Disney Nature’s “Born In China” documents three of China’s most rarely seen animals: the snow leopard, the panda, and the snub-nosed monkeys. Director Lu Chuan began this project in 2013, and in 2014 Roy Conli came on board. Ray Conli is best known for his work in Big Hero 6 and Tangled, and while this wasn’t his first live-action project, it was his first in a very long time. We got a chance to participate in a roundtable with Conli and learned a few interesting points about creating a “live adventure”, filming these wildlife creatures, and more.
- The project began in 2013 and Roy Conli got involved right after he finished Big Hero 6. Initially came on to help with story, but quickly fell into a producing role.
- First thing Conli wanted to know about was who he would be working with, he was told the director was Lu Chuan, he wanted to see his previous films. He did and immediately wanted to work with Chuan because “this guy is a storyteller, I need to work with him.”
- Conli has only worked on live-action once, very early in his career, and the live-action process is different than animation. The cinematographer is key to developing the story because they are the ones out photographing the animals and seeing the story as it happens. Essentially, he has to “work back[wards] and somewhere you meet in the middle and create the story.”
- The Disney Nature team actually refers to the series as “true life adventures” instead of documentaries, in the sense that they are more narrative but shoot documentary style. They won’t go in and “set up” shots or alter what is happening in nature.
- Conli stated, “I think the Disney Nature series really gives the opportunity, not just to kids, but adults as well, I think it introduces them to the wonder of this world and understanding what an amazing world natural life has to offer. I was always in awe.”
- Cinematographer has to shoot straight, morning til just before dark, for the length of their journalistic visas. The first shot of the snow leopard was shot on the 89th day…and the cinematographer had to leave the next day.
- The panda cinematography crew had to wear panda suits and wear “panda scent”, and also stay a significant distance away at first. Once the pandas were used to seeing the crew, and saw they weren’t a danger, they could get closer to shoot.
- The snow leopard cinematographer started about 400 meters away using telephoto lenses and focused on building a relationship much like the panda crew did with the pandas. By the time he ended, he was about 40-50 meters away from the snow leopards.
- When you see some shots in the film where the Dawa, the snow leopard was looking straight at the camera, it’s because she was looking directly at the camera and crew to say “you aren’t getting closer to me or my cubs”.
- To film the monkeys, is a slightly different approach because the monkeys are more curious and tend to “perform” for the camera/crew. So, that crew had to try to “divorce” themselves from the monkeys to get footage.
- They do not interfere with nature or what happens in the wild naturally. Once filming is done, the crews wrap and go home.
Born in China is now in theatres.