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Lion King character redesigns highlight the problem with realistic CGI

Lion King character comparisons
(Image credit: Nikolay Mochkin)

Disney's CGI remake of The Lion King undoubtedly showcased some of the best 3D movie (opens in new tab) work this year, but its creative decisions have annoyed online critics. Details in the logo infuriated type nerds, and on release the character designs also came under fire. Some viewers found that the photorealistic approach to  did a poor job of conveying emotion – especially when compared to the original. 

A new fan art version reimagines Simba, Nala et al to illustrate these limitations and show how a less lifelike aesthetic could pack a stronger emotional punch. The animation was created by Jonty Pressinger (opens in new tab), who used AI to bring digital artist Nikolay Mochkin (opens in new tab)'s fan art to life. These creations made us wonder: is it always a case of 'the more realistic the better' when it comes to CGI?

Want to check out the original? Check out our Disney Plus guide (opens in new tab).

Considering that people were whining (opens in new tab) that the film's CGI characters didn't do the original animation justice, this new version should have gone down a storm, right? Wrong. 

Some Twitter users, such as Dave Lee (opens in new tab), didn't hold back with their criticism, saying the animation was: "[t]he single most awful thing I've seen on the internet this week. If you want 'cartoony' looking animals - go back to the cartoon. This completely destroys and disrespects the incredible VFX work of this film and the groundbreaking efforts in photorealistic animation."

Meanwhile other users were more even handed with their feedback:

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Is it possible to find approach that keeps the magic while showing off progressions in CGI? Recent efforts suggest not – the upcoming Sonic (opens in new tab) and Cats (opens in new tab) movies have both faced a strong backlash over their computer generated characters. Maybe it's time for filmmakers to re-evaluate how they're using the medium?

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Dom Carter is a freelance writer who specialises in art and design. Formerly a staff writer for Creative Bloq, his work has also appeared on Creative Boom and in the pages of ImagineFX, Computer Arts, 3D World, and .net. He has been a D&AD New Blood judge, and has a particular interest in picture books.