Surf’s Up makers chat with Metro
Riding Giants and Step Into Liquid are widely regarded as seminal documentaries for those who follow or live the wave-riding highs of surfer culture.Both films managed to capture the essence of what it means to ride the high seas in some of the most enticing and treacherous waters in the world.
Directors Ash Brannon (Toy Story 2) and Chris Buck (Tarzan) were fans of both films and realized the potential for parodying the laissez-faire world of the surfer.
The animation veterans also saw an opportunity for innovation in their field.
Surf’s Up is the result — an animated mockumentary tracing the rise of surfing penguin Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf), who leaves his home in frosty Shiverpool for the warmer climes of Pen Gu Island and a shot at surfing stardom.
After having his fortunes dashed by a tough rival, Cody seeks guidance from a washed-up surfer named Geek (Jeff Bridges), who’s long lost his drive to ride the waves, but who may be able to draw on past experience to help his young protégé find surf success.
“You don’t get the opportunity to do that many movies in the span of your career, so you try to push yourself to find your new limits,” Brannon says during a recent three-way phone interview between the directors and Metro. “We recorded the actors and questioned all sorts of conventions.”
While many will wonder what exactly is behind Hollywood’s recent penguin craze — Happy Feet took the Oscar for best animated feature last year, while March Of The Penguins won the Academy Award for best documentary the year before — Brannon and Buck trace the penguin’s popularity to the bird’s similarity to humans and, in the case of their film, the fact that they literally fit the surfer mould.
“They actually do surf on their feet, they’ve been photographed doing that,” Buck states. “They stand up and their board is their two feet, they kind of ride the wave.”
Both directors share a chuckle over this last point, although neither was laughing when they heard that Happy Feet would beat Surf’s Up to the box office.
Resigned to the fact that their film would be very different from the Oscar-winner, Brannon and Buck forged on with their work and attempted to jettison any pre-established rules about animated voiceover.
While most directors have their actors record lines alone in a booth, Brannon and Buck mostly put their vocal players together and literally told them to turn their scripts over and improvise once they learned the direction of each scene.
“We wanted everything to feel like it was in the moment,” Buck explains. “Even the flubs. They would step on each other’s lines and things like that or not finish a sentence, whatever it was added to that documentary feel. Nothing was too sterile or created in a computer. All the mistakes (are there, it’s) very human.”
- Surf’s Up opens in theatres today.