Sharlto Copley lauds CGI lion in Beast: “It blew my mind”

Sharlto Copley and the CGI lion in BeastUniversal Pictures

The CGI in Beast, a new man-vs-lion thriller starring Idris Elba, left Sharlto Copley blown away when he saw the finished film.

Visual effects continue to push cinema into uncharted territory; there’s no such thing as an “impossible” shot when you have millions of dollars and hard-working artists creating never-before-seen spectacle.

Yet, in the industry’s ever-lasting mission for more, movies have become dependent on CGI – rather than enhanced by it. Compare the likes of District 9, The Matrix trilogy, and 2005’s King Kong to the MCU: on one side, you have jaw-dropping artistry; on the other, you have relentless green-screen bonanzas.

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Beast is a throwback in more ways than one. Its primal, on-the-run story harks back to Jaws and Cujo, while its use of CGI is frightening and refreshingly essential – it blew Copley’s mind.

Sharlto Copley compares Beast CGI to District 9

Beast pits Copley and Idris Elba against the king of the jungle. While out on safari, they stumble upon a gruesome ambush. With the stench of rotting flesh and buzzing flies in the air, they soon realize they’re being hunted by a rogue lion.

The film, directed by Everest’s Baltasar Kormákur, uses VFX sparingly; the South African landscapes are vivid and picturesque, transportive even, while CGI is employed to bring the main lion to life, alongside a pride of friendlier big cats.

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In one scene, Copley’s “anti-poacher” treads gently towards the pride, several of whom he raised on the reserve. At first, they pounce towards him as if they’re about to attack, but it’s quickly clear they’re just wanting a cuddle.

In an interview with Dexerto ahead of the film’s release, Copley spoke about the film’s CGI in comparison to District 9, where he used to have an “eye-line or a tennis ball, or just an X on the wall.”

“I had more to work with on this. On this we actually had, like, a bad version of a high school mascot wearing the grey leotard which has become all the rage now in these effects movies with the tracking markers. I’ve worn them, I wore it in Chappie.”

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Sharlto Copley was blown away by CGI lions in Beast

The motion-capture actor work a “lion head with no fur – just like solid grey, for the physical size, and paws,” Copley explained.

“And then they sort of wrestled me, sort of knocked each other around. We could be really flexible, in terms of the choreography. It was like, ‘Just go play with them. Just go do whatever.'”

However, this approach was a bit chaotic for the visual effects artists, who essentially had to improvise with whatever shots they were given.

Copley continued: “It created havoc for visual effects. Like that sequence where I’m playing with the lions, it’s a seven-minute shot – they can’t cut away, so whatever we’re doing, the visual effects guys have to find a way to make it work. The visual effects just blew my mind in this movie.”

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Beast hits cinemas on August 26.