While the answer to filming the ocean scenes was to build a giant self-generating wave tank - the largest in the world - with the capacity to hold over 1.7 million gallons of water, creating a believable yet fantastical world befitting the book takes much more effort. Thanks to modern technology, Rhythm & Hues was able to leverage on the power of NVIDIA GPUs to accelerate and maximize its creative workflows, working with over 600 digital artists in its offices all over the world including in Los Angeles, India, Vancouver, Taiwan and even in Kuala Lumpur. The team brought the book to life through hundreds of visual effects shots for the movie, digitally recreating water and skies, as well as schools of flying fish and scores of meerkats on an island. Even the Bengal tiger, Richard Parker - the other star of the story - was completely rendered from scratch.
“It is an honor to have NVIDIA technology associated with such an incredible film; one that so seamlessly marries masterful cinematography with incredible visual effects,” said Greg Estes, Media and Entertainment Industry Executive, NVIDIA. “The effects in this film, from skies to water to a living breathing tiger are entirely photo-real and deeply complex from a computing standpoint and we’re pleased that the NVIDIA GPU contributed to the success of this feat of digital artistry.”
For Life of Pi, R&H custom developed a range of proprietary visual effects tools, many of which were specially written for the GPU. One prime example of these tools was Rampage, a 3D-projection mapping system that was particularly instrumental in achieving the amazing skies seen in the film. With Rampage, artists were able to quickly replace the skies in each scene with high-resolution custom-made matte paintings, which played an important role in filling scenes, in addition to influencing lighting and reflections in computer-generated water. However, generating the full HDRI (High Dynamic Range Imaging) skies for the film was by no means an easy task; they were some of the largest paintings ever done on such a scale with average file sizes of 3GB and above.
Over 110 different skies set the stage for the movie, with colors and hues ranging from tumultuous and stormy to sun-drenched, from vibrant blue to magic hour. NVIDIA GPUs allowed artists to project custom 2D matte paintings onto simple 3D geometry and review them in real-time, aligning it with Ang Lee's vision, as well as with the film's VFX supervisor, Academy Award-winning Bill Westenhofer. Rampage could also immediately create a lighting reference image for other artists to work on.