"I’m fortunate enough to work with some of the most talented artists in the world. But you can’t just draw and design willy-nilly," says Williams.

How Chris Williams Conquered The Sea Beast

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The desire for adventure and new experiences often requires stepping outside of our comfort zones and taking big risks. In the case of Jacob Holland and Maisie Brumble, the lead characters in the animated epic The Sea Beast, that means sailing into uncharted waters and facing unknown dangers. For Writer-director Chris Williams, it meant leaving a comfortable job at Disney.

“I had reached a point where I’d been at Disney for 25 years, which at that point was half my life,” Williams says. “I had a great experience there, I have great friends there, and I left on good terms. I just needed to throw myself into something new, almost for its own sake.” Williams, who co-directed Bolt and Moana—and won an Oscar for co-directing Big Hero 6—dreamed of making an action-adventure film like the ones that ignited his youthful imagination, such as King Kong and Raiders of the Lost Ark. When Williams pitched the concept for The Sea Beast to Netflix Animation, the streaming giant was sold on his creative vision. 

“I had reached a point where I’d been at Disney for 25 years, which at that point was half my life.”

Williams was off on a voyage of discovery, stepping behind the wheel for the first time to solo as a director. “There was certainly pressure and stress,” Williams says. “I was going to be asking hundreds of people to come and join me on this journey. That’s asking a lot, because it’s not just my time and my sacrifice, it’s theirs, too … that’s what drives me to make the movies as good as they can be,” he says. “I would say it was really scary—and really exciting—in equal measure.”

The Sea Beast takes place in an age of brigantines, swashbuckling and mythical creatures. Jacob (voiced by Karl Urban) is a monster hunter whose exploits are chronicled in storybooks, and he’s never come up against a beast that he couldn’t kill. When young Maisie (Zaris-Angel Hator), a little girl who dreams of following in her hero’s footsteps, stows away aboard Jacob’s fabled ship, things quickly get tense. Jacob and the rest of the crew are tracking a giant, red sea monster, and there’s no time for babysitting. It’s not long, however, before Jacob and Maisie are learning from each other, and when they meet to encounter the beast, they begin to question the truth of everything they’ve been taught to believe about these “dangerous” creatures. 

“I would say it was really scary—and really exciting—in equal measure.”

Designing the lead character “Red” was a vital component of making The Sea Beast work as a movie. In order for the story to work, Red had to look imposing enough to inspire fear, but cute enough to be endearing. “The starting point is always research,” Williams says. “I’m fortunate enough to work with some of the most talented artists in the world. But you can’t just draw and design willy-nilly.” The goal was to make the design feel plausible and to make the audience believe that such an animal could exist. The design team looked at everything from whales to penguins, though much of their focus was on the physiology of walruses, seals and sea lions. “You can look at that, and you know that makes sense,” Williams says. “If we start with that, the audience will feel that it makes sense … and from that point, then you start to invite the designers to bring in their imagination and to try to create personality in the design.”

One of the defining aspects of any Chris Williams film is action—Bolt’s opening chase sequence a prime example. The director was keen to take things to a whole new level in The Sea Beast. “With every movie I’ve worked on, I’ve always been trying to push just a little bit more in the action scenes,” Williams says, and he has always turned to The Road Warrior for inspiration. George Miller‘s visionary post-apocalyptic science-fiction film, which blazed new trails and redefined the expectations for the action genre, has served as beacon for Williams throughout his career, driving him to push the boundaries of what could be done. “I pushed pretty hard on this one,” Williams says. “I think I had a little George Miller on my shoulder saying ‘more, more, more!’”

“I’m fortunate enough to work with some of the most talented artists in the world. But you can’t just draw and design willy-nilly.”

In its limited theatrical release, The Sea Beast met enthusiastic responses from audiences and critics alike. As it expands to a wide release on Netflix on July 8, Williams faces competition from his old employer, as Disney and Marvel open Thor: Love and Thunder, which aims to entice the moviegoing public to leave home. While Chris Williams and The Sea Beast aren’t asking you to go anywhere physically, this stunning and joyous adventure will transport you to a far-away land of wondrous possibilities. 

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