Chris Williams talks The Sea Beast, Oscars

L-R: Zaris-Angel Hator as MAISIE BRUMBLE and Karl Urban as JACOB HOLLAND in The Sea Beast. Courtesy of Netflix. © 2022.

Oscar-winning filmmaker Chris Williams spoke with Solzy at the Movies about The Sea Beast and staying grounded after winning an Oscar.

Williams previously won an Oscar for directing Big Hero 6 with Don Hall. He directs and co-writes The Sea Beast, which is an epic swashbuckling adventure that pushes the boundaries of animation. If there’s a world where animation meets live-action, this is that film. The film stars Karl Urban, Zaris-Angel Hator, Jared Harris, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Dan Stevens, Kathy Burke, Doon Mackichan, and Jim Carter.

The Sea Beast will start streaming July 8 on Netflix.

You can watch video of the interview here or read the transcript below.

Chris Williams
Chris Williams. Courtesy of Netflix.

How’s it going today?

Chris Williams: Good. How are you doing?

I’m doing well. I thought The Sea Beast was quite the visual spectacle and epic swashbuckling adventure.

Chris Williams: Thank you. That’s exactly what we were going for so I’m glad you took it that way.

What was the genesis for the screenplay?

Chris Williams: The truth of it is, this one goes way back for me. This one goes all the way back to the movies that I loved as a kid. The movie that I loved—even more than Star Wars—I loved King Kong. I love Star Wars but King Kong was the one that really got me wanting to make movies. I love Raiders of Lost Ark. I love the stop-motion films like Clash of the Titans. They really motivated me to want to make movies. I used to try to make little stop-motion movies with my dad in my bedroom. I was basically trying to make an action-adventure spectacle and not doing so hot but I was trying. I had this desperate urge to tell stories visually. And later, I came to really appreciate Lawrence of Arabia and wanted to make movies like that—these really ambitious, rollicking adventure stories where characters leave the known world and head out into the unknown. That’s always been in me.

I was very lucky to have—I moved from Canada to work at Disney Animation. I worked there for 25 years. I’m really proud of all the movies that I’ve worked on and I have great working relationships and friends still at Disney. But there was this urge to tell a story that was specifically this genre, an action-adventure story. I was also very motivated by or compelled by those old sea monster maps, where there were these big swaths of ocean and they would populate the ocean with drawings of sea monsters. I thought, Man, that would be such a cool world for an animated movie and I kind of combined those things, and went off to make The Sea Beast. I wanted it to feel like a classic adventure story.

Well, it definitely felt that way! Were there any films in particular that influenced the look?

Chris Williams: We definitely looked at Master and Commander as far as the feeling of authenticity. One of our experts was one of the consultants of Master and Commander, someone who’s very knowledgeable and very passionate about these ships and that era. We wanted the movie to have that feeling and so we wanted that really lived in feeling of plausibility for our ship. That was probably the main—between that and movies like Lord of the Rings—there’s something joyful about the production design of Lord of the Rings, but you also get a sense of the history. When you look at the costuming, when you look at the architecture, when you hear the dialogue and references to things that had happened before, things that happen off screen, you get a sense of a personality of a movie that is set in a very big world. That’s what we wanted for this movie, more than anything else I’ve ever worked on before.

Pandemic aside, what was the most challenging aspect of making the film?

Chris Williams: It’s interesting because the pandemic was a big deal because it’s such a collaborative art form and it’s more challenging to collaborate to communicate this way, right. But I think that one of the—the biggest challenge I think was just the sheer ambition of it. Just the fact that it was a fantasy story that I wanted the world to feel really big, which means you have to design a lot and build a lot. I think also just the difference in scale of some of our characters. We have some characters that are so much bigger than others and they had to connect and relate to each other and you had to—the movie wasn’t going to work if the monsters didn’t feel big and so you have to get that right. That is a design issue but also an effects issue because that means these creatures are going to displace a lot of water, which means that our effects artists have to be up to the task and you’ve seen the movie so you know that I think that they were.

Roy Conli, Chris Williams, and Don Hall
Roy Conli, Chris Williams and Don Hall pose backstage with the Oscar® for Best animated feature film of the year for outstanding work on the “Big Hero 6” during the live ABC Telecast of The 87th Oscars® at the Dolby® Theatre in Hollywood, CA on Sunday, February 22, 2015. (Aaron Poole / ©A.M.P.A.S.)

With previously winning an Oscar, how do you manage to stay grounded?

Chris Williams: (Laughs) That’s not too hard. I go back to work with the same people as before and they know that I’m still the same guy. I think one of the nice things about animation is I work with people who generally don’t have really big egos. No one got into this line of work because they wanted to get famous. People do this because they love it. They love these movies. They love animation. They’re passionate about the art form. If people start to feel really full of themselves, it’s detrimental to the spirit of collaboration that you need to make great animated films. There’s not much patience for people who carry on like that, for people who think highly of themselves and are quick to demonstrate that. That just doesn’t play an animation, which is one of the things I love about it.

Thank you so much and it was so nice to meet you.

Chris Williams: Thank you. Nice to meet you, too. We’ll see you later.

Netflix will launch The Sea Beast on July 8, 2022.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.