Claudio Miranda Makes New Rules for Shooting Life of Pi

Claudio Miranda, ASC, Oscar Winning Cinematographer

When I went for the interview for Life of Pi, I found out that it was going to be 3D and digital, and Ang Lee wanted to meet me because I’d done 3D with Tron and digital with Benjamin Button. Life of Pi was Ang’s first digital movie and first 3D movie, so it was a double hit for him. With so much water, a first-time boy actor, digital, 3D…there were a lot of big things to be nervous about.

In the interview, Ang said that he wanted to shoot 3D for 10 years, and he wanted someone with experience in 3D for Life of Pi. I bounced some ideas around with him about what I liked in 3D, and we found we had a common thought process about what we liked and didn’t like. He was looking for a more immersive storytelling, a new way to tell a story, and there are more tools in 3D to do that. We discussed some of the things we could do and things he wanted to explore: if a character is aggressive, we could bring him forward in the screen; and to make the boat feel like it was small in the ocean, we could do a bit of miniaturization.

I also paid attention to what we didn’t want to do in 3D. Ang had seen several 3D movies that he didn’t like. I went and saw one of them and it was the worst movie I ever saw from every point of view: lighting, direction, story, as well as 3D. But both working on Tron and watching these bad 3D movies helped me learn some things not to do. One of them was a tight shutter angle. That doesn’t work. When the ocean is moving in all directions, a tighter shutter angle is eye-boggling. So I opened the shutter up and it worked. It was nice to have that one movie point out what I needed to not do. Bad 3D is often ill conceived and comes from ill-advised 2D people who don’t know how to proceed.

There were some good 3D movies that helped point the way. 3D made Life of Pi a very technical shoot and a big undertaking for what is really an art house movie. It’s not like Clash of the Titans or any other movie with a lot of CGI animation. We looked to a movie like Coraline, which is probably my favorite 3D movie, that and Avatar. Coraline was really beautiful. Director Henry Selick made the real world saturated, the other world more muted and more accentuated in 3D. I thought it was a great story frame between both worlds. You can be really precise with animation. Live action is really hard, and Cameron did an amazing job with Avatar. It’s all the sensitivity of the filmmakers that can tell us where 3D stands. James Cameron is sensitive to it, and Ang saw Avatar and thought, “Now this is a place we can go.” Coraline was the ultimate inspiration for him as well.

Ang left the camera decision up to me. I showed him the tests and explained why I thought we should pick the one we did — and he agreed with me. As a cinematographer, I’m responsible for everything that goes on the screen. I use my own scopes and I don’t rely on the DIT for exposure. I always do camera tests; I put all the cameras in consideration next to each other and shoot them all. We picked the ARRI Alexa because I knew I had to deal with super high contrast, with the sun shimmering across the water with the reflections. [more...]

Source: Creative COW

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