Ang Lee and Filmmakers Talk 'Life of Pi' Blu-ray Release

Tuesday, 12 March 2013 07:49 Written by  Dana Gardner
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Ang Lee and Filmmakers Talk 'Life of Pi' Blu-ray Release

Tuesday, March 12th, Ang Lee’s visually breathtaking Life of Pi arrives on Blu-ray 3D, Bu-ray, and DVD with a number of special features that explore the making of this astonishing film. Life of Pi focuses of Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma), a young man who survives a tragic disaster at sea and is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While marooned on a lifeboat, he forms an amazing and unexpected connection with the ship’s only other survivor — a fearsome Bengal tiger.

Life of Pi received the most awards for a single film at the Academy Awards this year including best director, cinematography, visual effects, and musical score. I recently had the chance to be amongst the first members of the press to speak with Ang Lee since his film won big at the Oscars. Lee was joined by Life of Pi’s editor, Tim Squyres (Gosford Park, The Ice Storm), and screenwriter, David Magee (Finding Neverland), at the Crosby Hotel in New York City to promote the Blu-ray/DVD release. The filmmakers presented deleted scenes that will be available on the Blu-ray/DVD and discussed the extensive pre-production process of the film.

Lee began the presentation by discussing the adaptation process. “About ten or eleven years ago I read the book when it first came out, I think David did too, but like everybody, we thought it was unfilmable for obvious reasons. First, a boy alone with a tiger on a small boat in the ocean - it’s very expensive obviously. Secondly, it’s a philosophical book. I think that’s even more difficult. It’s very hard to actualize philosophical material into emotional flows and storytelling. The expenses and the technical challenge make it very hard, but five years ago when I was asked to do it, it was tempting. I realize lately that the projects I choose are the ones that I can’t stop thinking about making. I was possessed; then after about a year of hesitation I said let me give it a try. To come up with an idea for the story I thought of a framing device. I came up with the idea of Pi Patel telling the story to a writer.”

After presenting a special feature on the Blu-ray/DVD showing the water tank, which was the primary place for shooting the film, Lee discussed the production of the tank. “If I could make an elongated wave tank and show the wave from one side and dissolve it from the other at least I can keep the shape and the wavelength and I can control the rhythm and the pattern. So I worked with top of the line waterpark people to create this wave tank. The second thing I started to think of was that I had to shoot in Taiwan. Los Angeles was not the place; it would be too expensive. We could not afford it, and I don’t want people looking over my shoulder anyway. I checked Louisiana, South Africa, Australia but no. All those places have water tanks but I realized I have to build it. Taiwan, my hometown, would do anything for me a lot cheaper. I could tell the company that I want to bring Hollywood to Taiwan and let the younger filmmaker get in touch with it and then learn from it. I could do it cheaply and create a facility and a new method to go about this new look. Eventually we took over an abandoned airport in Taichung, the third largest city in Taiwan, and turned all the hangers into shooting stages. We brought Hollywood out there and all the equipment needed. I brought one hundred and fifty people, all very experienced filmmakers, there. Then we created the wave tank which we show you in the DVD.”

Lee discussed how he spent a year developing the pre-visualization of the film. “I made a cartoon, or sketch, which looked very much like what you’re seeing. I think for visualization these days it’s quick enough to be very useful but it took me a year to prepare it for this film. It was really worth it, though, to show the whole crew what the vision was. I worked with animators; I had a whole team to do the sketches and make them moving, like a preliminary cartoon. It’s a very good tool. First it helped me realize what I’m thinking. I’m not a visually trained person, I’m dramatically trained, so some of the things might be very abstract for me with a virtual set, for example: the freighter, the boat, the raft, the tiger itself – I just put a model there and from all angles I could see them with the right distance and that’s location scouting for me too. So it helped me to block the scenes. Once the scene is blocked everyone is much smarter than I am, once they have a hint where I’m heading, with specific images and movements. So it was really helpful for all the technicians, visual effects people, to special effects and how they set up the ocean to be filmed, how we want a wave and how we want that wave, and even for the actor to realize what he’s going through.”

Regarding the pre-visualization of the film, Squyres added, “One thing to remember about this is that shooting 3D is hard, and shooting 3D on water is really hard. So you can’t just go in and get a bunch of coverage and figure it out later. We’d still be shooting it if we had done that. So that’s what the pre- visualization is for. They can go in with a plan that they know is going to work. To go in with a plan that you are confident is going to work, and that everyone has gone through and vetted that this is going to work, was very helpful because we had to be really precise with the shooting. We couldn’t just go in with six cameras to shoot and shoot and shoot and figure it out later.”

Squyres discussed how it was helpful being able to see the film in 3D while he was cutting it. “As the animation comes in you work with the animators to find a right balance between the stuff that we want to put in. With the pre-visualization usually the character, the animal, isn’t doing very much, it’s very crude, but then you get into the animating and you find all these little nuances you want to do. Sometimes it takes longer. You try to leave a little room for what you think the animal is going to do and then adjust it as you go along.”

Life of Pi releases on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, and DVD on Tuesday, March 12th!

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