Behind The Scenes With
The Original Pi

By Steven Callahan
Photos: Peter Sorrell, Courtesy Fox Studios
Published: December 2012

For "Life Of Pi," Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee tapped the world's most famous ocean "survival consultant," Steven Callahan, to learn about existing in a life raft, and to ensure that the sea would be one of the movie's most authentic characters.

Slip behind the scenes of "Life Of Pi" with Steve Callahan, who made authentic lures, tools, and a liferaft for the movie. (Photos of Callahan by Peter Sorrell, Courtesy Fox Studios. Other photos by Steve Callahan)

Even as a small boy in the 1950s, I loved how movies transported me into other worlds. For a quarter, my brother and I became transfixed by the original "Blob," which kept me jumping on my bed for years because I knew the blob was living under it, and "Sinbad the Sailor" with its fighting skeletons. Never did I imagine working on a film, though. n How could a half-century of messing about in boats, including being dumb enough to lose one in 1982, lead me to become part of a crew of hundreds of astoundingly talented people, including Academy Award winners like Ang Lee, best known for directing such films as "Brokeback Mountain" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"? Well, as so often in life, we're led to extraordinary experiences by embracing serendipitous events.

Photo from the film Life of Pi
A scene from the film. See the trailer at

In 2003, my wife Kathy and I were cruising our trimaran off the coast of Australia when we received a package from our friends Lin and Larry Pardey. In it was Life of Pi, the Yann Martel novel about a precocious Indian boy nicknamed Pi whose family decides to immigrate to Canada, bringing the zoo they own with them. En route, their ship sinks, leaving Pi alone in a lifeboat with a zebra, orangutan, hyena, and a tiger named Richard Parker. In short order, the hyena dispatches the zebra and orangutan, then the tiger eats the hyena. Pi is left to survive and develop a dangerous but co-dependent, even spiritual relationship with Richard Parker. Lin noted a page deep in the book on which, to my surprise, I found that I was mentioned.

The book was entertaining, and I noticed reflections of numerous details of my own ocean-survival ordeal, as well as similar themes and ideas that I'd written about in Adrift. But as I read, I kept thinking, "Well, that's preposterous; it just couldn't happen that way," or "That certainly would never work." Still, even as Pi's drift extends to 100 days, then 200 and beyond, getting wilder and more fantastic, I couldn't stop imagining how I might have made things work, were I in his situation.

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