R&H creates VFX for 'Life of Pi'
November 27, 2012

R&H creates VFX for 'Life of Pi'

SANTA CLARA, CA — Visual effects studio Rhythm & Hues (R&H) recently completed a majority of the VFX shots featured in the new film, Life of Pi. The studio leveraged Nvidia GPUs to maximize throughput and accelerate creative workflows. 

Directed by Academy Award-winner Ang Lee, “Life of Pi,” drew upon a large team of artists spanning R&H’s offices in Los Angeles, India, Kuala Lumpur, Vancouver and Taiwan. The studio was responsible for several hundred visual effects shots that would be presented in stereo 3D. Some of the effects included the Bengal tiger, digitally recreated water and skies, Meerkat Island and additional creatures.

R&H often develops proprietary visual effects tools, many of which are written specifically for the GPU. Its Rampage tool was particularly instrumental in achieving the skies that set the tone in the film, which centers around an Indian zookeeper’s son named Pi, who is shipwrecked with a Bengal tiger and adrift in the Pacific Ocean. 

Rampage is a 3D projection-mapping program that allowed artists to quickly replace the skies in each shot with custom-made matte paintings. “We wouldn’t have been able to do this show without Rampage and Nvidia GPUs,” notes Heather Abels, matte painting lead. “We were generating full HDRI skies with an average file size upwards of 3GB, which are the largest matte paintings we’ve ever done on this scale, not to mention the added complexity of creating them in stereo 3D. That high-resolution level of detail was required because the skies take up much of the frame in many scenes, and were used to light and influence reflections in the CG water.” 

Over 110 different skies help create the film’s setting. With Rampage, artists were able to quickly project custom 2D matte paintings onto simple 3D geometry and review them in realtime.

In addition to Rampage, R&H used several other customized GPU tools on Life of Pi, including its Icy compositing package. Several nodes were written using CUDA, Nvidia’s parallel computing architecture, to enable realtime color correction operations, retiming and optical flow. The studio is also hoe to a GPU-enabled proprietary animation and tracking software called Voodoo.