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The Sea Beast’s director walks us through the ‘wise monsters’ that inspired his creatures

How to Research Your Sea Dragon

Jared Harris as Captain Crow leaps with a spear in hand towards a massive sea creature in The Sea Beast. Image: Netflix
Petrana Radulovic is an entertainment reporter specializing in animation, fandom culture, theme parks, Disney, and young adult fantasy franchises.

In the world of Netflix’s The Sea Beast, heroic monster hunters take to the high seas to kill fearsome creatures in order to keep waters safe for seafarers — or at least that’s what everyone believes. The most terrifying of all the sea monsters is the Red Bluster, a gigantic red creature that lives in the depths of the ocean and can swallow rowboats whole.

[Ed. note: This feature contains some slight spoilers for The Sea Beast.]

Image: Netflix

But when seasoned monster hunter Jacob Holland (Karl Urban) and savvy stowaway Maisie Brumble (Zaris-Angel Hator) end up stranded on an island full of sea monsters, they discover that these beasts aren’t the bloodthirsty fiends they expected. In fact, the Red Bluster takes a bit of a liking to Maisie especially. In its most gentle moments, the Red Bluster turns from a massive, formidable beast into a gentle giant.

Like with most animation designs, the final look for this imposing monster and benevolent guardian took a couple of iterations to land. Director Chris Williams tells Polygon that his creative team looked at real animals that they considered “the ultimate monster” in a given biosphere, but they also wanted animals that convey a certain wisdom. That led them to big cats, like lions and tigers. To bring across the Bluster’s ability to transition out of sea and onto land, pinnipeds became a natural fit.

“We did a lot of research,” Williams says. “We looked at images and videos of sea lions, seals and walruses, and whales, just to see how they moved and how their physiology made sense [as] creatures that live in the water — that could go on land, but were more comfortable in the water. And that pointed us in a certain direction.”

Maisie Brumble (Zaris-Angel Hator) feeding fruit to a strange creature in The Sea Beast. Image: Netflix

But while the design elements took many iterations, some aspects of the movie ended up perfectly panning out in one go — especially Hator’s performance as Maisie Brumble. Williams says she brought just the right amount of spunk and sophistication to the role. He was blown away by Hator’s performance — especially seeing her transition from her own reserved personality into Maisie’s fierceness. Even when it came to the trickier and more nuanced scenes, Hator surprised Williams.

“Oftentimes with actors, we’ll approach those scenes multiple times, just to give them an opportunity to approach the moment from a different direction,” says Williams. “And there were moments that we thought were going to be the most challenging that she just attacked and nailed straightaway.”

Williams explains that while many people think voice actors provide audio to match existing animation, it actually works the opposite way, with the acting coming first. This means details in the actors’ performance can often inspire the end result.

“The animator is listening to the performance and just feeding off of every every bit of nuance and every bit of spontaneity they can find,” says Williams. “[Hator] was able to provide so much to our animators, and they couldn’t wait to get their hands on her scenes.”

The Sea Beast is streaming on Netflix now.

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