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SURF'S UP

About The Waves
From the very beginning, it was clear that in order for Surf's Up to catch its wave, it was essential that the waves be just as believable as Cody and the other inhabitants of Pen Gu Island. Dozens of creative talents, including visual effects supervisor Rob Bredow, senior animation supervisor David Schaub, head of layout James Williams, editor Ivan Bilancio, and digital producer Chris Juen, analyzed videos, studied scientific references, and even took surfing lessons while they applied their own considerable artistry to this daunting task. They also tapped champion surfers like Kelly Slater and Rob Machado to add expert authenticity. "Animating a surfer is inherently tricky, because you have to take those moves and put them on top of a moving environment, often chasing the surfer through the wave,” Schaub said. "Everything the surfer does is driving the surfboard and the surfboard is tracking on the wave but the wave is moving through space. So, there are a lot of variables.

"If we were dealing with a ski slope or a snowboarding hill, it would be tricky enough,” adds Schaub. "But we took those moves and then put them on top of a moving environment, so we're chasing the surfer through the wave throughout the shot. You don't want to make the two feel like they're disconnected, because everything the surfer does is driving the surfboard and the surfboard is tracking on the wave, but the wave is moving through space.”

"Since the surfers and the water affect each other, a lot of our work was a chicken-and-egg situation where neither one could really come first,” said Visual effects supervisor Rob Bredow. "To manage that, we built tools much earlier on than we normally would – things like a primitive version of the wake after the surfboard, crude white water, a whole set of tools to block the shots – and then went back to perfect everything.” Artists in each department developed a much broader scope of familiarity than usual, often providing expertise honed on live action elsewhere within Imageworks. "The entire team did an outstanding job, and I think it really shows when you see it on the screen.”

Since the waves are just as central to the action as they are to the characters' lives, production designer Paul Lasaine determined that the waves should deliver an emotional impact beyond what photorealism could convey. "With the title of Surf's Up, we knew we had to create a wave that will make surfers ache to get back into the ocean,” he says.

The process started with the Sony Pictures Imageworks crew studying the scenes captured by such renowned artists as cinematographer John-Paul Beeghly and nature photographer Frans Lanting to help determine what makes each wave unique. They pored over videos of renowned surfers like Greg Knolls, Sunny Garcia, Rob Machado, and Kelly Slater. They scrutinized such top surfing documentaries as The Endless Summer (1966), Step Into Liquid (2003), Second Thoughts (2004) and Riding Giants (2004) to better understand the sport and what characteristics those movies shared. They became so familiar with legendary surfing spots – Tahiti's Teahupo'o, Northern California's Maverick's Point, Hawaii's Banzai Pipeline – the lighting specialist teams named themselves after famous waves.

To help capture what it feels like to take a board out, most of the Surf's Up crew also took surfing lessons and shot hours of reference video. Bredow even risked an outing to Cortez Bank, where giant waves crash over a chain of underwater mountains 100 miles out in the ocean from San Diego, California.

Bredow and digital producer Chris Juen were in charge of putting technology into the service of the artists. Erick Miller, a wave setup lead at Imageworks, led the development of the animation rig that made it possible to animate the surf environments, a complex assignment that t

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