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SURF'S UP

About The Design
The world of Surf's Up extends far beyond the waves, of course. Sand has to react as characters walk across it, and it has to do so in different ways depending on how wet it is. Trees and leaves must gently react to the tropical breeze. And all of that has to go on behind the main action.

Production designer Paul Lasaine says that unlike most animated films, the conceit of Surf's Up required a design of a nearly real world. "Many CG films go for a 2-D, old-school animation look,” he says. "For Surf's Up, we had to go the opposite way – we had to create near-reality. We didn't want people to wonder if we used real penguins, but if the world of Surf's Up is a documentary, getting the look of a documentary was very important.”

Lasaine says that to achieve that stylized real-world look, as a rule of thumb, the design team shot for "70% reality” – pushing the real world by 30%. "One thing we did was to take a known object and push its shape a little bit, in a subtle way. For example, there's a lot of bamboo in the film. In real life, bamboo is pretty straight with a bit of a curve as it comes to a joint; we pushed those curves a bit, but kept the texture.”

Another way the filmmakers achieve Surf's Up's reality show look is through the use of "archival footage.” Imageworks accomplished this by manipulating the animation so it would have the appearance of dating from 1920s black and white, through the early color of the 1950s and ‘60s, 1970s 8mm film, 1980s 16mm film and on to several looks common today. "We added lens distortion, imprecise focus pulling, grain, limited depth of field, and all of the other characteristics documentaries have because of how they're shot,” Bredow said. "There's more grain at night, too, because that's what happens when a documentary crew uses the same film stock for day and night.”

Intriguingly, at least as much expertise and perfectionism went into degrading footage as it did to create it in the first place. "It actually was a lot of fun to add all kinds of things the visual effects business usually spends hours to remove,” Bredow says.

Natural camera angles were another way in which Surf's Up was made to feel like a documentary. The Imageworks crew tried to accurately reproduce the subtle and unpredictable movements of a hand-held camera, but their efforts never quite met their high standards for authenticity. So instead they devised a new live-action camera system – a setup they nicknamed the "HandeeCam” in homage to the popular Sony video camera – to "shoot” an animated scene. The camera operator would operate a physical camera while a capture system recorded its movements which then directed the virtual camera for the actual shot. To ensure the results had the right feel, they used a Sony DXC-M3A video camera, the camera of choice for documentary filmmakers 20 years ago. That model hasn't been made since 1989, however, so Layout Supervisor James Williams bought one through eBay.

"This was the first time in an animated movie that the camera motion was captured from a real camera,” Williams says. "The process worked so well and looked so good that we eventually used it on most of the movie.”

The layout department had to be very creative about the placement of the camera and the choice of camera lens, just as a live-action crew has to be, but with the added challenge of making sure all the animated parts melded together smoothly Once again, the fluid relationship between animation and digital effects paid off since the backgrounds and environments could be done in cooperation with the animators.

Even in the lava tubes, Imageworks developed a virtual track for the camera to travel on separate from those Lani and Cody are zooming down. "The aim of this sequence was to recreate the thrill and excitement of a roller coaster ride whi

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