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Immersed in Movies: Cinematographer Claudio Miranda Talks 'Life of Pi'

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood January 18, 2013 at 2:29PM

"Life of Pi" was like two journeys in one for cinematographer Claudio Miranda: an opportunity to expand the 3-D experience beyond what he achieved on "Tron Legacy," and to convey a soft golden hour magical feel that surpasses the otherworldly "Benjamin Button." The result certainly sets "Life of Pi" apart from the other best picture Oscar nominees: it's the "2001: A Space Odyssey" of 3-D movies.
Life of Pi, Candles

Miranda chose the Arri Alexa digital camera for "Life of Pi" because it was the best at capturing the crucial highlights of the ocean and it produced imagery that looked natural and film-like. He also used a Spydercam in combination with a large gimbal and rotator on top, especially for the Storm of God sequence in which Pi and Richard Parker hide under the lifeboat's canvas.

In fact, Miranda never saw the completely rendered Bengal tiger until preparing the DI in post-production. Thus, even though he worked with Rhythm & Hues on matching his intricate on set lighting, there was a certain amount of faith that Richard Parker would look and move believably. But he had to see the soul in his eyes before he knew for sure.

"The first thing I saw was the tiger under the canopy and I knew he looked great," the cinematographer affirms. "And I think the best CG tiger shot is when he sits on Pi's lap looking so emaciated. The boy says, 'We're dying, Richard Parker.' The lighting is almost banal -- it's just calm and still. I love the sadness. In fact, India thought that we were hurting a real tiger and initially banned the movie. So Rhythm & Hues put together a little making of and sent it to the India commission and explained what they had done."

Next up for Miranda: Brad Bird's secretive sci-fi movie, "1952" (December 19, 2014), starring George Clooney. "It has these different places and the juxtaposition of a couple of them can be very interesting," he teases.

Another challenging cinematic journey we can look forward to shot by Miranda.

"Alone with a Tiger" clip:

This article is related to: Life of Pi, Immersed In Movies, Features, Interviews , Production

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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.