Chris Williams remembers standing at the retirement party of Walt Disney Animation legend John Musker, who directed The Little Mermaid and Aladdin
with Ron Clements, suddenly thinking his future. “Being a regular at Disney wasn’t a bad thing,” he recalls. “But I don’t want that to just happen to me , I want it to be a choice.” followed by Pixar’s Ed Carter Moore (Ed Catmull) company presentation, he cited a study that showed that people regret not what they did, but what they did not do. Spent 05 years at Disney Animation Williams won an Oscar for Big Hero 6 and won a nomination for Moana, the decision is Time to jump into the unknown.
However, he didn’t jump ship to rival animation studios or dabble in live-action films, as some other animated filmmakers have done. Williams decided to go to
Netflix. That year was 1000; Netflix original movies were just starting to shine, releasing The first YA rom-com, The Kissing Booth and To To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before . Also, animation? There was barely a twinkle in Ted Sarandos’ eyes.
“When I decided to leave, I got to know the land and meet other studios,” Williams said. “I was impressed when they talked about their five-year plan, or 25-year plan, “Why We Believe We’ll Succeed” presentation. Netflix was different. Netflix said, ‘This is the crazy train. We don’t know what’s going on here. Would you like to join?’ ‘”
Impressed by their enthusiasm, Williams agreed. He soon began working on what would become The Sea Beast,
a Moby Dick-meets-How to Train Your Dragon A hilarious adventure inspired by monsters and their Adventure movies of my youth. The most-watched animated film in Netflix history, no small feat considering the company’s animated productions have exploded this year, with movie offerings ranging from Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio to Wendell & Wild by Henry Selick . (Netflix’s all time listings are based on hours watched first time 25 Number of days in theaters.)
This movie also has the second longest Top 06 The tenure of the Netflix movie released at , topped the global weekly magazine list for seven consecutive weeks 05 List of movies (Ryan Reynolds The Adam Project is #1 with eight weeks). It is at the top 01 as 28 days or more (non-consecutive) in nation. Even six months after its July 8 release, it’s still at its best.
Now, Netflix wants more, and Williams is ready to give them. Following that success, Williams signed a full-scale deal with the streaming company late last year and is now working on not just one feature project, but two.
There is a Beast
sequel that will bring back Monster Hunter Jacob Holland and his now adopted daughter Maisie Brumble . There is also an original fantasy where Williams wants to follow the Lord of the Rings but with The Princess Bride Attitude.
Over an omelet at the Studio City Cafe, Williams talks to The Hollywood Reporter about his shift to Netflix experience (he was terrified when he parked the first day), Beast
sequel (of which, quel scandal, which may or may not bring back Red!), and his concern that AI technology will put animators out of work.
You have the biggest animated movie in Netflix history. how do you feel?
I feel very lucky, grateful and relieved if you can believe it. I have worked at Disney for 08 years and this is a Very difficult decision to leave. I struggled with this for a long time. There are reasons to stay at Disney, and reasons to leave. A reason to stay is also a reason to leave. They treated me well, I was comfortable and my relationship there lasted for decades. But I felt like I had to break away from it, partly in order to tell a story that went beyond what you’d normally think of as a North American animated feature. At a big company like Disney or DreamWorks, you get creative satisfaction by pushing boundaries by expanding people’s tonal associations with Disney movies. Big Hero 6 is not what one would expect from Disney, which is very comforting. But I got to a point where I didn’t want to nudge the boundary, I wanted to jump over it.
Until I made that decision, when I first drove down Sunset Blvd to where Netflix had their animation offices at the time, and parked my car, It just happened to me: “Wow, I’m alone. I’m on a one-man crew for the first time.” I was going to make a movie for a studio that was just starting up.
All the departments – artist development, recruiting – all of them are taking shape. In that case, we had to get down to making a movie.
I knew it was going to be tough and creatively risky, so it turned out that way, and the audience showed up, and seeing it, was incredibly satisfying. But all the credit should go to the crew. I’ve been lucky to have people who jumped at the chance to join me and Netflix animation. They literally put up walls around us when we tried to make the film .
Since you rejoined Netflix, what do you think How has the world of animation changed ?
We are at a point where we may already be on an accelerating trajectory. When I was in animation school, there was really only 2D animation, and Disney was the only company making movies. Also, it’s hard to imagine now, but even then it’s not certain they’ll last forever. But, that’s it. Since then, we’ve had DreamWorks, Pixar, Illumination, video games, television for kids and adults — it’s grown in an incredible amount. It has been expanding steadily, both in style and tone, and has only accelerated in the past four years.
Netflix has been criticized for the movies it makes, especially when it comes to live-action movies. But in this year’s animation, it really established itself as a legitimate studio. What is the mood within the department?
This is a huge pride. These are different projects, and they all feel risky. They all feel like they come from a place of passion and that the people who created them really wanted to create them. To me, that really sets it apart from a strictly commercial enterprise. When you look at the movies Netflix is making, it seems like there’s an opportunity for artists to make the movies they’ve always wanted to make. And there will be more.
