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Inside look into the True Life Adventure ‘Born in China’ with Roy Conli

We attended the interview as a guest of Disney

It was a rainy day in Los Angeles, and while most people in Southern California will avoid driving anywhere in the rain, I didn’t let that stop me from driving to Los Angeles to meet the producer of Born in China, Roy Conli. I have been a long-time fan of his work on Tangled and Big Hero Six.

I entered a room at the Montage Hotel with a group of bloggers and took a seat to await the arrival of Roy Conli. When he walked into the room, I couldn’t help but feel like he has some facial similarities to some of the characters in Big Hero 6, but couldn’t quite put my finger on what character he looked the most alike.

Once he took a seat, we all introduced ourselves and then got started talking about how he got involved with the Disneynature film, Born in China. He immediately shared with us that it was his first time working with this type of style. He originally came from the theater and then 24 years ago started working in animation. When he was finishing Big Hero 6, he was approached to see if he would be interested in helping with Born in China and before he knew it, he was producing it.

The biggest topic of discussion with Roy Conli was the snow leopards. It was an emotional journey to follow these beautiful animals, and we were all curious about how they were able to capture the footage. He immediately gave all the credit to the cinematographers and raved about the talents of Shane Moore who captured the snow leopard footage. He shared with us that Moore was on the field for 253 days, took 4 trips to China over a 1.5 – 2 year period, and did not get his first shot of the leopards until the 90th day. “Shane has tracked big cats throughout the world, and has done cats in Africa and South America; he’s really familiar with cats throughout the world. It was his expertise and ability to withstand in one of the harshest places on this planet that allowed for the footage to take place,” said Conli. The snow leopards were filmed in the Qinghai Plateau that is 16,000 feet above sea level. It took them ten days to get there from Beijing because they had to climatize slowly. Otherwise, altitude sickness was a potential.

When it came to the monkeys, Conli said that they were the easiest to infiltrate because they liked to play for the camera, and are not afraid of humans. The pandas were a different story. “We had to stay away from the pandas because it is an 800 pound animal with a cub. Our cinematographers wore panda suits, and put panda scent on them to blend into the hillside to get the shots that they did,” said Conli.

“For me – it was a little bit of magic.” Roy Conli

When it came to taking the footage and making it into a film, they took over 400 hours of footage, and then crafted the story. With Conli who is well-known to be an animal lover and is a member of the Snow Leopards Trust, and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), we were curious to know if he still thinks about the animals and misses them. “I’ve thought about those animals for a long time. I’m an animal guy, and that was one of the reasons why I wanted to do this film. I adore animals,” said Conli.

One of the hardest parts of watching the film was wishing that they could have helped the snow leopards, but they adhere to it being a true life adventure and would not script it in any way. “We took the footage and built the script. You’ve got to allow nature to take its course and that’s the way you need to record it,” said Conli.

A lot of the passion Conli had for this film came from the inspiration of Walt Disney’s True-Life Adventures. “I remember as a kid seeing Walt Disney’s True-Life Adventures, and I was heavily influenced. Between 1948 and 1960 Walt Disney produced 13 True-Life Adventures and won 8 Academy Awards for the films. I remember seeing those films and being absolutely fascinated, and that was my first introduction to nature. It was my introduction to the wild. That legacy is so important to the company, and I feel very dedicated to that legacy.”

He continued to share that the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund will donate a portion of ticket sales during the week of April 21st to the 27th to World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Bring your children to see Disneynature’s Born in China today. You’ll have a special opportunity to introduce your children to the wild in the same way that Walt Disney’s True Life Adventures did for Conli, and you’ll be helping to support the World Wildlife Fund.

Learn more about Born in China online, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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