Eleven-year-old Maisie Brumble, voiced by Zaris-Angel Hator, is the hard-charging, unflappable lead characters of Netflix’s The Sea Beast, a seafaring tale of battling monsters in the uncharted waters of circa 1700. At the SCAD Animation Fest Thursday at the Savannah College of Art and Design’s Atlanta campus, Sea Beast animation director Zach Parrish and line producer Steven Schweickart, both SCAD alums, explained how they brought Maisie to life.
“Maisie played an important role in making the film accessible to everyone,” said Schweickart, “Why shouldn’t an 11-year-old girl want to sail the open seas hunting monsters?”
SCAD Animation Fest, now in its sixth year, is a sibling to SCAD’s larger SCAD Savannah Film Festival, held each year in Savannah and marking its 25th anniversary next month. It’s a place for SCAD animation students to learn from the masters of the craft, especially those based in Georgia, or who attended SCAD, and chart out their own career paths.
Parrish and Schweickart took the audience through every aspect of The Sea Beast — even showing a video of how the team acted out every scene in the movie to create reference points for the animation, and using the Beaufort Wind Scale, essential to seafarers, to decide how choppy the waves should be in every almost scene in the film.
“Out of 43 sequences in the film there’s only four that don’t have any water in them,” noted Parrish. “There were almost 800 shots of the ocean and 719 shots that were on the ship that is on the ocean.”
That’s a huge technical challenge, but none of it would matter if the film didn’t have an audience surrogate for viewers young and old to root for, and see themselves reflected in. During a Q&A session, SCAD MFA student Dominique Ebron, whose thesis research is on how Black characters are reflected in animation, asked about the influences on Maisie.
“I loved the character Maisie Brumble. I thought she was great. Her hair texture and skin were really on point,” said Ebron, before asking: “What was the cultural reference that went into her design?”
“We drew from West African influences for a lot of the African characters or Black characters in the film,” said Schweickart. “But she had more European dress — she tied in all those different worlds.”
Parrish noted that another film involving “beasts” was also a reference point. The filmmakers modeled Maisie partly after Quvenzhané Wallis, who plays the heroine in Beasts of the Southern Wild.
The colors of Maisie’s clothing were especially important, because strong colors in The Sea Beast reflect different strong emotions — and Maisie’s clothes include all of the colors.
Representation was also important.
“We felt it was important for her to be Black, and we made that decision pretty early on. And we wanted little girls to see themselves reflected on the camera,” Schweickart said.
The film was also conscious of showing a gender-inclusive crew on the ship of monster hunters.
“Women on the ship were every bit as fierce as the men, and played the same roles in keeping the ship afloat and pulling in the largest prey,” Schweickart said.
SCAD Animation Fest is underway through Friday. The Sea Beast is now streaming on Netflix.