On the face of it, Canadian writer Yann Martel’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel Life of Pi doesn’t seem like a movie in the making.

The story of a boy trapped in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger after a ship’s sinking is both strange fantasy  and heavy with literary allegory.

But Taiwanese director Ang Lee loved it – so much so that he discussed it with his wife and sons.

Still the director who earned an Oscar for Brokeback Mountain and who adapted Sense and Sensibility for the screen had to ponder long and hard on how to get the unwieldy story to the screen.

Eventually he  combined the practical effects he used in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, with what he learned about computer graphics on The Hulk to take Martel's amazing images off the page.

And he applied the 3D technology perfected by another Canadian, James Cameron, to create the film that hits screens this week.

Life of Pi had its Canadian debut in Saskatoon on Monday, with Martel in attendance. The author spoke of the huge challenges involved in adapting his work.

"I thought it was going to be very difficult because I've always heard you don’t want to make movies with children or with animals or on water," Martel said. "You can't work children under 16 as hard as adult actors…it’s  very difficult to film on water because water moves and you want a steady camera, and animals are very hard to direct and here was a movie that combines all three."

Martel said he was surprised when Hollywood came knocking on his door, and delighted when he learned Lee would direct. The movie doesn’t have every detail of the book but is true to the original story "in spirit," he says.

"I do believe in art and cinema is art, theatre, literature. Whatever losses people might feel about the movie, and it is a lovely movie I assure them. It’s worth it anyway…to tell the story in another form because it will reach a different audience."

He reflected on the long journey the book has made from his imagination to publication in 2001 to the screen in 2012.

"Here is this book I wrote entirely alone in a little bubble in Montreal that has reached people from different cultures across borders," he said.

Life of Pi has been well-received on the festival circuit and is already getting Oscar buzz.

That’s good news for Fox, the studio that backed the unusual project to the tune of more than $100 million.

"This isn’t a movie that on the face of it feels like a $100-million movie but look at Slumdog Millionaire which Fox Searchlight released, "said box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian.

"So I think the potential is there if it catches on but that is a very rare thing. They're definitely taking a risk."