Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas
Academy Award® nominee Brad Pitt (“Twelve Monkeys”), Academy Award® winner Catherine Zeta-Jones (“Chicago”), three-time Oscar® nominee Michelle Pfeiffer (“Dangerous Liaisons,” “The Fabulous Baker Boys,” “Love Field”), Joseph Fiennes (“Shakespeare in Love”) and Dennis Haysbert (“Far From Heaven,” TV’s “24”) lend their voices to the animated action adventure “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas.”
Sinbad (Brad Pitt), the most daring and notorious rogue ever to sail the seven seas, has-spent his life asking for trouble, and trouble has finally answered.. in a big way. Framed for stealing one of the world’s most priceless and powerful treasures—the Book of Peace—Sinbad has one chance to find and return the precious book, or his best friend Proteus (Joseph Fiennes) will die. Sinbad decides not to take that chance and instead sets a course for the fin and sun of the Fiji Islands.
But the best laid plans…
Proteus’ beautiful betrothed, Marina(Catherine Zeta-Jones), has stowed away on Sinbad’s ship, determined to make sure that Sinbad fulfills his mission and saves Proteus’ life. Now the man who put the “bad” in Sinbad is about to find out how bad bad can be. It’s never a good thing when Eris (Michelle Pfeiffer), the goddess of chaos, has it out for you, and Eris lives up to her name dispatching both monstrous creatures and the elements to do battle with Sinbad along the way. There is even mutiny afoot—times four—when Sinbad’s loyal dog Spike switches allegiances. Adding insult to injury, the crew has decided they like taking orders from Marina.. .better than from Sinbad.
“Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas” is directed by Tim Johnson and Patrick Gilmore and produced by Mireille Soria (“Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron”) and Jeffrey Katzenberg (“Shrek”), from a screenplay by John Logan (“Gladiator”).
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
For generation after generation, the name Sinbad has evoked images of swashbuckling adventures on the high seas. Born more than a thousand years ago in the ancient tales of The Arabian Nights, Sinbad has come to the big screen before, most notably in Ray Harryhausen’s cult classic stop-motion animated films. However, the state-of-the-art tools of today’s traditional animation have allowed Sinbad to be brought to the screen as never before in “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas.”
Producer Jeffrey Katzenberg offers, “Sinbad is one of those epic hero characters we all grew up with, but his story has never been told in animation, and the opportunity to do something fresh, with a contemporary sensibility, was very exciting. Telling the Sinbad tale also allowed us to create an incredibly breathtaking world full of fantastic monsters. That’s the fun of animation—to take an audience to places unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.”
To craft the script, the filmmakers turned to a writer who was no stranger to bringing epic heroes of the past to the screen: John Logan, the writer of the Oscar winning Best Picture “Gladiator.”
“After the phenomenal success of ‘Gladiator,’ we thought, who better to adapt the legend of Sinbad?,” says Katzenberg. “John set out to take this rich mythology and reinvent it in a way that would make it a compelling story for a 21st-century audience, and I think he really accomplished that for us.”
Having never worked on an animated film before, John Logan recalls that he was intrigued by the story possibilities, but at the same time admits, “I had no idea what to expect. Jeffrey Katzenberg—who, by the way, is quite the con man—asked me if I would like to write an animated movie. I said, ‘Well, I really don’t know much about it.’ He assured me, It’s really fun; you’ll have a great time doing this,’ knowing full well the `fun’ would take four years of my life,” Logan laughs.
“But I must say, it was incredible fun,” the writer continues. “I grew up on those classic Sinbad movies with Ray Harryhausen’s stop- motion animation monsters, and I have always loved pirate movies with all that swashbuckling action. What guy doesn’t? So to get to play in that realm for a while was really exciting. Animation is also incredibly liberating because it gives a writer absolute freedom to explore the most fantastical worlds. In live action, there’s always a nagging thought in the back of my mind that if I write that 10,000 soldiers come over the hill, somebody has to cast them, somebody has to wardrobe them, somebody has to shoot them, and there has to be a hill. But in animation, if I write that a 100-foot sea monster rises from the waves and jumps over the ship, I know it can happen.”
Logan also appreciated the level of teamwork that comes with working on an animated film, saying, “I was the beneficiary of some incredible talents because the act of writing `Sinbad’ was actually one of collaboration with the producers, directors, animators, story editors, artists, the voice talent… It was like electricity in that room; wonderful things emerged as we all tried different takes on the material.”
Producer Mireille Soria notes, “We started with the Sinbad legend and then brought in different elements of mythology that we felt worked with the story. There is action and romance; but at its core is a tale of friendship based on the Greek fable of Damon and Pythius, about one friend who is willing to sacrifice his life for the other.”
Director Patrick Gilmore expounds, “We cast a really wide net out to different mythologies to find what we thought were the greatest adventures and the coolest monsters to test our hero, but the thread that runs through the story is a test of friendship. In our story, Sinbad is reunited with his friend Proteus after having been estranged for about 10 years. Yet, when Sinbad gets into trouble, Proteus steps forward and puts his own life on the line for his old friend. What will Sinbad—this thief who is used to having the freedom to do anything he wants in life—do? Will he run for the horizon, or will he risk his life for his friend?”
