Richard Parker is a hulking, ravenous beast of an animal trapped within the confines of Pi’s tiny lifeboat. It was Rhythm & Hues’ job to bring the creature to life in a completely convincing manner, and thankfully the team has had some experience in the matter. “We did Aslan on The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and we also did Stelmaria on The Golden Compass, so we had a baseline to start from,” says Bayever. “We also had a lot of the muscle stuff that was developed for Hulk and really good skin simulation from the digital bulls in Knight and Day. We brought all of these systems together for Richard Parker.”
Detailed reference was also a huge help, with the Taiwanese set for Life of Pi playing home to several real-life Bengal tigers. “The animators had close-up footage of the tiger walking, so they could see details like how the paw moves and the pads slide a little bit as they walk,” says Bayever. “They rigged Richard Parker to be as light and controllable as possible. The team needed to consider the environment in his movement, as a lifeboat is not usually suited to a jungle cat. Even in shots where he’s moving around or aggressive, the animators need to counter-balance him against the rocking of the boat. That way you feel like he’s really in there and reacting to his environment in addition to doing his action in the scene.”
Once locomotive animation was completed, Richard Parker was passed to the technical animation department, for the muscle and fur simulations to be run to match the details of a real tiger. “Depending on what part of the body it is, you get different movement,” says Bayever. “On the arms it’s tighter skin, so you see all the muscle definition, but on the stomach and in the inside-hip area it’s like a sack of skin that the legs move around inside. You have to get those areas matching reality perfectly.”
Rhythm & Hues added subsurface scattering to the fur rather than compositing or lighting tricks, giving it the same kind of depth you would get from a real animal. “As far as the rendering goes, whether it was a fully CG shot or not, we used the real boat to bounce light up into Richard Parker,” says Bayever. “The tiger’s chest is white, so we needed a nice bounce light from the orange boat onto his chest. It was all ray-traced onto him – the whole environment.”
One of the most-complicated components of Richard Parker’s creation was getting him wet. “When it’s underwater, the fur has to react and move like the water is pushing it around, then when it’s above water it sticks down to his body,” says Bayever. “To achieve that we ran the water simulation in Houdini and then handed off the velocities of the water to our technical animation department and our plates was a huge point of focus for the team proprietary animation software Voodoo. They ran their simulation using those velocities and were able to have the fur move according to the motion of the water. If the water rolled up his back it would actually push the hair up too and then as it rolled down it would flatten it out.”
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All images © 2012 20th Century Fox