Most films nowadays leave us in awe because there are scenes that were visually convincing as for-real. At first, they made us wonder how it was possible for an actor or actress to look older or younger than his or her actual age. We only thought the effects were made mostly by way of makeup techniques and use of prosthetics.

Yet how about period films? The scenes appeared as if they actually happened in places and environments that look exactly how they did several decades earlier, or even centuries ago.

Eventually, the cat was set free of the bag. People, particularly avid movie watchers like us, came to know that digital technology innovators furthered the development of 3D computer graphics. The advanced technology helped filmmakers create better effects by way of computer-generated imagery or CGI.

One of our favorites CGI enhanced movies is “Life of Pi,” because we were led to believe that a real tiger was actually in the same boat as the main character Pi Patel. The 2012 Oscar judges must have thought so too, since they bestowed the “Best Visual Effects” award that year, to “Life of Pi.”

How CGI Made It Possible for a Teenage Boy and Tiger to Interact while in the Same Lifeboat

First off, scenes that transpired in the middle of the ocean, looked real. Actually, they were shots of Pi acting alone in a lifeboat inside an above-ground-pool high enough to create ocean-like water movements. As we watched a behind-the-scene filming of “Life of Pi,” we imagined the above-ground-pool to have been outfitted with top rated ladders in order to support the traffic of crew and equipment getting in and out of the pool.

Yet the most amazing scenes are those between Pi and the fierce Bengal tiger. The scenes gripped us with fear, worried over the life of a young man whom we thought was actually interacting with real tiger, whilst staying in the small confines of a lifeboat.

Any way, we finally learned how Pi’s scenes with the tiger were made. The CGI creators were happy enough to discuss them in later interviews.

CGI Creators Used Real Tigers for Developing Realistic Looking Images

According to Bill Westenhofer of Rhythm and Hues Studios, who was at the helm as visual effects supervisor of “Life of Pi,” there was actually a debate on whether or not they should use real life tigers to create CGI. Since the creative team wanted to push the bar as far as computer imaging effects were concerned, the company brought in not just one, but four tigers and a trainer.

Actual images of the fierce animals were captured as footages, including those taken to show real tiger movements while inside an enclosed water-filled vessel. The footages were then used as references for imaging and motion capture.

Creators Worked on Images Layer by Layer

Even if we knew that CGI was used to create scenes in which Pi was interacting with a terrifyingly vicious tiger, it was still a wonder how such images were able to act in ways required by a particular scene.

Bill Westenhofer explained that several artists from around the globe, worked on the CGI footages, as they had to make every image as realistic as possible. Artists tackled their tasks by working on the animal images’ physical makeup, layer by layer, as if working on a biological experiment.

They first worked on the tiger’s skeleton so they can have control of the virtual animal’s movements. Then they worked on the muscles ànd fur. Work on the fur was vital to make the virtual tiger’s image true-to-life looking, to which dozens of CGI artists made the light shimmer on the fur in ways that they appear in real life. That is why it is hard to distinguish a footage of a live tiger image from a virtual version.