D experiment has exceeded our wildest dreams. 3D isn’t right for every film but wouldn’t it be great to see Peter Pan fly over London in 3D… (no plans for it, just my personal favorite).Q – In your opinion which 3D movie was the best in the animation, until now? And why?
A – Don Hahn: I have two favorites: Toy Story 3 and Avatar. Toy Story 3 was just a brilliant movie all around and the 3D was exquisite. Many people don’t think of Avatar as animation but Jim Cameron did an amazing job building a world and bringing his characters to life in 3D. He’s a real pioneer in every sense of the word.Q – Congratulations on The Lion King taking the box office for the second week in a row! Since you probably know it best, how do you think it has aged?
A – Don Hahn: The happy thing about animation is that it ages very well. The actors don’t get older, and the story is universal and about some pretty timeless themes. When we did the film we deliberately left ‘man’ out of the story so it is a story that could have happened today or a thousand years ago. That’s the magic of animation.Q – What has The Lion King gained by being put in 3D?
A – Don Hahn: Everything and nothing. The film is well suited for 3D because of the style of direction. Rob Minkoff and Roger Allers, the directors, crafted the film with longer shots and a sense of Africa as an unspoken character in the film. 3D brings this to life even more and lets the audience step into the film in a unique way. When I say that nothing is gained, I’m referring to the story. We worked hard to make the 3D reflect and support the story and not detract from it. There’s a paradox to all this, which is the paradox of animation itself; you work for four years and spend millions of hours on a film with the goal of making the audience forget that they are looking at drawings. That’s the magic of it all.Q – Number one two weeks in a row for a movie 17 years old. How does that make you feel?
A – Don Hahn: Insanely great, humbled, happy for the artists, musicians and actors that made it all happen and happy to have been there to see it all.Q – Did you ever think 3D technology would be used on the film?
A – Don Hahn: No. When we made The Lion King in 1994, 3D was still a pretty clunky technology. Now the technique has caught up with us and gives us an amazing tool kit to transform the film into a new experience.Q – Were there any scenes that you specifically wanted to see in 3-D for this movie, and did they turn out the way you hoped they would?
A – Don Hahn: The wildebeest stampede…couldn’t wait to see it in 3D and it didn’t disappoint!!Q – Is the success of The Lion King 3D a vindication of traditional animation techniques in the digital age? What do you see as the future of hand-drawn animation?
A – Don Hahn: I think it’s a vindication of good storytelling. The audience doesn’t go to the theater to see a technique. They go to be told a story and The Lion King delivers that story. Techniques come into and go out of fashion but the truth is a good story is what is lasting be it told with pencils, puppets or pixels.Q – Don, any final thoughts on The Lion King 3D in its theatrical and soon after Blu-ray release?A – Don Hahn: First of all a big hug to the cast and crew of The Lion King. You have no idea how many hands and hearts have touched this film all with respect for the story and the audience. Hats off to them. Seeing the film on the big screen and watching the audience reaction is about the biggest treat a filmmaker could hope for. We’ve all worked equally as hard on the Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D release in the hopes that audiences can enjoy the film at home for years to come.