Interview: Ang Lee on ‘Life of Pi’, HFR, & the Future of 3D Filmmaking

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Ang Lee 3D Life of Pi Interview: Ang Lee on Life of Pi, HFR, & the Future of 3D Filmmaking

No stranger to industry award nominations and wins, Ang Lee took home his second Oscar for Best Director at the 2013 Academy Awards (following his 2005 win for Brokeback Mountain) - beating out other celebrated hopefuls including Steven Spielberg and David O. Russell. While it may not have been a box office blazer like The Avengers, Lee’s latest film and Best Picture nominee, Life of Pi has enjoyed positive word of mouth and pre-Oscars buzz – helping the movie remain steady in theaters for three months after its initial November release.

Creative and immersive use of 3D has been credited as a major factor in Life of Pi‘s success – no doubt helping Claudio Miranda secure the 2013 Oscar for Best Cinematography as well. However, now that Life of Pi is wrapping-up its theatrical run (and about to hit retail shelves on March 12th), what does Lee think about the film and will he return to the 3D format for future projects?

We had a chance to catch the fan-favorite director during a group interview on the Red Carpet for the International 3D Society Awards – where Lee later snagged wins for Live Action 3D Feature (Life of Pi) and Best 3D Moment (“Fish Flying Over Boat”) in addition to the Harry Lloyd Filmmaker Award. Life of Pi took home the award for Stereography as well.

Prior to the show, Lee discussed how he believes 3D was essential in enhancing Life of Pi‘s spirituality and story:

I just imagined something new, a new sensation where we can bring it all to the viewer – set it in a new dimension. I think it does that. Of course, 2D has dimensions too but you sort of compensate for it – with 3D you’re right there and it’s more immersive in the world. The most spiritual part of Life of Pi is the ocean itself and [3D] did wonders for the water. You’re inside of Pi’s world. I think it’s very inviting.

Life of Pi 3D Interview: Ang Lee on Life of Pi, HFR, & the Future of 3D Filmmaking

As Lee asserts, Life of Pi looks great in 2D – not just 3D. Still, many viewers maintain that the director’s subtle but smart use of 3D enhanced their experience – drawing them into Pi’s successes and moments of failure. As we’ve touched-on in our 5 Biggest Misconceptions About 3D piece, viewers want different things from a 3D experience. As a result, certain attendees might have been disappointed by Lee’s “subtle” use of the format – and had hoped for more obvious 3D effects.

However, Lee maintains that his primary goal for 3D in the film was to enhance Pi’s story – pulling moviegoers deeper into the narrative while at the same time making them forget they’re watching a 3D movie:

For Life of Pi, I’d like them to just go along with the story and not think about the 3D – and as they walk out they forget to take off their glasses. That’d be the ideal. Which really happened! I heard a lot of those cases and was very happy to hear that. But I think we’re in a transitional time. Maybe in the future it won’t have to be that way. Once we get used to it – it’ll be something else. Right now, we pay special attention to it, it’s something we talk about. In the future, it’ll be part of our language. But filmmakers need to know more about it – I just began, I’m a novice still.

Fans might argue that another Best Director Oscar hardly puts Lee in the 3D “novice” category anymore but, it’s true that filmmakers are only in the early stages of learning how to implement modern 3D tech. There are certainly a lot of hurdles left to clear, considering 3D can still be off-putting for many viewers – not to mention the roughly ten percent of moviegoers that cannot even see the effect (due to a variety of medical reasons).

Still, despite those challenges, Lee doesn’t expect 3D to disappear and, in fact, anticipates that it won’t be long before the format moves from visual effects-heavy blockbusters to subtle dramatic projects – a notion that Martin Scorsese hinted at with Hugo.

Life of Pi Shipwreck Interview: Ang Lee on Life of Pi, HFR, & the Future of 3D Filmmaking

Responding to a question about whether or not he’d like to shoot a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-like martial arts film in 3D, Lee said:

[Laughs] Not only that but I think I’d use it for drama too. The volume that it gives the face is more intense and more dramatic. It has to be less expensive but it’s getting less expensive, better, and easier. I think it’s going to happen soon – people will start using 3D for dramatic purposes.

These days 3D isn’t the only controversial format change on the market – as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey introduced a wide array of moviegoers to 48 frames-per-second HFR (High Frame Rate). Like 3D, HFR has seen extremely mixed reactions but most viewers agree that, whether or not they liked the photo-realistic image, it generally made 3D effects a bit sharper.

