‘Surf’s Up’ shows true grit

CGI artists purposely downgrade film's visuals

Animators pride themselves on their pristine visuals. So the toonsmiths at Sony Animation were understandably taken aback when producer Chris Jenkins asked them to scratch up their “footage” for “Surf’s Up.”

Jenkins wanted the pic to look like a surf mockumentary — think “Riding Giants” meets “This Is Spinal Tap” — so he asked them to age “historic” sequences of surfing penguins accordingly.

“The artists at Imageworks created these fantastic wave shots, then I turned to them and asked them to turn it into black and white and scratch it up,” Jenkins says, chuckling at their reaction.

Other images were digitally bleached out to give them an aged look. To make them look like vintage footage, the animators digitized the grain on 35mm film “and layered it over entire images.”

Although a few toon shorts have used a docu style — most notably Aardman’s “Creature Comforts” — “Surf’s Up” is the first feature to employ it wholesale. And it’s certainly the first to poke fun at the reality show craze.

Jenkins says he figured “by the time we came out, four and a half years later, the world was going to be ready for us to do a lighthearted parody.”

He wasn’t counting on two other family-friendly penguin movies catching a wave at the B.O. first. But the producer’s trying to be as Zen as the movie’s Big Z, a surfer voiced by Jeff Bridges.

“Certainly if I had known that, I would have done something different,” Jenkins says. “I would have made them skateboarding squirrels or something like that.”

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