Claudio Miranda and Oscar are already on speaking terms; the Chilean d.p. and frequent David Fincher crew member (“Fight Club,” “The Game”) was nominated for an Academy Award for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” But the experienced Miranda, who toiled in the trenches as Tony Scott’s gaffer on “Crimson Tide,” “The Fan” and “Enemy of the State,” says nothing he’s ever done compares to “the enormous demands and technical challenges” of shooting Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi,” with its indelible images of the young castaway adrift in a lifeboat in the limitless ocean, with only a ferocious Bengal tiger for company.

Indeed, for Miranda “Pi’s” story of “the determination of the human spirit to keep going against all odds” paralleled the sheer difficulty of the three-month shoot in India and Taiwan — with the majority of that time spent in “a huge, specially constructed wave tank at an abandoned airport in Taiwan, where we could simulate all the different looks of the ocean, from storms to calm.”

The d.p. shot “Pi” in 3D with six Arri Alexas mounted on three Cameron-Pace rigs, and reports that his 3D work on “Tron: Legacy” helped him “land the job — along with my work on ‘Button.’ Ang knew he had to shoot this digitally and (in) 3D to make it really work, and the technology we needed didn’t even exist a few years ago.”

That technology included the extensive use of visual effects, cranes and a Spidercam, a specially designed four-point cable system that allowed the d.p. “complete freedom to fly the camera anywhere in the tank and get shots otherwise impossible to achieve.”

But capturing “the visceral intensity and terror” of the voyage was only one part of the equation for Miranda. “I think people have responded so strongly to ‘Pi’ because it offers them so many looks and transports them to this other world, this magical ocean. They believe the tiger and love the beauty of the morning golden-light scenes and candle-lit ones, which I love too.”

The d.p. singles out, “a favorite scene of mine, where Pi says to the tiger, ‘We’re dying, Richard Parker!,’ and the lighting’s so soft and non-directional, and it works so well for that particular moment. And then there’s the pool scene, where we used 120,000 candles to create the lighting effect, which is pretty stunning — and something I’ve never done before. We kept shooting it all night in the end.”

Shooting “Life of Pi” also presented the d.p. with another first: “the chance to shoot underwater 3D.” Add in all the zoo and storm and sinking-boat scenes, and it’s obvious that, “there’s a lot of work here — and a lot of eye candy.”

Eye on the Oscars 2013: The Cinematographer
Cinematographers in tight race
Roger Deakin | Janusz Kaminski | Seamus McGarvey | Claudio Miranda | Robert Richardson