The Making of Life of Pi with NVIDIA GPUs and CUDA Power

Animating Photorealistic Animals

Animating Photorealistic Animals

Besides Rampage, R&H has also capitalized on other custom-written GPU tools for Life of Pi's post-production processes. There’s Icy - its in-house compositing package - which enables real time color correction operations, retiming and optical flow, and Voodoo, which is tasked with animation and tracking. These software are written with CUDA – NVIDIA's parallel computing architecture – which has proven to be popular with R&H engineers owing to the abundance of easily accessible documentation available online.

To create the 450-pound Richard Parker, R&H looked back to their past successes with movies such as The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and The Golden Compass. Using hundreds of hours of reference footage collected from a variety of sources, the team studied four tigers to develop a solid understanding of its general physicality and biomechanics, so as to create complex photo-realistic animalistic behavior and quadrupedal locomotion.

Following the main CGI performance, which was created through keyframe animation with Voodoo, a layer of technical animation was added on top as complex simulations, based on character motion, wind, water and other external forces were run to add realistic details to animal skins in terms of muscularity and body mass harmonics, as well as hair and whiskers. This was also applied to numerous other characters including an orangutan, zebra, hyena and meerkats, in addition to various props such as the lifejacket straps and lifeboat tarp. CUDA-based optical flow implementation, which offers a ten-fold increase in performance, enabled artists to converge quicker on a desired look.

For flocking simulations like the flying fish shots and meerkat island populations, R&H turned to their software package Massive. Meerkat behaviors were controlled through complex rules that sourced an extensive keyframed motion library, allowing artists to animate crowds of up to 60,000 animals at one go.