The story about an Indian teen who survives 227 days on a boat with a Bengal tiger, lost on the Pacific Ocean after a shipwreck, was nominated for 11 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director for Lee and Best Adapted Screenplay for David Magee.
Lee won the directing accolade and the film scooped up the prizes for Best Cinematography, Visual Effects and Original Score. Although it lost the Best Picture prize to "Argo," "Pi" earned more Oscars than any other single movie.
Newcomer Suraj Sharma plays the title character as a teen, while Irrfan Khan plays Pi as an adult. The tiger is a masterful creation of computer-generated animation.
Asked to describe the most difficult challenge in making the 3D film, Lee told reporters in New York in fall 2012, "To make a big mainstream movie out of a philosophical book that is beloved. ...
"It's an adventure story, and it is a movie about faith and hope, so we keep a balance, but that's very, very challenging for the filmmaker. Of course, there's a kid, there's water, there's a tiger. It's 3D," Lee noted.
The man who directed "Brokeback Mountain," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Sense and Sensibility" went on to say he doesn't think he could have made "Life of Pi" five years ago because the technology needed to really bring the story to life wasn't advanced enough yet.
"No, I don't think so. My vision? No. Some other vision, probably. You can have a lot more restraint. I think, actually, the use of 3D actually helped to set you out by the water and also the realism of the animal and the scope of God's vision and it provides a lot of new visions, so to speak, and tools to realize the visions," Lee explained. "I think visual effects-wise, it would be very challenging. It's not impossible, but it's hard to believe. I'm still a novice in 3D. Very carefully, I learned very diligently, but after all, we're just discovering another new cinematic language to enhance, not only effects, but dramatically where you put things and how you take in the images, soak it in, and take that as the new grand illusion... I think five years ago, those elements wouldn't be there for me. We could still make the movie, but it's different."
While most filmmakers would find a project with so many challenges daunting, Lee insisted he was exhilarated by the notion of "doing something that will put me on the edge."
"It's like Pi facing the tiger, keeping me alert, putting me in the God zone. I need total attention, focusing, and, therefore, I get the thrill that I'm living life fully, and that's how I choose to express myself and be seen by people," Lee said.
"I get to learn all these new things about filmmaking. I'm an avid film student. I would like to see my career as an extension of film school. Now I get to learn 3D. How good is that? Somebody's paying for it... I've got these naive, double-negative thoughts, like, If I add one more obstacle, maybe it's possible. Add more dimension, maybe I can take that leap of faith. At least, I think, by giving new cinematic language, people might open up, just bring back naturally, that innocence of watching a movie, and theatrical experience; maybe that will happen...
"There's no way I could do what I did there with 2D. The wave has to be so much bigger, 10 times bigger, to get that feeling," he said. "I think the animation is more believable because it has real dimension and depth and the excitement of finding new ways of expression and putting things in different places, giving the depth and manipulating the depth and your point-of-view, actually that adds a lot to help you expand a lot of your imagination and exploration. So, all of that is pretty good for the unusual project. You know, I'm a filmmaker, I live for that kind of thing."
"Life of Pi" is in theaters now. It will be released on DVD and Blu-ray March 12.