Stereographer Robert Neuman discusses his working in converting The Lion King for its 3D re-release on September 16.

Disney is opening its prized vault once again to re-release the animated classic The Lion King with a brand new 3D conversion, for a limited two-week run starting on September 16. The theatrical run will lead up to the Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D release on October 4, along with an eight-disc trilogy hitting the shelves as well. During the press day for this re-release, we were able to speak with the man most primarily responsible for the 3D conversion, stereographer Robert Neuman. He also served as the stereo supervisor on Disney's Bolt and Tangled before adding a third dimension to The Lion King. Here's what he had to say below.

boldHow long has 3D cinema been around?

Robert Neuman: We all know that 2D cinema has a rich history spanning more than a century, but 3D cinema has been around much longer than most people think. Back in the 1930s, the Lumiere brothers - who invented film - remade one of their features in 3D. They were convinced that 3D was going to be the next evolution in storytelling, but it didn't catch on in that period of history. This means that 3D cinema has been around for nearly 80 years, but thankfully we've now gone past the gimmick stage. Today we're ready to use 3D in order to tell a better story.

What does 3D add to an animated movie like The Lion King?

Robert Neuman: From my standpoint as a filmmaker, the most important aspect of a movie is the story. I knew we could add something to the storytelling of The Lion King with 3D. If we couldn't use 3D to enhance the story, I wouldn't be interested in the project. However, I knew we could take a classic and plus it - and I think that's exactly what we've done with The Lion King 3D.

What does the job of Stereographer entail?

Robert Neuman: As Stereographer on The Lion King 3D, I'm responsible for all of the 3D aspects of cinematography. I designed the 3D look of the film, which involved working out how the characters were going to look in 3D, as well as what was going to move back into the screen and what was going to come out of the screen when you watch it in 3D. I also had to come up with a way to use depth to enhance the storytelling, which was of paramount importance.

How do you use depth as a storytelling tool?

Robert Neuman: The way I approach depth on the movie is to create a depth score, which is a similar process to the way that a film composer creates a musical score. A film composer uses the rises and falls of the score to echo the emotional content of the film. I try to do the same thing with depth in the movie.

How did you achieve that with The Lion King?

Robert Neuman: To do this with depth, I created a chart by going over the story of the film. I quantified the chart from a scale of one to ten. At a level of one would be a scene that has very low emotional content, for example an expositional scene. At a level of ten would be a big emotional moment in the movie, a big action sequence or a climatic action point. The chart is called my 'depth script'.

What do you do with the depth script?

Robert Neuman: I equate stereoscopic depth to emotional depth. In other words, the shots in the depth script with a value of one get the minimum amount of depth. We'd pull out all the stops on shots with a value of ten by using as much depth as possible. Additionally, if there's a scene where we're supposed to feel detached from a character, then I put the character further back into the background. If we're supposed to feel connected to a character, I bring them further forward. In this way, we're not using 3D randomly. We're using 3D as part of the narrative.

Is a Stereographer responsible for anything else in a movie?

Robert Neuman: I also spend a lot of time researching viewer comfort. There have been plenty of 3D movies that don't consider viewing comfort when they are made. They don't maintain depth continuity to ensure a great viewing experience, but that was extremely important to us. I wanted to make sure that the viewer would be comfortable and that their eyes aren't strained when they watch the action in 3D.

How large was the team that worked on the conversion of The Lion King?

Robert Neuman: A team of 60 artists worked on the project, alongside four Sequence Supervisors and myself, the Stereoscopic Supervisor. We divided the artists up into teams that would take on one sequence at a time. That way, we were able to ensure there was 3D continuity within that sequence.

How long did it take to convert the movie into 3D?

Robert Neuman: It took four months to complete the conversion. It was extremely challenging and a very busy four months, but we got there in the end. We couldn't be more proud of the outcome.

What was the first step in the conversion process?

Robert Neuman: At the onset, our technology team had to de-archive the original movie. The Lion King was one of the first features created with a pioneering digital ink and paint system that Disney developed called CAPS. Before that, everything had been painted by hand and was photographed on multi-plane cameras. The technology team had to convert the old system into images that we could use. Once we had the images, we could start the conversion.

What was the most difficult scene to convert into 3D?

Robert Neuman: The wildebeest stampede was very difficult. There were a lot of effects elements in that sequence and there was an entire herd of wildebeest to deal with. We also discovered that some of the movie's characters were more difficult than others. The idiosyncrasies of the design of the bird Zazu were challenging because he has very angular features in his beak, wings and tail. Angular details are more difficult to work with in comparison to the more rounded features of other characters, such as Simba or Mufasa. That was certainly a challenge, too.

Is the same 3D version used in theaters and on Blu-Ray?

Robert Neuman: It's basically the same version; although we slide everything back a little for Blu-Ray because a television screen isn't as big as a movie theater screen. We take the final images and slide them along by a few pixels. But other than that, everything is identical.

How much input did the original filmmakers have into the 3D version?

Robert Neuman: One of the great things about working on this project was the fact that we had access to the original filmmakers. The input we were able to get from the original directors, Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, and the producer, Don Hahn, was extremely reassuring. It was great to make sure that what we were implementing was their vision.

Why did Disney decide to convert The Lion King into 3D?

Robert Neuman: Why do this with such a great, classic film? In creating this 3D version, we're creating a whole new art form, a whole new medium. You have all of the charm and the energy of the hand-drawn line that the original artists put down on paper, but there's a tangibility that you usually only get out of something that has more dimensional framework. Let me give you an example... It feels like you can touch the characters in Toy Story because they're starting from this truly dimensional framework. The Lion King 3D has the same characteristics. It has this tangibility, charm and, in my eyes, it has become a distinct form of animation. Even if you've seen the movie a hundred times, you'll feel like you're seeing it for the first time when you see it in 3D.

Will we see more classic Disney animations in 3D?

Robert Neuman: It's certainly a possibility, but nothing has been decided yet. We have the technology available, but there are no specific plans to do anything else right now. Personally, I think it would be amazing to see something as vintage as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs come to life in 3D. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it happens one day soon - and that I get the opportunity to work on it.

The Lion King will be released in 3D for the first time with a limited two-week run starting on September 16. The Lion King will be available on Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D for the first time on October 4.