Tale of the unreal tiger

Written by Monalisa Sen | Updated: Dec 24 2012, 08:56am hrs
As the hynea attacks Pi, a young man and the main character in Ang Lees recent blockbuster Life of Pi, there is a sudden loud roar and the Royal Bengal tiger jumps and makes an entry into the screen and the audiences are taken aback. For the uninitiated, the widely-acclaimed Hollywood movies story line revolves the young man who survives a disaster at sea is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While cast away, he forms an unexpected connection with another survivor...a fearsome Bengal tiger.

Every little detail of the movie has been artistically done by graphics technology, so much so, the Bengal tiger is also graphically created; it is not real. The visual effect company, Rhythm & Hues (R&H), have developed visual effects tools for Life of Pi, making the experience as realistic as possible! This has been achieved using Nvidias graphics processing units (GPU), CUDA technology and Nvidia 3D technology. Amalgamation of Nvidia hardware and software support has helped R&H to work on the graphics for this blockbuster hit.

What is the role played by technology in making the movie a success Vishal Dhupar, managing directorAsia South, Nvidia says that the companys graphics processing units enable customers like Rhythm & Hues to build tools that help produce visual effects for movies more quickly and interactively. With the use of our GPUs, artists were able to quickly project custom 2D matte paintings onto simple 3D geometry and review in real-time how each sky would look, aligning with the vision of the director and visual effects supervisor, and creating immediate lighting reference images to hand off to other teams of artists, he reveals.

From its roots in visual computing, the Santa Clara, California-based Nvidia has evolved by anticipating major changes in the marketplace. It has been part of the production of many Academy-Award winning movies, like Hugo, Avatar and many others. More and more studios and visual effects facilities are devising creative methods for leveraging the enormous graphic and computational power of GPUs to enhance their visual effects creation pipeline to bring their stunning visions to life more quickly and efficiently, says Dhupar. Another highly anticipated movie this season, The Hobbit is also using the Nvidia GPU to accelerate their computer generated lighting and rendering pipeline to bring incredible visual effects to the big screen.

Back to Life of Pi: Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee tapped R&H artists at offices in Los Angeles, India, Kuala Lumpur, Vancouver and Taiwan to create several hundred visual effects shots in stereo 3D that included the Bengal tiger, digitally recreated water and skies, Meerkat Island and myriad additional creatures and effects. R&H is known for its custom development of proprietary visual effects tools, many of which are written specifically for the GPU. One of those tools, dubbed Rampage, was particularly instrumental in achieving the remarkable skies that set the tone in this tale of an Indian zookeepers son named Pi, shipwrecked with a Bengal tiger and adrift in the Pacific Ocean. Rampage is a 3D projection-mapping program that allowed R&H artists to quickly replace the skies in each shot with custom-made matte paintings.

According to Vishal, movies made in the West as well as in India are at the forefront of using technology in their visual presentation. Multiple filming scenes require some special effects depending on the extent of animation involved. For an animation-heavy movie, graphics technologyincluding hardware and softwarerequire an enormous investment, practically every bit of every scene. Nvidias GPUs, coupled with our CUDA technology, provide the visual effects designer with a complete solution for crafting characters, landscape, imagery and more, he adds.

Another set of requirement where you need visual technology in movies is while making a 3D movie, says Vishal. In the media & entertainment industry, every 3D movie, regardless of being an animated one or not, requires advanced technology to bring alive the 3D aspect. For example, on December 12 this month, a 2007 Tamil political thriller film Sivaji The Boss has been re-released in 3D. Meticulous work of 2D to 3D conversion has been undertaken by a visual effects studio in Chennai on the Nvidia platform.

However, the use of graphics technology is not restricted to just animation movies. An average non-animated film in Hollywood/Bollywood still utilises graphics in various scenes to modify, add or delete an object, clear errors, sharpen characters and objects, and so much more!

The success of Life of Pi demonstrates the artistry of 3D technology and seeing its success more such movies are to come.