Winnipeg-born, Toronto-raised Danna won the Academy Award in a field that included the legendary John Williams for Lincoln and Thomas Newman for Skyfall.
“It's a wonderful thing, it's what we all hoped and dreamed for this film and most of the time we were not sure if that was ever going to be the case,” Danna told CBC News in a backstage interview.
The composer said it took him more than a year to write the score for Life of Pi, as the music had to convey strong emotions, without overwhelming the visual impact.
Based on Saskatchewan writer Martel’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel about an Indian boy adrift in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, the story was thought to be unfilmable until Ang Lee turned his talents — an innovative use of 3D and other visual effects — to the script.
“I think I started working on this film when I read the book 10 years ago,” Danna said backstage. “A lot of the time while I was working, I would go back to remembering how I felt when I was reading the novel and just minding those feelings and that impression that I had of the world that Yann Martel created.”
Danna praised the novel for its "great Canada sensibility" and its "openness to different points of view."
Martel was in the audience at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles to watch the recognition earned by Life of Pi.
He said he was "over the moon" at the four Oscars earned by the novel based on his book.
In addition to its win for best score, Life of Pi earned best director honours for Lee and Oscars for both best visual effects and cinematography.
"I think the Oscars that it got played to the movie's strengths — it got visual effects, cinematography, score and direction — which is precisely what really made the movie," Martel said. "It all came together in a masterful way."
Danna has worked with Lee on two previous movies, The Ice Storm and Ride with the Devil. He said they collaborated for about five years on the picture and decided it needed both a big orchestra and a big choir. Ang is "very sensitive" to music, Danna said.
“But we knew that we wanted to respect the culture that Pi came from, respect his sense of inclusiveness of all the world's cultures and religions — his sense of not seeing any borders between different ways of looking at the world, that different cultures around the world have, different points of view,” Danna said.
“So we wanted to respect that in the music and reflect that in the music, and so we knew right from the beginning that was our approach.”
Last month, Danna also won the Golden Globe for best score for his work on Life of Pi.
Danna’s wife, Aparna is Indo-Canadian and the composer says he considers India a second home.
“I think he is so familiar with our culture and the music that I think he had it all, and he was able to put it all together,” Aparna told CBC News after the awards ceremony.
He acknowledged his mother who gave him piano lessons, his wife and their two sons in his acceptance speech, but his greatest praise was for Lee.
“I share this wondrous award with our visionary captain, Mr. Ang Lee,” he said in his speech on stage.
“There he is, we're playing this game again. You've guided a truly global cast and crew in the telling of this wondrous, beautiful story that transcends culture and race and religion. In the same spirit, musicians from around the globe came together to breathe life into this music and I hold this award on their behalf.”