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Disney’s 3D ‘Lion King’ sends animation roaring forward

With a star-studded voice cast of Lion King including Beyonce and estimated $250 million budget, Hollywood’s reigning hitmaker has spared no expense bringing arguably its most beloved source material roaring to photo-realistic life.

Expectations are sky-high for the film about young lion cub Simba avenging his father´s death to emulate the commercial success of “The Jungle Book” (2016), “Beauty and the Beast” (2017) and “Aladdin” (2019).

A trailer for the new “Lion King” was watched by 225 million people in its first 24 hours in November, shattering Disney’s record.

But while the film — set for release Friday — is being billed as the Mouse House’s latest “live-action” movie, it is in fact a different beast altogether.

With no human characters in sight, almost every shot — from the pixel-perfect hair of Mufasa´s glistening mane to the eerily realistic hyena eyes piercing through the Elephant Graveyard gloom — was conjured from scratch using computer-generated imagery.

And yet “The Lion King” is not strictly a 3D animation either, in any conventional sense.

It is instead something totally new, says director Jon Favreau — a film shot by a traditional camera crew, but entirely inside a virtual reality 3D world.

Filmmakers and actors at the studio were able to don digital headsets and “step into” a video game-style African savannah to film — or simply watch — rough computer-generated versions of Simba and his pals cavorting through the Pride Lands.

“The crew would be able to put on the headsets, go in and scout and actually set cameras within VR,” Favreau told journalists in Beverly Hills this week.

“Whenever anybody visited I would pop them into the equipment.”

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