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How Fefo Desouza changed the world of VFX with 11 times Academy Award nominated movie “Life of Pi”

Updated: Feb 21, 2023

Based on Yann Martel’s philosophical novel, published in 2001, “Life of Pi” movie is a prodigious achievement of storytelling and visual effects mastery. Many thought portraying the worldwide best seller novel would be an unachievable task due to the writer’s creative complexity. But this was not unachievable for Fefo Desouza, the Brasilian god of VFX.

The movie portrays the story of a teenage boy who spends 227 days drifting across the pacific ocean in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, after surviving a dramatic storm and shipwreck, where his family and a whole zoo disappears into the ocean. Throughout the film we can see incredible landscapes and visual effects that, although they might look real, were created by Digital Compositor and flame artist Fefo Desouza and a magnificent team of experts. A “Flame Artist”, is a very sought-after talent because they are able to achieve remarkable results other artists can’t achieve. A Flame Artist uses a computer program called Flame, along with several others, to modify and enhance a film, television show, or commercial during post-production. But it’s not easy to become one of the best “flame artists”, as Fefo did. That’s why Desouza is always busy working in the biggest Hollywood productions and blockbuster movies.

This miraculous creation was nominated for eleven academy awards and took home four Oscars, including “Best visual effects”, an award that is the biggest recognition any VFX artist could possibly get. Fefo Desouza says “that Oscar was a huge sense of accomplishment and satisfaction”

But, what was the process behind this masterpiece and which scenes were modified to make us believe what we were watching was real?

To begin with, in spite of assuming this happens in the open ocean, a big part of the film was actually shot in a tank, where Fefo and the team later added in the sky and painted the beautiful sunsets in post-production. So much of the ocean surface was digitally created but the shots of the life raft were filmed with a wave machine to achieve a realistic effect of constant movement.

Another one of the incredible VFX creations were the animals on the raft. Yes…. those were also not real! It took years of experience and a lot of real tiger observations to be able to obtain the perfect motion of these animals throughout the movie. In fact French animal trainer David Faivre allowed a team to collect tiger video footage for as long as two years. For each shot, clips were compiled and selected as references to inspire the animators.

Although this was obviously a product of teamwork, Desouza's role was remarkable.

Every detail in the VFX edition was planned. The fur in the animals, the landscapes, the motion, nothing was an accident. No wonder why this prestigious breakthrough spiritual movie was nominated for 11 academy awards!

The heartfelt narrative, the visuals, the storytelling, and the message of this film combine in the perfect way to create a stunning work of art, and the visual effects on it, where we can enjoy Fefo’s VFX Flame gifts, definitely were one of the main attractions in this motion picture directed by Ang Lee.

Do you want to see what is next for this master of VFX? Check out one of the most anticipated movies this year ‘Respect’ where Desouza performed an outstanding work de-aging Academy Award winning actor Forest Whitaker about 20 years, besides doing other work in the film.


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