Josh Raskin (l to r), Chris Lavis, David Verrall, Samuel Tourneux, Marcy Page, Jerry Levitan, Rick DeMott, Suzie Templeton, James Braithwaite, Ron Diamond, Hugh Welchman, Rosto and Alan Dewhurst. © 2008 AWN Inc.
The Los Angeles leg of the Oscar Showcase tour kicked off at Sony Pictures Animation. The group congregated in the lobby where I met the new members of our merry band — I Met the Walrus producer Jerry Levitan, Madame Tutli-Putli executive producer David Verrall and Even Pigeons Go to Heaven producer Simon Vanesse. Not joining us for the first two events of the day was Madame director Maciek Szczerbowski, whose lobster taco from the night before was not sitting well with him. Jerry laughed when Walrus director Josh Raskin revealed that he had been describing him as “a 14-year-old kid with balls of steel.” I leave Jerry’s response to your imagination, because Walrus illustrator James Braithwaite warned Jerry not to say things like that around the human mimeograph as he pointed to me. I like to think of myself as the unofficial stenographer of the animated Oscar nominees.
The nominees listen in on the behind-the-scenes on Sony's Surf's Up. © 2008 AWN Inc.
While the films were screening for the studio artists, we were treated to a backstage look at the making of Sony’s Oscar-nominated animated feature Surf’s Up. VFX supervisor Rob Bredow gave us a nice overview of creating the beautiful waves and mockumentary style of the film. For the waves, they were animated using rigging that allowed the animators to control the curl and break of the waves as they moved along a horizontal plane. Later, effects and lighting artists came in an added layer after layer of details such as stray and various color reflections, making lush realistic water. Peter and the Wolf producer Hugh Welchman asked how many people worked on the waves and Rob said that several different departments had a hand in their creation, but that it amounted to approximately 1/3 of the production crew.
James Williams shows Even Pigeons Go To Heaven director Samuel Tourneux the handheld camera used on Surf's Up. © 2008 AWN Inc.
Next up Rob showed us how they created the handheld documentary style. A system was devised using an old Sony camcorder the studio bought on eBay where the filmmakers could actually film the animation. Animators would animate the scene, but the camera angles and moves were recorded using the handheld camera like a live-action documentary DP would use. By using this technique, the animation was nearly 80% done before final framing was locked on the picture, which is very rare. Overall 85% of Surf’s Up was filmed using the handheld camera. Later we actually had a chance to use the camera used on the production, which was impressive and fun. Madame Tutli-Putli director Chris Lavis wondered whether having the ability to shoot hundreds of shots made choosing the right shot daunting. James C.J. Williams, layout supervisor on the film, said it was actually the opposite, because by using the camera they were able to scout the 3D sets and discover the best angles.
Surf's Up team - producer Chris Jenkins (l to r), and directors Ash Brannon and Chris Buck. © 2008 AWN Inc.
Actually, before we got our hands on this wonderful toy, Surf’s Up directors Ash Brannon and Chris Buck, along with producer Chris Jenkins, joined us. James asked whether the handheld camera created a lot of wasted animation, but Ash said the shots were pretty well thought out before hand so this wouldn’t happen. Also unique to the film was the group rehearsals and ad-libbing on the production. Many times the actors were interviewed in character, from which books of lines for each role where created to use when appropriate.
The nominees check out 3-D scenes. © 2008 AWN Inc.
After checking out the special camera, Kevin Field, production manager on 3-D projects, showed us some stereoscopic clips from Open Season and Beowulf. The challenge of Open Season was that it wasn’t originally meant to be in 3-D, so the crew had less than four months to transform the film. James asked if that caused a great need for recutting or reframing, however Kevin said that only minor reframing, when characters came close to the edge of the frame, was needed.
Right before the Q&A began, we were all given nice swag bags, which included the Surf’s Up DVD and the Art of Surf’s Up book. A second year in a row Sony has really gone way out to treat the nominees well. As for the questions after the screening, they ranged the usually questions about Jerry meeting John Lennon and what was the inspiration for the films.
Jerry Levitan (l) chats about John Lennon with Barry Weiss. © 2008 AWN Inc.
During lunch, Barry Weiss, SVP of Animation Production, warmly greeted the nominees. He mentioned that every couple years there’s a move to get rid of the shorts category and he and governors like John Lasseter fight the call, saying that shorts is where so many great filmmakers get their start. Barry was fascinated with Jerry’s story and how they decided what to include and cut from the 30-minute interview. Jerry told a story of bringing a copy of John Lennon’s album “Two Virgins,” where Lennon and Yoko Ono are naked on the cover, into the delicatessen where his mother worked. The owner told him to get that out of his store. Jerry then pointed to a pin-up calendar the man had on the wall and said what about that? The owner replied, “That’s art. That [referring to the album] is pornography.” Jerry told this story to Lennon, who laughed heartily over it. Josh said that was just one of the gems they couldn’t include in the film.