Secrets from the Set: Life of Pi

By  March 11, 2013

Last week Glam got an inside look at some of the visual effects and behind-the-scenes material featured on the Academy Award winning Life of Pi 3D Blu-Ray set to hit shelves on March 12th. We received the scoop on creating the mesmerizing and life-like effects that dominated the film from the award winning director Ang Lee as well as screenwriter David Magee and film editor Tim Squyres. Here are some of our favorite moments with the crew:

Ang Lee on raising the bar in the visual use of the ocean:
I thought of 3D, another dimension. The first thing I thought about 3-D, normally, you need 200-feet of a wave in the shot to give an impression, such as a perfect storm, an enormous wave — [a] way to exaggerate that reality. For 2D, that’s what we have to do. In 3D, this much water, you can really feel it. So, I thought water has to become a character itself because I’ve never seen water in movies, realistic water scenes done well, because the way they use the wave tank is they show the wave on one side and it bounces back. Eventually, it’s just going up and down. So, I worked with top-of-the-line waterpark people, and we just created this wave tank. Eventually we took over an abandoned airport in Taichung, the largest city in Taiwan, and we turned all the hangers into stages.

Lee on the deleted Tiger and Cook scenes featured on the Blu-Ray:
In the movie [the plot is] getting heavier and heavier. The audience can only take so much. You’re presenting a story which is supposedly a good story… if the first’ story is as heavy and disturbing as this, then in the movie logic you really don’t see the contrast. I feel I’m obliged to make those scenes because they’re in the book. They’re a crucial part of the book, to keep pushing the boundaries of your belief. But a book is a book; you can put it down, sleep, and come back to read it. A movie’s so mandatory when the first story becomes such an ordeal till the end. Fantasy… can hide just as much darkness in there as any of the scenes. So I traded that for the fantasy scene. You make just the same point but it’s more fantastical and a good story and more imaginative.

David Magee on balancing the book with the pacing of the film:
You’re really deciding how much you’re going to push the limit of reality to touch into his growing madness as he’s out on the water. Plus, touch on the fact that the story you’re watching might not be real. That dialogue between him and the cook in the book is 17 pages. It’s quite elaborate and entertaining and amusing. And when people think back to the book, that’s one of the things they remember, is this incredible discussion. It really didn’t work. And even what we shot, it was longer than that. We kept cutting it down and it was too much, we put some of it back—we went back and forth. With the other scene, one of the tricky things in this part of the film is he’s just adrift at sea. You don’t want to feel adrift in the movie theater. But we don’t have this strong plot carrying us through. There’s not a goal expect to stay alive and react to what happens. There’s a point where there’s too much of that and you start to feel like maybe the movie’s drifting and that gets harmful.

Tim Squyres on why the team didn’t go with an animated adaptation of the book:
What Suraj [Sharma], our lead actor brought to it — I would hate to give that up because just the added value of him is so great. And also having the tiger—if you’re animated, if you’re doing an animated film, the bar for how realistic it looks can be as high or low as you want. But if you’re in a cutting between a real person and a CG tiger and a real person, and a real tiger, then, a total CG shot, the CG has to be immaculate! And I think for the audience, there’s a lot of value in that…if it had been an animated version, no one would have pushed it to that level because you wouldn’t have had to.