Feature Articles

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

By Vijay Anand & Sharmine Ishak - 16 Jan 2013

Bringing Pi to Life

Bringing Pi to Life

It is one of the most empowering tales of survival of all time; an Indian boy from Pondicherry survives 227 days after a shipwreck, stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger for company. Heavily themed in spirituality, the Life of Pi is a story about finding one's self and coming to terms with loss, life and living. Written by Yann Martel and published in 2001, the book has won a number of awards including the Man Booker Prize for Fiction that very same year, the 2003 Boeke Prize from South Africa, as well as the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature from 2001 to 2003. So popular was the novel that there was no doubt that it was destined for the silver screen.

The Life of Pi tells the story of an Indian boy stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger

And in 2003, its film rights were acquired for production. While the project changed hands over the years many times, from directors M. Night Shyamalan to Alfonso Cuarón, it was clear that Life of Pi was not just another movie. It was a difficult story to adapt; one which requires a visionary who understands the underlying themes of the original written prose, and demands advanced technological filming techniques to depict the sheer scale and size summoned by its epic storytelling.

It was a task for not just anyone, but Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee - best known for his works like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Hulk and Brokeback Mountain. With his vision and talent, Life of Pi was extracted from the pages and given a breath of life, shot in some of the most exotic locations in the world including Pondicherry, India and at Kenting National Park in Taiwan.

Academy Award-winning director, Ang Lee

But the ocean scenes were the most crucial in Life of Pi’s narrative, presenting a great challenge: how does one film a boy stranded in the middle of the big blue with a ferocious tiger on the same boat? Add to that the challenge of filming in stereoscopic 3D, and it was assured that there would be no shortage of creative and technical challenges. Thankfully, everything is possible in Hollywood, as global visual effects giant Rhythm & Hues stepped up to the challenge aided by NVIDIA GPU solutions.

NVIDIA's flagship 28nm Kepler GK110 GPU, which powers the new Quadro K5000 graphics card and Tesla K20-series GPU accelerators were vital to the visualization, rendering and providing the simulation horsepower required to bring Life of Pi to reality.

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