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Panelists Discuss How Artist Alexis Rockman’s Watercolors Inspired Life of Pi

How can film producers reintroduce a handmade quality to 3-D commercial film? That was the topic tackled in “The Art Behind Life of Pi,” a panel discussion held in Memorial Hall on October 29.

The conversation focused on how artist Alexis Rockman’s aquatic and naturalistic watercolors influenced the Life of Pi, the 2012 film that won four Academy Awards, including one for cinematography and one for visual effects. Earlier this fall, Rockman’s pieces were on display at The Drawing Center, an artistic and educational institution in Manhattan.

Aside from Rockman, the panel included Jean-Christophe Castelli, Life of Pi associate producer, Brett Littman, executive director of The Drawing Center, and moderator Leighton Pierce, acting dean of Pratt Institute’s School of Art & Design.

The panel discussed the challenge of transforming what began as a literary work into illustrations and then into film. “We wanted to maintain the rich abstractness of the pictures,” said associate producer Castelli, who knew Rockman prior to Life of Pi. “With digital effects, we wanted to maintain the effect of the blooming of watercolors when we could.”

Rockman’s images influenced many of the film’s visual sequences, including one in which both Pi and the tiger, Richard Parker, peer into the ocean and experience a shared hallucinatory descent constructed from elements of translucent, transforming sea life.

During the panel, Littman scrolled through production images and concept art that helped inspire the look and sets of Life of Pi, some of which could be seen at The Drawing Center show. “The abstraction of the illustrations was an inspiration for the exhibition,” Littman said. “Taking abstract watercolors and turning that into film, it reveals every layer of the creative process.”

Rockman also provided encouraging words for aspiring artists: “As a kid, I wanted to do my version of King Kong. As a painter, you can do your own iconography and get paid for it.”

Rockman is currently working on the film Noah, directed by Darren Aronofsky.

“Boats, animals, and despair seem to be right up my alley,” he said.

Text: James Anaipakos
Images: Courtesy of The Drawing Center

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