Favreau 'happy and humbled' by success of The Lion King, Avengers
Jon Favreau's film career has been shaped by technology but human connection has been key
It has been a remarkable weekend for Jon Favreau.
His live-action remake of The Lion King triumphed at box offices worldwide, taking in a massive haul of US$544 million (S$741.2m).
In second place was previous champ Spider-Man: Far From Home, which saw Favreau stealing scenes as Happy Hogan, the head of security for Stark Industries and Tony Stark's BFF.
The cherry on top was the recent news that Avengers: Endgame, in which Favreau served as an executive producer and also starred in, beat Avatar to become the highest-grossing film of all time.
"I did not expect this at all," Favreau told The New Paper over the phone from Tokyo, where he is promoting The Lion King, which is showing here.
"It is always nerve-wracking when you have a film released, as you don't know what to expect.
"I'm lucky enough to be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). We didn't know if people would like Iron Man at all."
The US director, alongside actor Robert Downey Jr., kickstarted the MCU franchise with Iron Man in 2008, which he helmed.
"It is so amazing to see how many films came out from it, and that so many people find joy from the characters. I am really happy and truly humbled."
Favreau, 52, admitted that he didn't see his career taking off along this trajectory.
"I started off as a writer and actor. I never knew which way my career will go. I didn't go to acting or film school. Everything I know was from learning on the job. I see my career as an apprenticeship."
Favreau also surrounds himself with "smart people".
"I am fortunate to work with Hans Zimmer for The Lion King, who guided me through the entire process."
The German composer won an Oscar for best original score for the original 1994 animation.
"I inherited all the powerful and timeless aspects of The Lion King," said Favreau, explaining why moviegoers connected with his film.
The cast and technology, he added, made his version "fresh and new".
Using virtual reality (VR) technology to shoot The Lion King was an idea that came up after he completed The Jungle Book. That 2016 film, which won an Oscar for best visual effects, was shot using motion capture.
"We learnt a lot from making Jungle Book. New gaming technology became available after that, and we tried VR using some scenes from Jungle Book.
"I saw how flexible that technology could be, and when I was hired to remake The Lion King, I thought it would be a great way to combine VR with film-making."
While Favreau is excited that technology is changing the film-making industry, he believes that movies still need to be grounded with the human touch.
"Technology is just a tool. I always believe that human connection must be there."
That is why Favreau got his Lion King actors to interact with each other while filming.
"I wanted to capture the spirit of the cast. It all started with their voices and emotions, and using VR, they could walk around Pride Rock and be part of the environment."
However, pursuing photo-realism for The Lion King came with a price, and critics have slammed the animals' inexpressive faces that feel out of sync with the cast members' strong voiceovers.
"There are two ways to do it: Have it stylised or go for naturalism," said Favreau.
"I want the actors to inject human emotions yet to keep it photo-realistic. If I go towards the uncanny valley, then people will start to reject it."
He added: "Sure, there are other ways to approach it, but I won't change it any way."