‘The Jungle Book’ director Jon Favreau wants to push the limits of virtual reality


The “Swingers” actor and “Iron Man” director is spearheading an interactive VR film called “Gnomes & Goblins.”

Disney’s live-action-and-CGI remake of “The Jungle Book,” released earlier this year and directed by Jon Favreau, was widely praised for its lifelike (and entirely digital) animals and sets.

But Favreau isn’t done. He wants more.

Going beyond telling a story with believable virtual characters, the director is now experimenting with how virtual reality might let him tell an even more compelling story. His first work in that medium is an interactive experience called “Gnomes & Goblins” that Favreau is developing with Los Angeles-based studio Wevr.

“If you think about it, filmmaking really comes from tradition of magicians,” he said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “There’s a whole sense of using this new technology to create illusions that make storytelling more impactful … What we wanted to do was create a connection that felt emotional between you and this little goblin creature.”

Favreau acknowledges that virtual reality is still in “the nickelodeon phase,” and that there’s no clear way to make a lot of money from it yet. But he said he was more interested in the potential of experiences for high-end devices that take advantage of the newest technology, rather than the comparatively simpler 360-degree videos Disney produced to promote “The Jungle Book.”

“It’s exciting to work on it, but the model is completely different,” Favreau said of the “Jungle Book” videos. “The model is about, how do you get content to the most eyeballs to help drive business to another medium?”

“If I’m going to work in VR, it’s because I’m curious about where it’s going, not what the easiest way to do it is,” he added. “I wanted to create an experience that would make you want to stay there, and you’d be disappointed when I pull the headset off.”

Although the eponymous stars of “Gnomes & Goblins” are virtual beings, Favreau said he doesn’t think that VR or other evolving technologies like CGI will render obsolete the fundamental skills of acting and storytelling.

“My thing with all of these technical innovations is, the more you make it about people, the better it is,” he said. “To say a computer makes [Pixar] films is like saying a pencil makes the old animated movies. It doesn’t work that way. You’re just offering a better set of tools.”

You can listen to Recode Decode in the audio player above, or subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher. And don’t miss this week’s first Decode, in which Kara spoke to “The Late Late Show” host James Corden.

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher. Yesterday, we dropped a bonus episode of Recode Media with Vice News boss Josh Tyrangiel, and tomorrow we’ll have another episode at our regular time with Spy magazine co-founder Kurt Andersen.
  • Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode, answers the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.
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