Pi of the tiger

Director Ang Lee talks about mastering the animals in Life Of Pi at the New York Film Festival.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Richard Parker and Suraj Sharma in Life Of Pi
Richard Parker and Suraj Sharma in Life Of Pi

Ang Lee and New York Film Festival director Richard Peña talk about Richard Parker, the Bengal tiger, during the press conference for the world premiere of Life Of Pi at the 50th New York Film Festival on September 28, 2012.

Anne-Katrin Titze: I am interested in how you assembled your tiger. How many Richard Parkers - I was almost going to say Richard Peñas…

Life of Pi director Ang Lee: It's also short for RP

AKT: How many real...

New York Film Festival director Richard Peña interjects: How do you think it got into this festival?

AKT: How many real tigers did you work with? How did you assemble this fantastic creature?

Richard Peña and Ang Lee
Richard Peña and Ang Lee

Ang Lee: We had four tigers. Three from France. I think he's the world's greatest trainer and totally respects animals. Actually, I learned most of the tiger scenes from this person. So three from him. He doesn't work with food. Just discipline, man on man. Two of them are female, one is the sister of the main tiger. The main tiger that we modeled from, was a seven-year-old, nearly 500lbs, gorgeous tiger named King. He's just the most magnificent animal you'll see. And then some of the fierce scenes have to be done by the ladies. They're more aggressive than King. King just poses like a king. So he does all the posing, and he did the swimming, too. And some of the more docile (scenes), like his hunger for food. When he feels sick, we have a Canadian tiger. Who's like Yann (Martel, the author of Life of Pi) is.

Richard Peña: This really was an international production.

Ang Lee: He's pettable. You just want to hug him.

Elizabeth Gabler president of production for FOX 2000: Don't forget the hyena named Vlad.

Ang Lee: My favorite is the hyena Vlad. She has the ugliest smile. When she's relaxed she looks really neurotic and intimidating. I just love her. I think I'm the only one she lets touch her nose and she'll squeak with delight, it's horrifying.

Festival director Richard Peña, director Ang Lee, producer Elizabeth Gabler, actor Suraj Sharma, novelist Yann Martel
Festival director Richard Peña, director Ang Lee, producer Elizabeth Gabler, actor Suraj Sharma, novelist Yann Martel

The thing with trained tigers, [is] we have nearly 30 shots in the movie, that's real tiger. It has two usages for me. One is that we had to do digital like this and not humanise them, you really need good references. They cannot be invented. So, just dealing with them we shot, whether it made it into the movie or not or just for pure references. They leave a great library of tiger behaviour, down to the every cell. So that's great reference.

Otherwise it's very: Tiger - Water. You are basically imitating God's work. You cannot guess a reference as great. We learned tremendously from that.

And secondly, I raised the bar for the digital guys - you have to match that in 3D. So that's really intimidating for them. I think that's a good kind of intimidation.

So they worked out great and we love those tigers.

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