For Oscar-winning filmmaker Ang Lee, it all began with a tiger in Life of Pi.
The tiger, created with the help of digital technology in the India-set movie helped the filmmaker crack the formula for his upcoming film Gemini Man, about a man hunted by his younger clone, both played by Will Smith.
“I did Hulk 20 years ago and not too long ago, I experimented with the tiger in Life of Pi. In my head, (I thought) this is within reach. But now this is with a human face, so you are playing with fire. This is new and scary but at the same time, it’s pretty exciting,” Lee said at the press conference of the film at the YouTube Space here.
The director said he knew he was right for the film, which went through a gestation period of 20 years before technology finally caught up with the imagination.
The soft spoken director, known for his varied filmography with movies such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Sense and Sensibility, Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi to his credit, also felt that he was at the right age to tackle the inherent philosophical question that the story posed.
Lee said he decided to approach the film by digitally creating Will Smith’s younger version, Junior, first. He also shot the film in 120 frames per second, something that he had tried in his last film Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.
“What people call technology is really an artistic endeavour. We work with everybody’s imagination, a collective self-consciousness. That’s a real challenge. The designs these guys do is mind boggling.
“The study into the science of aging, our structure and how our emotions connect with every tissue in our body is just mind boggling,” he said, adding that it took him nine months to finally find a way to creating a digital tiger in Life of Pi, the story of an Indian boy adrift in the ocean with a Bengal tiger for company
“There was never such a moment here (in Gemini Man). It would come and go. It was whimsical,” he said.
Smith recalled seeing his digital version for the first time, calling it surreal but scary moment.
The film’s producer Jerry Bruckheimer said technology always presented an obstacle in making the movie until Lee came onboard.
“We had to wait for Ang Lee to figure out how to get the movie made. We did some unsuccessful versions of it and we had been testing it but it was awful and we kind of put it on the shelf until Ang said ‘We have a whole new way of doing this movie. I’m going to create something really special’ and he certainly did,” Bruckheimer said.
The producer behind some of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters like Top Gun, Days of Thunder, Bad Boys, Beverly Hills Cop, Con Air and Pirates of Caribbean franchise said they were trying to bring a new cinematic experience to the audience.
“Ang really is pioneering this technology because we have to advance cinema, the people are so comfortable in their homes, because they have these big televisions and everything is interesting that we’re making for television, there’s a lot of good, good material on TV now. So we have to have technology that you can’t actually see in your home to get people back to the theatres,” he added.
Clive Owen, who plays the antagonist in the movie, said the film is full of action but never lost its touch with drama, which is at the core of every good story.
“It feels like a huge movie but it’s also about characters and drama. It’s very intimate and personal. And I think that Ang Lee is the ultimate director for a movie like this because he’s on top of all the technology, he’s on top of what a huge drama is. But he’s also incredibly artistic and specific, and detailed.”
The film features nearly 1,000 visual effects shots, said VFX supervisor Bill Westenhofer, a double Oscar winner, who previously worked with Lee on Life of Pi.
“It was kind of similar to what we had worked on Life of Pi. He came to me and said, ‘Can we do something of what we did with the tiger?’. We looked at it and said, ‘Technology is close enough’ There was some fear involved but we did feel confident,” he added.
Weta Digital’s Guy Williams said this was the first time that one of the leading roles was being played by a digital version of a renowned actor.
Distributed exclusively in India by Viacom18, Gemini Man, a Paramount Pictures movie, will release on October 11.