Director Henry Yu Talks “Surf’s Up 2: WaveMania” – Animation Scoop

Director Henry Yu Talks “Surf’s Up 2: WaveMania”

The animated sequel to Sony Pictures Animation’s Surf’s Up, the 2007 Oscar animated comedy about surfing penguins, will be released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment next Tuesday. Genndy Tartakovsky’s protégé Henry Yu (story artist on Sym-Bionic Titan and both Hotel Transylvania feature films) makes his directorial debut with this project, which is produced by Michelle Wong (production manager on Hotel Transylvania 2) and features computer animation from Rainmaker Entertainment Inc.

So as its been 10 years, I spoke with Surf’s Up 2: WaveMania director Yu about the challenges – and thrills – that came with making this “Superstar” sequel.

Jackson Murphy: This is the sequel to 2007’s “Surf’s Up”, which was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Academy Award. And it’s a great film – I’ve watched it several times over the years. So why, after nearly a decade, was the decision made to greenlight a sequel – and center it around WWE Superstars?

Henry Yu: The WWE is always interested in expanding their brand and bringing in a new generation of audiences. They actually came to us looking for a project that would fit their brand. And they saw “Surf’s Up”, and they thought, “You know what? It’s got a really fun vibe. It’s really light-hearted. It’s got a lot of goofy, cartoony fun.” It’s about surfing – it’s about sports. So we thought it was a natural fit.

JM: WWE is part of a “Jetsons” movie coming soon, and they’ve done “Flintstones” and “Scooby Doo” films in the past. So, when you have people like John Cena and Vince McMahon in the studio, they must be really game.

HY: They’re pros. They’re used to it. Yeah, they’re fantastic, because they perform live every night. We get them in the room and they just make magic happen.

JM: Did they have any input when it came to the design of their characters or the dialogue?

HY: Not the stars themselves. But we did have to send our designs to WWE to get approved. Originally we had two versions of J.C.’s design – one with a hat and one without a hat. I actually really liked the one with the hat, so we actually sent that to Vince McMahon and he’s the one who greenlit that.

JM: That’s cool. And I liked seeing some of the trademark moves and the folding chair. Have you always been a fan of wrestling and the WWE?

HY: Yeah, I used to watch them a lot when I was a kid. I grew up watching them, so it was really cool. They’re big and silly. I came to America when I was 10, and I didn’t really speak a lot of English, and that’s one of the first shows I could watch and be entertained because you could understand what was happening.

JM: Did you ever imagine something from your childhood would ever become this much a part of your career – that you would interact with these people?

HY: No way, man. Vince McMahon and The Undertaker were totally huge when I was growing up. Same with Triple H. He was definitely around. Definitely blew me away when Vince walked in the room. That was pretty cool. I was like, “Oh, Mr. McMahon, it’s such a pleasure to meet you.” And he was like (Henry does an impression of Vince) “Please – Henry – Call me Vince.” And I’m like, “Oh, I can’t.”

JM: You’ve worked as a storyboard artist on “Clarence” and “Hotel Transylvania 2” prior to “Surf’s Up 2”, which is your directorial debut. What were some of the surprising things you learned or experienced in jumping from being an artist to a director?

HY: I don’t know what really surprises me. I guess if a lot of things surprised me about the right thing, they probably wouldn’t have picked me as director. It was a lot of moving parts. A surprising amount of things I learned at school really came into play, even though it was just a little bit. It surprised me how game everyone was to follow around my martial orders, which was pretty good. It was a really fast paced movie, and it was a lot of work. I guess I was surprised how hard you can push really talented and really experienced people to do really incredible things in a very small amount of time.

JM: The animation is really sharp and colorful. And the story amps up the surfing quite a bit. What was the most challenging sequence to come-up with and animate?

HY: Oh, boy. Probably the final big wave riding sequence. We were fighting with the effects [department] so much with this movie because it is on the lower budget side, and it’s an extreme sports movie with a lot of cool stuff. And the water is one of the most expensive things in animation. I got tapped with the responsibility of trying to find something cool that is also not gonna break the bank. I think anything with the big waves and the thunder and the lightning was a big challenge.

The lava scene was kind of a big deal because of how we built it. Most of our sets in this movie are built from…imagine making five LEGO pieces, and then making really modifiable, and then just repurposing them in one big set to make it look really interesting, even though it’s not really that complicated.

JM: And you also go back to one of the core elements of the original “Surf’s Up” – the mockumentary style. But you add some new elements to that because a lot has changed in the last 10 years when it comes to TV.

HY: Yeah, sure. The first movie is seen through the eyes of an indie moviemaker. This [sequel] is seen through the eyes of…ESPN. And then it ends up turning into a Reality TV sort of thing, where you just have one character talking to the screen.

JM: Jon Heder is back as the now iconic Chicken Joe, and Diedrich Baker also returns as the evil Tank Evans. How fun was it for them to reprise their roles?

HY: I think it was different. I think it took them a second to get back on track, but they’re the characters, so it was really natural for them. We had both of them do a lot of improv. We had both of them do a lot of riffing, and a lot of that actually made it into the movie. Some of the funniest lines are actually totally improv.

JM: If you all of a sudden became a WWE superstar, what would you want your wrestler name to be?

HY: Henry the Cobra. Henry the Stuntman. Henry the Director. I don’t know. Something tough, I guess.

JM: Henry the Stuntman Director Cobra. You could wrap them all into one.

HY: Henry the Stuntman Directing Cobra. I like it.

JM: Yes – that sounds very vicious.

HY: Yeah, that’d be good.

JM: On top of “Surf’s Up 2”, Sony Pictures Animation has “Smurfs: The Lost Village”, “The Emoji Movie” and “The Star” all set for theatrical release this year. What’s next for you when it comes to animation?

HY: (laughs) I’m on vacation, man. I’m gonna be on vacation for a long time. I’m [also] gonna be helping out Genndy [Tartakovsky] on “Hotel Transylvania 3”. We’re keeping the ball rolling. It’s coming out in 2018. So it’s pretty fun – get back with the old boss and the old crew.

JM: Any secrets you can share on “Hotel Transylvania 3”?

HY: (laughs) No way, man – unless you hit the “stop” button on the recording. Not trying to be on vacation forever, buddy.

Jackson Murphy

Jackson Murphy

Jackson Murphy is a movie critic and entertainment columnist. He is the creator of the website Lights-Camera-Jackson.com, and has made numerous appearances on television and radio.
Jackson Murphy
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