Brad Pitt gives voice to the title character of Sinbad, or, the actor jokes, “as I like to call him, Sin-Brad.” Pitt goes on to describe his character as “a bit of a rogue. He lives a life of adventure on the high seas. He finds a little treasure, fights a few monsters.. .and he likes the girls.”
Director Tim Johnson states, “Casting Brad Pitt as Sinbad was a home run for us. He’s funny. , he’s charismatic, he’s dashing, and with him at the helm of this character, we had a blast.”
“He fit the role of Sinbad to a T,” Gilmore adds. “Brad is charming and witty and fun to be around. He’s the sort of guy you’d want to go on a road trip with, and that’s what we wanted in Sinbad. Sinbad is smart,resourceful and physically strong; he can get you out of any jam. But at the same time, he’s got some growing up to do. Brad carried that off really well.”
Jakob Hjort Jensen, who served as the lead supervising animator for the character of Sinbad, offers that Pitt gave him more than a vocal performance with which to work. “Brad has specific body movements, and he talks a lot with his hands. It was fin to watch him do lines and observe things he’d do with his hands that I could maybe use. I did little thumbnail sketches so I could remember his gestures four or five months later when I was animating that particular scene.”
Making his first foray into animation, Pitt surprised even himself with the physicality of recording the voice of Sinbad. “I really got into it I would get home and actually be sore. But even though I wish I could take credit for it, I have to say that so much of the character was in the hands of Jakob and the other animators. I was blown away by the detail they can put into a facial expression and the dynamics of the movement. What they can do with animation these days is pretty remarkable.”
“Animators are a rare and talented breed,” Johnson agrees. “When an animator is watching a performance, he is not only listening to the voice; he is looking for those key gestures that an actor uses to sell a line and then takes them and makes them bigger. It’s a meticulous and magical process. Jakob was able to incorporate ‘Bradisms’ that are central to who Brad is and make him so recognizable, so even though Sinbad doesn’t look like Brad Pitt, boy does he move like him.”
Sinbad and his crew have plundered their way across the seven seas, but now Sinbad is going after the most powerful and priceless treasure of all—the Book of Peace. Unfortunately for him, someone else has her eye on the same prize: Eris, the mischievously evil goddess of chaos, whose joy in life is to wreak havoc upon the world.
John Logan remarks, “Any writer worth their salt is going to tell you that the most fun character to write is always the villain. Eris certainly was for me because you can never go over the top with a goddess or a great villain, and when the villain is a goddess, it’s just endless fun.”
Michelle Pfeiffer, who provides the voice of Ens, was eager to share in the fun. “All they had to say was ‘the goddess of chaos,’ and I said ‘yes,” she laughs. “I wasn’t trying to create a villain; I wanted her to be playful. She just relishes stirring up trouble to make things interesting and amusing for herself… like her own reality TV. If it’s too peaceful, it’s terribly boring to her. The whole thing starts out as a game where she is pretty sure what the end result will be because she is convinced that man is weak. She’s just toying with Sinbad, like a cat batting around a mouse.”
Taking her cue—and adding a reference to one of the actress’ most memorable roles—Gilmore states, “Eris is Catwoman with a god complex. She is a combination of seduction and magic and fun and games, and Michelle put that all together beautifully.”
Katzenberg, who had worked with Pfeiffer on DreamWorks’ first traditionally animated feature, “The Prince of Egypt,” notes, “I don’t believe there is another actress in the world who could mix all of those amazing characteristics together better than Michelle. I also think the character of Eris was more challenging because she was not rooted in any physical embodiment that an actor could relate to. It became a collaborative process of discovering the character along the way. Michelle didn’t just come in and read the lines; she really helped invent the character.”
Gilmore reveals, “Very early on, we talked about Eris being a product of her own thought, meaning that she could think about something and become that thing, or think about moving someplace and she’s instantly there. She morphs, she twists, she changes shapes…”
In a remarkable showcase of what can be accomplished by traditional animators, Eris’ constant shape-shifting was achieved entirely with the tools of 2D animation. The supervising animator for Eris, Dan Wagner, says that, in spite of the challenges it posed, “The morphing was the most fin part of animating Eris. This was pure animation. Once I got into the morphing, there were no model sheets to follow and no boundaries. It was just having fun.”
Wagner’s approach to animating Eris became the equivalent of animating two characters, as he treated her long, flowing hair as a separate entity. “The hair was like a second character,” Wagner attests. “First I would animate Eris without her hair, and once that was going pretty well, I’d add the hair on top. I wanted her hair to have a kind of underwater feel to it. Her body would be zipping around, but her hair might be doing its own thing. It showed another dimension to her character, though it had to be secondary because the focus should stay on her face.”
