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Disney

30 Facts About The Lion King 

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Disney

Did you know that Simba was originally supposed to save Nala’s little brother from the wildebeest stampede? Or that the voices of Timon and Pumbaa were almost cast as hyenas? Here are a few things you may not have heard about the animated masterpiece that had you in tears two decades ago.

1. According to “The Making of The Lion King,” the original opening scene featured a dialog introducing most of the main characters, but directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff scrapped it when they heard the final version of “Circle of Life.”

2. The result of this decision was so powerful that the opening scene was used as a trailer for the film, marking the first time Disney had ever made a trailer using a complete scene.

3. The first script (which was titled King of Beasts, then King of the Jungle) featured Scar as a lone lion, unrelated to Simba, who was in charge of a pack of vicious baboons. In this version, Rafiki was written as a cheetah and Timon and Pumbaa were both friends with Simba from the start.

4. The Lion King was the first Disney animated film to feature a completely original storyline—that is, one that was not an adaptation of a pre-existing story.

5. Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella, who played Timon and Pumbaa, originally auditioned to be hyenas. "They came to an audition in New York and they bumped into each other in the lobby, which is when they discovered they were both auditioning for the roles of hyenas," director Rob Minkoff said. "They asked the casting director if they could audition together and they were hilarious as they read their lines, but they didn’t seem right for the hyenas. That’s when we thought, ‘What if we use them as Timon and Pumbaa?’ It was the perfect fit.” Cheech Marin and Whoopi Goldberg were cast as the hyenas instead.

6. Tommy Chong was supposed to play the third hyena opposite his former partner-in-crime, Marin, but when he couldn’t be reached, Jim Cummings was cast in his place.

7. Cummings is also the voice of the gopher who reports to Zazu in the film, and filled in for Jeremy Irons as Scar on last third of “Be Prepared” when Irons threw his voice out recording the song.

8. After Simba’s first encounter with the hyenas, the film was supposed to feature a lullaby sung by Sarabi called “The Lion in the Moon,” which was about a protective lion spirit.

9. “Hakuna Matata” wasn't originally in the script; instead, there was a song about eating bugs called "He's Got it All Worked Out." According to Minkoff, "We couldn’t convince everybody that making the entire song about eating bugs was a good idea. Soon after, the research team came back from their trip to Africa with the phrase ‘Hakuna Matata’. We talked about it in a meeting with Tim Rice—and that’s when the idea struck. I remember Tim saying, ‘Hmmm… Hakuna Matata. It’s a bit like Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo.’ A song was born!”

10. The Lion King is the highest-grossing hand-drawn animated feature of all time with a total box office of over $987 million; it is also the third highest-grossing animated feature in general, the 19th highest-grossing film of all time, and the best-selling videotape of all time.

11. According to the film's press notes, the wildebeest stampede scene took Disney CGI animators more than two years to create and involved writing a new computer program to govern the movements of the herd.

12. A hyena researcher sued Disney for “defamation of character” for its portrayal of the animals in the film. [PDF]

13. The film’s first director, George Scribner (who also directed Oliver and Company), wanted the movie to be a sort of animated National Geographic feature and left the film when the decision was made to turn it into a musical.

14. The Lion King was actually made by a “B-Team” of Disney animators since the “A-Team” had elected to focus on the picture they thought would be more successful— Pocahontas.

15. Wildlife expert Jim Fowler brought real African animals like hornbills and lions at different stages of life into the Disney studio to serve as figure models for the team of animators working on the film.

16. Rafiki is actually something of a cross between a mandrill and a baboon as true mandrills do not have tails.

17. An earthquake in 1994 forced the Disney Studios to close down temporarily and much of the film was finished in the artists’ homes.

18. A number of characters developed for the film were written completely out of the script, including a tagalong little brother for Nala named Mheetu (who Simba was originally supposed to save from the stampede) and another friend of Nala’s named Bhati—a wise-cracking bat-eared fox. There was also, at one point, a lizard named Iggy, and another meerkat named Tesma (a mopey relative of Timon); the hyenas had originally been written as cape hunting dogs.

19. One small yellow beetle that Timon finds under a log has Mickey ears on its back.

20. In November 1991, Disney sent a team of animators to Hell’s Gate National Park in Kenya to do research for the film. Most of the landscapes in the finished movie are based on this park—but not Pride Rock itself, which was created by a Disney artist in Burbank.

21. Screenwriter Irene Mecchi said in “The Making of The Lion King” that the idea for the movie was first presented to her as “Hamlet in Africa with Bambi thrown in, so Bamblet.”

22. Before Rowan Atkinson of Mr. Bean fame was cast as the finicky hornbill Zazu, several former members of Monty Python were considered for the role, as was Patrick Stewart.

23. “Hakuna Matata” originally had an extra verse in which Timon explained his difficulty fitting in with other meerkats.

24. In the film's press notes, Tim Rice is said to have been through about 15 iterations of lyrics for “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” The Elton John recording that plays during the credits (and won an Oscar) was the first version of the song.

25. The original final fight sequence had Simba losing to Scar, though Scar then died in a fire.

26. The American Film Institute lists The Lion King as the fourth best animated film of all time.

27. SEX in a dust cloud? Animators claimed this was supposed to say “SFX,” and was meant as an innocent nod to the art department.

28. James Earl Jones (voice of Mufasa) and Madge Sinclair (voice of Sarabi) played an African king and queen together in the 1988 Eddie Murphy comedy, Coming to America.

29. According to a 1995 article in Entertainment Weekly, Disney made more than $1 billion on Lion King merchandise in 1994.

30. Matthew Broderick (voice of Adult Simba) first thought he was going to be working on a remake of a 1960s Japanese anime show called Kimba the White Lion when he read the script, though Disney has denied any connection between the two projects.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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