Visual Effects Supervisor Bill Westenhofer was on the defensive about the choice to shoot a literary adaptation in 3-D from the beginning. Westenhofer says “when I first told people I was working on this and that it was 3-D their first question was ‘well why is that 3-D?’ Everyone assumes its explosions and spaceships and all that.”
Westenhofer was convinced of the transformative power of 3-D after filming the ocean in heavy swell and storm surge. It was an amazing sight for him in person, but the still photos from the day at sea looked flat and unimpressive. “With 3-D,” Westenhofer says, “you see all the undulations and I knew it would really show the desolation of Pi’s plight.”
The cinematographer, Claudio Miranda, had always wanted to work with Lee, and he jumped at the chance to join Life of Pi. No stranger to the ambitious production, having shot TRON: Legacy and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Miranda was excited. “Ang came to me because I do a lot of jobs that are kind of complicated,” Miranda says. But he only found out after he’d agreed to do it that Lee wanted to shoot the entire film in 3-D.
The logistics of shooting in and around two 12 x 6 feet tanks of water were nightmarish enough. But add in cameras and equipment that hadn’t been put through the test of a shoot where extreme weather is integral to the story, and suddenly the production is in danger of grinding to a halt. One day, of course, it did.