HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – “Life of Pi,” Academy Award-winning Director Ang Lee’s latest, pushes the boundaries of stereoscopic 3D, visual effects and cinematic storytelling. To create the film’s elegantly crafted main title sequence, end crawl and additional key sequences in the film, Lee turned to Creative Director Garson Yu and the creative team at design/visual effects studio yU+co.
“I think I share a similar visual aesthetic with Ang, which is why we work well together and he involves us in the filmmaking process. Ang introduced us to this project nearly two years ago when he and his team were still in pre-production,” Yu says. “He was looking to create a new visual language for how stereoscopic 3D can be used to tell a story.”
Which is the same mindset the creative team at yU+co – which had worked with Lee on his previous four films – brought to the project.
The opening of the film sets the tone for the audience with a series of lushly photographed shots of the animals that inhabit the fictional zoo, set to a quiet Indian lullaby. With a focus on the simple beauty of the typography and how it interacts with the live action, the three-minute opening sequence unfolds in a deliberately unhurried fashion. The motion of the yU+co typography playfully creates a visual dialogue between the animals and the titles.
During a shot of a monkey hanging from a tree branch, select letters in the typography appear to swing similarly to the live image. In another scene showing a group of hummingbirds hovering over flowers — the type flies off the screen similar to the bird’s flight.
“Our concept was to imbue the letters in each title with its own personality that subtly mimics the animals,” Yu notes. “In designing the stereo sequences, our overall approach was to not try to over-design it. Ang wanted the 3D to be part of the film’s visual language — not merely be an effect or a technique. For us it was all about designing in a very simple yet lyrical style that was largely invisible to the audience but effective.”
Markedly different in tone from the main title sequence are the additional scenes yU+co designed in the film that help depict Pi and the Bengal tiger named Richard Parker hopelessly lost at sea. The choreography of layered images creates a kind of visual echo that helps conveys a sense of time passing.
One magical transition takes viewers from a flashback showing the young Pi being thrown into a swimming pool, shot from underwater, which dissolves slowly into the adult Pi’s kitchen where he is retelling his story to a guest. For a moment it looks like the young Pi is swimming in the kitchen.
Yu adds, “All of the stereoscopic 3D we did was in service of the story and characters – it was never about just using the 3D to create something flashy. The question we always asked ourselves as we worked on this was ‘how do we best tell this story’? That kind of sensibility, which was instilled by Ang from the outset, is what made this project so special.”