Since Lee has enjoyed success with 3D in Life of Pi, is the director ready to test-out HFR in his next project? Maybe not.

People have mixed feelings right now. I wonder how much HFR is ahead of its time or people simply don’t like the look. It’s very hard to say. We associate it with “video” looks – which people associate with bad filmmaking. It doesn’t mean that the media itself is not good. It’s very hard to say but making Life of Pi I struggled with frame rate because you don’t want the 3D to be jittery and we’re constantly rocking in the ocean. And sometimes when things go too fast I could not see the eyes – so HFR might be a idea. But sometimes when I find out how people feel about it, I think it’s possible. We’re in the early stages of 3D filmmaking – so we have a lot to learn.

Ang Lees Life of Pi Review Interview: Ang Lee on Life of Pi, HFR, & the Future of 3D Filmmaking

For more on Life of Pi, make sure to read our review of the film as well as our Life of Pi: Ending Explained post or listen to an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors in the Life of Pi episode of the SR Underground podcast. For more on 3D, check our aforementioned 5 Biggest Misconceptions About 3D feature and click to the next page for the full list of winners at the International 3D Society Awards ceremony.

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Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for more on Life of Pi as well as future movie, TV, and gaming news.

Life of Pi is now available on 3D Blu-ray and DVD.

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  1. If Lee were to direct a 3D film like Crouching Tiger I would be one of the 1st in line.
    Heck, even if they re-released Crouching Tiger in 3D I’d be pretty darn excited to see it. One of the 1st movies I watched when I bought a big screen HDTV was CTHD and it was amazing.

    • I should have also said that I’m not the biggest fan of 3D. I’ve seen a few films that were shot using 3D cameras but I try to avoid post-conversions and haven’t seen any converted re-release.
      But CTHD would be the exception.

  2. It’s too bad that he’s not considering HFR to fix his issues with 3D. There’s always the option to down-convert it to 24fps for those who want to cling to the past.

    It seems to me that the articles/reviews bashing HFR are followed by a whole bunch of comments from people saying that they enjoyed it and it was great, and that the writer is wrong etc. etc.

    Of course there will be those who hate it, just like there are people who hate 3D, but to hold an industry back just because the people with the loudest voices (online/print writers) tend not to like it is sad, since there are a lot who do – but they’re not the ones writing online articles.

    I actually saw Life of Pi (in 3D) after seeing HFR 3D, and it was difficult to tolerate all the judder in Life of Pi, since there multiple outdoor scenes that suffer from it and the 3D amplified it even more. Rather than immersing me more into the story, it actually detracted from it. Too bad.

  3. Should’ve asked him about accepting the best picture award for a film where 75% of the movie was made off the backs of people who weren’t paid for their work on the film…The VFX artists. Without them, that majority of that film would have been the main actor floating on a blue boat in a giant blue aquarium. No tiger. No whale. No lighting, sky, color, texture…No movie. He thanked the people who spent a few days constructing the aquarium, but didn’t mention the VFX team who sacrificed nights, weekends,social lives, family time, sleep, and for many, a paycheck, to make that story watchable. The reason that the film defied critiques predictions of it being an unfilmable story is because of the VFX and the people who produce them. Not a director, a producer, or a company who built a tank of water…The VFX.

    • The interview was held before the Oscars. We’re just running the article now – alongside the Blu-ray 3D release.

    • They didn’t get paid??

      • Most VFX artists work for a flat fee up front, regardless of the production cost or the profitability of the movie. I don’t think that Ang Lee should be the poster boy for the VFX crisis, but how he handled himself when asked about it later certainly made him look… out of touch,

    • Dude, I think this targeting of Ang Lee by the VFX movement is misguided. Sure he didn’t mention the (vast) contribution made to Life of Pi by visual effects artists, but it was his personal award after all . Maybe he forgot? Maybe he didn’t want to turn this celebration of his directing into a politicised rant? Who knows. But you can’t blame him for the mismanagement of effects company, Rhythm & Hues. It’s a terrible situation for those individuals and families affected but it seems as though Ang is being used as a scapegoat, when in reality I’d have thought (along with people like James Cameron) he was one of the VFX industries greatest supporters?

      • sorry that for @ VFX Artist

      • Yup, my thoughts exactly.

      • Jimmy,I totally agree with you on that.

    • The sad thing is that one of the winners of the VFX Oscar got cut off when he was trying to thank the people Rhythm & Hues and mention it’s financial troubles.