Life of Pi artwork on display

Updated: 2013-10-22 11:30

By Caroline Berg in New York (China Daily USA)

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<EM>Life of Pi</EM> artwork on display

Gallery goers view watercolor drawings of Alexis Rockman that inspired scenes in fim director Ang Lee's multiple Oscar-winning movie Life of Pi, at the Drawing Center in New York. Caroline Berg / China Daily

American painter Alexis Rockman isn't sure why director Ang Lee developed an interest in his work, but he is certainly happy Lee chose him to be the "inspirational artist" for the film Life of Pi.

"I was jumping for joy inside over the possibility [of working on this project]," Rockman said during an event Thursday night hosted by the Drawing Center in New York. "Not only do I think [Lee] is really interesting, but also I grew up loving movies and using film iconography as a springboard to the way I thought about pictures."

As part of its Fall 2013 season, the Drawing Center is featuring a selection of Rockman's watercolor drawings, which served as the first stage in the development of the imaginary world in Lee's 2012 film adaptation of author Yann Martel's novel Life of Pi. The exhibition of the same name will be on view at the center through Nov 3.

The Life of Pi story involves a young Indian named Pi Patel, who finds himself sharing a lifeboat with a large Bengal tiger following a shipwreck. Rockman helped design an hallucinatory "Tigervision" sequence in which Pi, following the tiger's gaze over the side of the boat, plunges deep into his own oceanic subconscious.

"Though most artistic contributions to cinema are dependent on photo-realism or cartoon-like illustration, Rockman's images are fluid, intimate, and dynamic in a way that only drawing can offer," an introduction to the exhibition reads.

Rockman, who participated in a discussion on Thursday with Vinciane Despret, a philosopher who specializes in animal study, said Lee encouraged him to forgo using Photoshop art technology and instead focus on drawing images by hand.

<EM>Life of Pi</EM> artwork on display

"[The drawings] had a sense of an Eastern screen painting," Rockman said during the discussion. "I think [Lee] was very interested in the idea of challenging what could be spectacular and different.

"He took the whole production [team] to see Avatar before it came out at a Fox [Studios] screening room, and I remember saying to him, 'Oh, we could do much better than this'," Rockman added.

A Wall Street Journal review said the film's "ineffably beautiful images" could change everything someone knew about "the relatively new, fast-evolving field of computer-generated imagery".

"I thought I could never get this opportunity again, and it had to really be something that's never been seen before," Rockman said.

The film ultimately won four Academy Awards, including Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects and Best Original Score.

"My job was to listen, and to really pay attention, and that was the most refreshing part of the project," Rockman said. "It was a joy to listen, and a joy to give advice, and not be responsible for the end product."

Excerpts of the script from which Rockman created his drawings are on display in the exhibition.

"Pi hears a burbling noise coming from the pond at the center of the tree," one excerpt job producing contemporary art.

"The mental toughness that I learned from watching [Lee] deal with the [studio's demands] was another thing that was tremendous," Rockman said. "It really gave me a lot of insight of how tough it is to do anything [while directing a film for a studio], and it made me stop complaining about my own job."

The New York-based artist has been at it since 1985 and is considered one of the first contemporary artists to build his career around exploring environmental issues, from evolutionary biology and genetic engineering to deforestation and climate change. He is known for paintings that depict futuristic landscapes, as they might exist with the impacts of climate change and genetically engineered evolution.


(China Daily USA 10/22/2013 page2)