The business model is fundamentally different. If you’re at Pixar or Disney, you make one or two movies a year. All the eggs were in that basket, so there was a lot of concern and consternation about it. When you process it, it’s both conscious and unconscious. You feel that tension. If it doesn’t work, it could be an existential issue.
At Netflix, the risk is spread across many things, so no single movie feels like that burden. So you’re free to do whatever you think is great. You can make a great movie in either system, and one isn’t inherently better than the other. But I do find it very exciting to be in a less risk-averse place in my career.
So now, all of a sudden, you have two new projects. How did this happen?
We just finished the Sea Beast
We were in post-production when we started talking about me continuing to be at Netflix and doing other work. They were happy to let me know they wanted me to stay.
I felt very supportive throughout the process of making Sea Beast
despite the was an ambitious film. It represented a financial investment and a risk, and they were always cool about letting me make the film I wanted to make. I’ve always valued people’s opinions, and I’ll always listen to anyone. But they never forced me, they never made me do anything other than make the movies I wanted to make. I am truely thankful. So I want to do it again.
So, what are you doing?
I propose an original fantasy story. It’s similar to Sea Beast
in that I’d be making a fully cohesive world. Tonally, it’s between Lord of the Rings and The Princess Bride . It’s like Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings You have a history pass Towards where the story begins, it’s a huge world with many events happening outside of the story being told. But in the meantime, I wanted to have fun with some engagements that Princess Bride did. It’s not a parody or a joke, but a light and refreshing perspective
and then the successful beast of the sea
JACOB HOLLAND (voiced by Karl Urban) and RED
I never thought of going beyond the first movie. We have no plans to make a series. This is good. I just wanted to make this a fun experience without compromising (the movie) by trying to set anything going forward.
The first priority was making it feel plausible and real. And when I think about the truth about the ending of Sea Beast , it seems that everything is wrapped up very well. Isn’t it great that father and daughter sit on the dock, the world changes and they give up hunting monsters? But the more I thought about the truth of it, the more I realized the story wasn’t really over.
Mainly, I’m thinking about this brand new family of Jacob and Masie, thrown together. All of a sudden, Jacob is a parent, the parent of a particularly headstrong kid, right? So when you see them on the dock, you know that’s not what parenting is like. It’s messier, more complicated, and sometimes harder to try than that. So the idea of this new family challenge became interesting to me.
I also wonder if every hunter in the world will give up their source of income and identity, I think there’s more to the story here.
Would Red come back for Sea Beast 2?
Can I say…maybe?
One of the truths about a story is that it’s always evolving. Dramatically, even. The Sea Beast
was known as Jacob and the Sea Beast before Masie existed. It has undergone a complete transformation. Almost anything I say now may be completely different four years from now.
This story will take on a life of its own and give back to you saying, “You thought so well about this? Not so much.” Or, “You didn’t think about this Too much? That’s awesome.” In the interactions with the story team, the story also grows.
I am actively developing two projects. It’s not what I wanted, it just sort of happened. The executives let me decide which one I wanted to do first. I’m exploring both, writing outlines, pitching ideas and talking to Owen Sullivan (Story Lead for Sea Beast) who will co-direct what’s next, and Jed Schlanger (producer of Sea Beast
They are both growing organically and the goal is for one of them to dominate. Right now, though, I’m going back and forth. The goal is to eventually have them all be.
It’s one thing to be successful on Netflix, it’s quite another to be one in the “real world”. Is this something that bothers you?
Possibility to be a huge success on Netflix while being unknown in other circles, nobody else even listening Said the movie. You can say, “Oh, that’s a shame, I wish more people knew it existed.” But I counter, “Wait a minute, why are we doing this? Make people see the billboard? Or make people actually watch and Want to enjoy it?” I believe, by that measure, that was ultimately the right way to think about it, and it was a huge success. That’s why I’m happy to stay at Netflix and make more movies there.
Jacob, Visual development of Maisie and Red. Woonyoung Jung/Netflix
There is a growing discussion about AI in the creative community. And take over the medium of storytelling. Do you have this concern?
First off I’m not an expert, this is new technology and we’re trying to figure it out and wrestle with it. I’m more of a Luddite, caring about this sort of thing, and I’m nervous about the ability to put people out of work. I’m nervous and skeptical about how it’s going to be used and the financial pressure on the studio, if they can make something cheaper, they probably will, even if it means hiring fewer artists. I worry about visual development artists. I worry about story artists. I worry about all of us and what AI might be able to replace.
The idea that one day a machine could overtake Chris Williams is scary.
In fact, some programs can now write very convincing articles or stories, it is scary, That might be a concern for you, and for me, for anyone who wants to create images or create stories, or participate in visual storytelling. It’s about what it can already do. I wonder where we will be six months or a year from now.
The biggest misconception is what do people think about animation directors?
I think directors tend to take too much credit for the success of their movies. I know that when it works well, it’s a deeply collaborative art form, and if you do it right, you create an environment where people feel comfortable volunteering their ideas and also feel comfortable disagreeing, and disagree with me. It should be an environment without ego. This is what I’ve been trying to create. At the end of the day, the film is the product of a creative health of the crew.
Jacob, Red and Visual development for Maisie.