Disney’s new Lion King remake has, unsurprisingly, been a box office hit—it’s been the top movie in the U.S. the last two weekends running, with more than $360 million in ticket sales since it opened on July 18. Director Jon Favreau’s retelling of the 1994 animated classic uses cutting-edge CGI to bring the characters to life, not least among them Mufasa (once again voiced by James Earl Jones), Simba (Donald Glover), and Nala (none other than Queen Bey herself).
The job of recreating the film’s African wilderness fell largely to production designer James Chinlund, whose past credits include Planet of the Apes and Avengers movies. Favreau had gone on safari a few months before meeting with Disney execs about the film. After getting the go-ahead on the project, he sent thirteen key members of his production team, Chinlund, on a two-week safari to Kenya. They brought along more than 2,200 pounds of camera equipment—that’s a literal ton, in case you were wondering—and shot more than 12 terabytes of images. We caught up with Chinlund to hear about the African locales that inspired specific Lion King scenes.
If there’s one iconic image from the movie—both the original and the remake—it’s got to be the Mandrill monkey shaman Rafiki standing atop Pride Rock, holding the newborn Simba up for the entire savanna to see at the end of the opening number, “Circle of Life.” For the Rock, Chinlund says he found source imagery in the dramatic, sculptural granite outcroppings of the Ndoto Mountains, just west of Northern Kenya’s Losai National Reserve, as well as the rock formations of the Chyulu Hills, in the south.
The dunes of the Sossusvlei, in Namibia’s the Namib Desert, and the area around Kenya’s Lake Turkana—the world’s largest permanent desert lake—inspired the parched, arid lands you see Simba crossing between the Pride Lands and the Cloud Forest. And the dry lakebeds around Mount Kilimanjaro, just over the border from Kenya in Tanzania, were used to create the look of the area where Simba collapses after his desert crossing.
The setting where Nala re-enters Simba’s life took its inspiration from Karuru waterfall—the tallest cascade in Kenya—in Aberdare National Park. The location looks so romantic; it’s impossible not to feel the love, no matter when you’re there.
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