Academy Award-winning Canadian filmmaker Chris Williams steers Netflix Animation ship to success
There is a long history of great Canadian animators bringing some of our favourite movie characters to life and now Academy Award-winning filmmaker Chris Williams, born in Missouri but raised in Waterloo, Ont., is a driving force in the rise of Netflix Animation projects, with his film The Sea Beast landing on the streaming platform Friday, July 8.
The Sea Beast drops us into a world where brave sea monster hunters set out into the waters to protect innocent people from these underwater creatures. One of the greatest is legendary Captain Crow (Jared Harris), alongside Jacob Holland (Karl Urban) aboard The Inevitable hunting ship. The pair are tasked by the King and Queen to capture the most dangerous beast of all, the Red Bluster, but a young stow away on the ship, Maisie Brumble (Zaris-Angel Hator), puts wrench in the plans. Maisie, young but mighty, dreams of becoming the next great monster hunter, but has now been thrown into one of the most dangerous hunts of all time.
“There's this natural kind of human curiosity about the unknown,” Williams told Yahoo Canada. “What's beyond the horizon? What's out there? What will we discover if we go to the uncharted island?”
“It really lends itself to stories… When characters leave their familiar surroundings and venture out into the unknown right away, they become much more vulnerable.”
In a media presentation ahead of the The Sea Beast premiere, Williams highlighted that he was always particularly drawn to sea monster maps.
“I always loved those old sea monster maps and there's something about them that is just so evocative and romantic, and I really liked, in particular, the maps that were incomplete with areas that would just kind of fade off into nothingness,” Williams said. “There was just an urge to make those areas [more] exciting and more dangerous.”
“I always thought ‘man that will make an awesome world for an animated movie,’ so I made one.”
Big move to Netflix: 'I was worried about becoming complacent'
For Chris Williams, creating an epic, large scale animated adventure tale was always in the cards.
“When I was a kid, I loved drawing and writing and creating comic strips and I used to make these little stop motion films, and I always loved movies, and in particular loved adventure stories,” Williams told reporters. “I remember really particularly responding to the big sweeping epic adventure stories like King Kong and Raiders of the Lost Ark and Lawrence of Arabia, but my mom was concerned about what her movie-obsessed son who spent a lot of time drawing in his bedroom was going to do for a living, maybe rightly so.”
“So she encouraged me to pursue animation as a career and I didn't want my mom to be mad at me, so I went off to study animation at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, Canada…and it's there that my love for animation really took root.”
Williams worked with Disney Animation as a storyboard artist initially, eventually transitioning into directing major movies like Oscar-winning Big Hero 6, Moana and Bolt, in addition to working on other popular animated films, including Frozen, Ralph Breaks the Internet and The Emperor's New Groove.
“I had a good experience and I've worked on movies that I'm really really proud of, and after spending half my life there, I was quite comfortable, but I was concerned that I was actually maybe getting too comfortable, and I was worried about becoming complacent,” he explained to reporters. “So I wanted to throw myself into something brand new and I made the difficult decision to leave Disney Animation and come to Netflix Animation, that turned out to be a very energizing and exciting moment for me to be part of something that is just getting off the ground.”
“I couldn’t help but see parallels between the story I was working on, about characters sailing off into unfamiliar worlds, and my own journey into the unknown.”
'One person can't sail a ship'
While Chris Williams is certainly leading the charge with The Sea Beast, he also stresses that collaboration is “the most important thing” when making animated films.
“The most important thing when making an animated movie is recognizing that one person can't do it alone, and it's a mistake to think that if you're the director, that you should do it all or need to do it all,” Williams told Yahoo Canada. “To me, when it's working really well, it's me understanding that I'm surrounded by really talented, really smart people that have a lot to offer.”
“A lot of my job is to create an environment where people feel comfortable saying everything that's on their mind and letting people know the rules are you can disagree with me, you can disagree with each other, we can really have these open and honest conversations and debates, and if you do that, then it's amazing what starts to happen… People start to really trust that they are really part of the building of the story and the movie.”
Speaking to reporters, Williams highlighted that “each person that works on an animated movie contributes in a fundamental and indispensable way.”
“One person can't sail a ship, it takes a whole crew,” he said.