Director Ang Lee wanted to offer filmgoers an "immersive" experience with "Life of Pi," his Oscar-nominated 3D fable about an Indian boy trapped on a boat with a tiger. Claudio Miranda helped him do it. The Chilean-American cinematographer, a veteran of 3D film-making who himself is up for an Academy Award on Sunday, says bringing Yann Martel's philosophical novel to the silver screen was no easy task.
"You just can't put a boy and a tiger on a boat together, ever. You know that you're going to be in the hands of visual effects to put the tiger in for you, and then just hope it doesn't look like a cartoon," Miranda told AFP. The film is up for 11 Oscars, including best picture, best director, best adapted screenplay and best cinematography, earning the second highest number of nominations after Steven Spielberg's presidential drama "Lincoln."
To recreate the world of Pi, who is stranded on the boat with the Bengal tiger in the Pacific after a shipwreck, the crew had to build a huge water tank of 90 by 30 meters in Taiwan. Miranda says that was the only way to control the light and decide how the waves would move in a film where the ocean is nearly a character itself. "We just wanted to make it feel immersive. There's something very different about water and 3D and how that feels," said the 47-year-old Miranda, who previously did 3D camera work on "TRON: Legacy."
"There was a big concern that they (the public) were going to be sick" due to the 3D movement of the water, he said. "There's a lot of editing choices and horizon choices that make you feel less sick." The extra work paid off: even though "Life of Pi" earned mixed reviews from critics, reviewers were nearly unanimous in their praise of the film's stunning visuals. "Ang is very experimental," Miranda said of the Taiwanese-born director, already a best director Oscar winner in 2006 for gay cowboy romance "Brokeback Mountain."
"He wanted to find new ways for storytelling. He felt like really exploring 3D." Miranda said the success of his cinematography was due in part to his decision to break with some of the rules most follow when shooting in 3D. "There are a lot of rules on things on 3D and I looked at them and I said well, maybe, and maybe not. Some people think that you need everything sharp and I don't agree," he explained.
For a scene near the film's end, "everything falls out of focus naturally. If you're bored with the story and you start looking around the screen, and you see something soft, your eyes are going to feel comfortable," he said. Among the most memorable scenes in the film is a religious ceremony in India twinkling with 50,000 candles -- lit by 2,000 crew members -- and a whale jumping in phosphorescent waters.
The whale scene was in part inspired by a real-life experience, Miranda said. One night during filming, he and Lee went to go swimming at night and quickly found themselves surrounded by phosphorescent plankton. They loved the effect and decided to recreate it in what may be one of the film's most beautiful scenes. Miranda, already nominated for an Oscar in 2009 for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," says he's thrilled about the 11 nominations "Life of Pi" has received, but regrets that young actor Suraj Sharma was not among them.
"What makes me really sad is that the boy, Suraj, didn't get anything," he said. "This is a boy that is carrying the whole movie, acting with someone who is not there. Eighty percent of the movie is just one actor. He carries the whole ocean, he carries everything."