Surf’s Up Rides New VES Wave

The average moviegoer may not appreciate visual effects as a separate art form in an animated film, but that could change now that vfx artists are starting to get recognition for their work in CG features. On Monday, Sony Pictures Animation’s Surf’s Up became the first fully animated film to be nominated for Best Single Visual Effect of the Year by the Visual Effects Society (VES). The surfing penguin flick’s CG waves were impressive enough to put it up against the more traditional vfx-driven films Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Spider-Man 3 and 300. The award will be presented during the 6th Annual VES Awards on on Feb. 10 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.

‘We pushed technology in a way that isn’t generally done in animated films,’ says Surf’s Up co-producer Lydia Bottegoni, who is nominated along with visual effects supervisor Rob Bredow, computer graphics supervisor Daniel Kramer and CG artist Matt Hausman. ‘For me, personally, it was really exciting coming from a predominantly live-action background and moving toward CG feature work. There’s always this feeling that all the cutting-edge work gets done in live-action visual effects, so it was really exciting to make an animated feature and still be in an arena where we’re challenging the scope of technology.’

Bottegoni tells us the Surf’s Up story provided a great opportunity to tackle technical challenges while serving the characters and the storyline first and foremost. ‘We had to push the envelope in developing the wave technology because it’s a movie about surfing. We had no way around that. And to walk into a movie like Surf’s Up with the requirement that it really spoke to the surfing and the wave as a character, you couldn’t do that halfway. You couldn’t do that and not have it be on par with what’s going on in the live-action world. I think people would notice if we didn’t keep up.”

Before catching the animation wave, Bottegoni was senior visual effects producer on the Oscar-winning team behind Spider-Man 2, and also worked on the first Spider-Man and fellow Sony Pictures Imageworks shows Stuart Little, Sphere and Michael, among others. She admits that she had mixed feelings about deciding to focus on animated films after working on blockbusters, but says the VES nomination serves as validation that groundbreaking effects work can be achieved in animation. ‘It means that I can do what I love doing, which is making big, glamorous, technology-changing visual effects work. You don’t have to make a choice between the two mediums because you can get just as much challenge and just as big an experience working on an animated film as you can working on something like Spider-Man.’

Surf’s Up garnered a total of four VES Awards nominations, including Outstandng Effects in an Animated Motion Picture and a pair of nods for Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Motion Picture for the characters Cody and Chcken Joe. The movie is also a top competitor at this year’s Annie Awards, taking place Friday, Feb. 8 at UCLA’s Royce Hall in Los Angeles.