Bonnie Bing

Former Wichitan’s work behind ‘Jungle Book,’ other animated movies

Barry St. John, a former Wichitan who now lives in Los Angeles, recently got the Cool Dad Award. He showed his 9-year-old daughter and her basketball teammates the trailer to “The Jungle Book” before it was out for everyone to see. That’s a perk of having your dad be the visual effects associate producer on a movie that made $103.6 million the weekend it debuted.

Thanks to his mom, Wichitan Jennie Becker, I met Barry three years ago when he was in town after working on “The Great Gatsby.” He said that movie was beautiful and quite an experience, but says “Jungle Book” was far more complicated.

Even after working 15-hour days for two years on the movie, he still gets excited explaining just how complicated the animation process was. Barry says the science behind the movie was amazing to witness. “Every detail was examined. It was a five-stage process just observing how an animal moves,” he said. “And it wasn’t just how they walked, things like how their ribs moved when they would breathe,” he said.

And it wasn’t just animal movements – it was also the way grass moves in the wind, the way water flows. “Jungle Book” was the most complicated movie ever made,” he said. If you haven’t seen the movie, Barry recommends you see it in 3-D, even though he’s usually not a fan of 3-D.

A lifelong movie fan, Barry has learned the process takes more patience than those in the audience realize. “Dealing with this much technology could be so frustrating. Something that was working perfectly yesterday doesn’t work today,” he said.

There is one live actor in the movie, Neel Sethi, 12, who is from the Bronx in New York. “He’s a funny little kid. He’s got good parents. The whole family moved to the West Coast for Neel’s career,” Barry said.

Child labor laws limited Neel to five hours of work per day. “He had a stand-in and a stunt double so they hung out together. By the end of it Neel thought he ran the set. He’s a New York kid with star quality,” he said. Barry explained Neel, a first-time actor, was acting with puppets made by the Jim Henson Co.

You will see Barry’s name when the credits roll at the end of the film, but remember that 1,300 people worked on the movie. “A thousand of them were artists. The credits are eight minutes long, but my name is closer to the top than last time,” he said with a chuckle.

Barry, a graduate of Wichita East High and the University of Kansas, still has pals in Wichita and enjoys getting back here a couple of times a year. His mom, an artist, visits him and his family in L.A. often.

His wife of 10 years, Silvia, is Italian so they visit her family in Italy when their schedules permit. “I was happy that I could share this film with my daughter Sophia. This is the first time,” he said.

So, with another major film under his belt, what comes next? Two days after our interview, he was going to be in London for a meeting with Steven Spielberg on a new movie, “Ready Player One.”

When I said, “Wow!” Barry said, “Yeah, exciting.” Because he will be in London for at least five months he’ll bring his wife and daughter over for most of that time.

“And I think I’ll have to go visit,” Jennie said, smiling at the son she is obviously very proud of.

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