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Netflix's fantastical animated adventure tale The Sea Beast, written, directed and produced by Academy Award-winning Canadian Chris Williams (Big Hero 6, Moana), is an impressively large-scale, action-packed expedition.
The Sea Beast is set in a time where monsters roam under the sea and brave hunters set sail on massive ships to try to protect innocent civilians from these underwater creatures. That’s where we meet Captain Crow (Jared Harris), captain of the ship The Inevitable, alongside Jacob Holland (Karl Urban), who are tasked by the King and Queen to capture the most notoriously menacing sea beast, the Red Bluster.
Maisie Brumble (Zaris-Angel Hator) is a young orphan who has big ambitions to become one of these heroic sea monster hunters she reads about in adventure stories. Committed to achieving her goal, Maisie breaks out of the orphanage and stows away on The Inevitable ship, where she is not only thrust into this dangerous hunt for the Red Bluster, but she also complicates the journey for Captain Crow and Jacob.
“I did a lot of research into the tall sailing ships that were obviously going to be a big part of the story, because I really wanted the audience to feel immersed in this world,” Williams told reporters in a presentation ahead of the film’s release. “I knew it was going to be a big part of the experience of watching the movie so we met with experts on life at sea.”
Authenticity was a core element of making The Sea Beast, giving the movie uniquely detailed elements to help the audience feel committed to this animated story.
“The textures are stylized in a way that wood still looks like wood, and rock looks like rock,” production designer Matthias Lechner explained to reporters. “Whenever possible, we were authentic and true to the period, even in details like the paint, like the wood cuts and book illustrations, and I wanted this film to feel lit with natural light and grounded in reality, especially in the fantastic parts.”
“It was important to me to light the scenes with available light sources, which is not actually the case in animation, but I wanted it to look like that to make sure the sets didn't look staged.”
Playing with contradictions in each character in 'The Sea Beast'
When it came to crafting the characters that lead us through this adventure, Chris Williams’ goal was to make sure they were dynamic and had dimension.
“Hopefully we were successful in creating characters that have different dimensions and different facets to them, so that they're not just one note characters, and oftentimes it's creating contradictions,” Williams told Yahoo Canada. “Jacob can be almost stereotypically alpha male, but at the same time, boyish and sometimes vulnerable, and he can get knocked back in his heels by Maisie, and so we play these contradictions.”
“Maisie is incredibly headstrong and willful, but we were cognizant of the fact that we didn't want her to just be like a robot that never experiences a doubt or fear, and we wanted her to feel like a real kid at the same time… We all are full of contradictions and have different facets, and when you can imbue that in your characters, then they just start to feel real.”
When asked by reporters why it was important to have the character of Maisie Brumble included as a lead character in The Sea Beast, in a setting historically dominated by older, male characters, Williams said it was a “no-brainer” to include her as a core part of the story.
“There [were] choices to make at the very beginning, as far as the men versus women on the ship, and ethnicities and things like that, and we pretty early on decided [this] is a fantastic, imagined world and so why not make it more interesting and more inclusive, and more diverse, and I think everyone was…really excited by that possibility to create something that feels sort of new and energized in that way,” Williams said.
“It was almost a no-brainer to push in that direction.”
Biggest animation challenge
While the film is massive in scope, everyone who worked on The Sea Beast, including Chris Williams himself, have been quick to identify one of the most challenging aspects of creating this animated film - animating all the ropes on the ships.
It's something that may seem relatively trivial on the surface, but took a lot of time and attention.
“Oftentimes, at the beginning, you're trying to identify, what's the thing that's going to bite us and unfortunately, with this movie, everyone knew the ropes were going to be very present and they're going to be an issue,” Williams told Yahoo Canada.
“There are so many ropes, in fact 5,000 ropes on The Inevitable, and that's only the ones that are above deck,” VFX supervisor Stirling Duguid told reporters.
“The hardest thing about animating ropes is that they have these complex regions of slack that come and go, it piles up, it self-collides, it drags against objects around it,” head of character animation Joshua Beveridge added.
While the ropes may have been a challenge, it's that attention detail in The Sea Beast, in addition to the greatly suspenseful story, that solidifies the film as a must-see animated movie.