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Animating Surf's Up

Published June 6, 2007 in Movie Interviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of Columbia Pictures.
Surf's Up Poster Surf's Up
Surf's Up took five years from conception to release for complete animation. After such a long haul, the filmmakers deserve a little vacation, so they went to Hawaii for the press junket. Chris Buck, Ash Brannon and Chris Jenkins learned a lot about surfing from making the film and could finally take advantage of it, as soon as their publicity duties were over.

Riding the Surf on Surf's Up


"We’re going surfing later today and tomorrow," said Buck. "No belly flopping I hope. I took lessons last year in Maui. There's a difference between learning in California and Hawaii. The shore break in California, you can't get balance and feel it, when you're learning. Here the waves are way out so you've got time to enjoy the ride."

The whole Surf's Up team got in on the play time. "[We] Took all animators out surfing because we thought it was important that they know how it felt," Jenkins said. "There's a picture of 40 of our animators taking the same wave and crashing together."

The waves of the film's Pen Gu Island do take some inspiration from Hawaii's beaches. "We were going to go to Tahiti," said Buck. "Thanks to the internet, we didn't get research trips."

The surfing trip was on Zuma Beach, but the animators weren't limited by their real world experience. "These guys studied waves around the world," said Brannon. "We've got the Pipeline in there, we have the Mavericks wave from California and the ChoPo and a few others. These guys studied the waves and reefs around the world to see how they'd react different. We also had help from Kelly Slater and Rob Machado. They came in and saw what we were doing and said I think this wave would break a little farther out, and draw on their screen and show us. Between that and the guys at Imageworks it went way beyond our expectations."


In addition to nailing the water, the animators had to achieve a documentary style, a first for animation. "We wanted characters to do interviews with an improvisation style, hand-held camera style," said Jenkins. "Sony early on had a surfing penguin movie that wasn't working. It went on the shelf. I thought there was something kind of cool about it and came back with the documentary angle. Reality-angle. Surfers seem to spend a lot of time doing documentaries on themselves we should do it, embrace it and do a full-length narrative like Spinal Tap."

They even dirtied up some footage so it looks like archival material. "It's not just different for its own sake," said Buck. "It was driven by the story and a need to feel spontaneous and organic."

Then other little tidbits came about like monitoring penguins walking in sand. "A lot of penguins live in tropical climates, in Australia and South Africa," said Brannon. "We kind of guessed in our heads they were like snow birds that move to Florida, sick of the winters. Surfers are kind of their own type anyway. The ones that moved from Antarctica to Pen Gu have a good time and be different."

Just making the penguins stand on a surfboard was tricky. "The problem is that penguins have no knees," said Buck. "You can't see them. Trying to stretch their legs out and give them a little more height to see that their legs were splayed out and bending. Hang six!"

Surf's Up opens to theatres on June 8th.

For the trailer, more posters and additional movie info, go to the Surf's Up Movie Page.

Stay tuned for updates.
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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Columbia Pictures.
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