Eris not only represents the best of hand-drawn animation, but also how far animation has come in the seamless blending of 2D, or traditional, animation and 3D, or computer, animation. The character is decidedly ethereal, constantly floating in space and never touching down on what mere mortals call legs. To help give Eris that otherworldly appearance, her face, body and hair were traditionally animated, while the end of her body materializes in wisps of smoke that were rendered in 3D animation.
Effects supervisor Doug Ikeler explains, “Eris is a hand-drawn character, but we wanted to integrate her into her environment, so we used a package called Paint Effects to give her those 3D smoky trails. It was difficult because 2D is flat—it’s drawn on a piece of paper—while, by definition, 3D has depth, so the character and the wisps of smoke that follow her are residing in two different spaces. We cheated it to make it look like they exist in the same realm, but as she touches down, the ensuing mist is able to spread out and go back in space, so that part is full-on 3D.”
When, for reasons of his own, Sinbad decides not to steal the Book of Peace, Eris takes matters into her own hands. Peace is the last thing she wants, so she takes the book herself, framing Sinbad for the crime in the process. Sinbad’s protestations of innocence fall on deaf ears and he is condemned to death, but to everyone’s shock, Prince Proteus intervenes on Sinbad’s behalf Despite all evidence to the contrary, Proteus trusts Sinbad to risk his own life to find and return the precious book in time to save the prince’s life.
“Proteus is a man who takes his responsibilities very seriously,” says Tim Johnson. “He is the Prince of Syracuse, and when he is faced with the greatest disaster the city has ever known—the theft of the Book of Peace—he feels it is up to him to solve theproblem. He is the only one who believes in Sinbad’s innocence, but he also knows that Sinbad is the only one who stands a chance of recovering the Book of Peace.”
Johnson adds that Proteus’ almost too-good-to-be-true nobility made him a hard role to play, but casting Joseph Fiennes in the part gave it just the right balance. “Proteus is so noble and true, he could easily have come off as flat, but Joe did an amazing job. He brought a dynamic to Proteus that conveys how he wrestles with every decision. You understand that this is not a guy who immediately and easily makes the noble choice. He is somebody who understands how much sacrifice is sometimes involved
in doing the right thing.”
Joseph Fiennes agrees that Proteus struggles with the duties of his position, which must preclude his own love of adventure. “I can’t help but feel that deep down, if Proteus didn’t have his royal obligations, he would love to join Sinbad out on the high seas as a pirate,” he observes. “There is probably this yin and yang within him—this urge to be everything that Sinbad is… everything their boyhood friendship was based on. There is a great history between these two; they have a wonderful relationship, built on all the dynamics of being best friends at a young age. They spark off each other, and while they can be very argumentative, you realize that there is a great trust and a great love between them.”
Proteus’ regal calling in life also influenced how supervising animator Rodolphe Guenoden drew the character. “We had to differentiate between how Sinbad and Proteus moved and expressed themselves,” Guenoden says. “Proteus was formally educated and trained from birth, so he is very restrained and very proper. I had to pull back from any spontaneous gestures or mannerisms, and make very precise and articulate moves. That was the toughest job because, as an animator, you want to do more, but with Proteus, less is more. Joseph Fiennes made my job easier because he is such an intense actor and very classically trained, so the acting was already there. I just had to follow the path.”
Fiennes counters that the inspiration for the character worked both ways. “You are given such wonderful insight into the character through the vision of the artists. This was my first venture into the territory of animation, and I was wildly excited by the opportunity. The sheer imagination that went into creating the world they were asking me to step into… What actor could turn that down? The detail of the craftsmanship was mind-boggling; it gave me goose bumps. I have such respect for the people who draw these characters over a period of years. It’s an extraordinary task.”
As it turns out, Proteus’ trust in Sinbad might have been misplaced. However, his fiancée, Marina, the Ambassador of Thrace, has no illusions about Sinbad, and her instincts pay off. Instead of setting a course to Eris’ lair in Tartarus, Sinbad turns his ship, The Chimera, towards Fiji for a permanent shore leave, unaware that he has an uninvited guest aboard: Marina has stowed away and has no intention of allowing Sinbad to desert her intended. “Marina is extremely strong-willed, which is very challenging to Sinbad,” Gilmore says. “Sinbad considers himself the master of the seven seas and is used to being in total control of everything on his boat. All of the sudden, his world is tuned upside down when he is confronted by this headstrong woman who is unafraid to stand up to him and is more than capable of going toe-to-toe with him. It’s Jim to watch these two tangle and see the sparks fly.”
Catherine Zeta-Jones, who provides the voice of Marina, agrees. “Marina is feisty and very opinionated, so she and Sinbad are equals, while coming from very different places. The banter between them was so much fun to play because it was not your usual princess-meets-rogue dialogue. Marina gives as good as she gets. They have a very funny relationship because, in Sinbad’s mind, she’s not supposed to say and do the things she actually says and does.” “Catherine was the first voice talent cast for this picture, and she just blew us away with her performance,” Johnson states. “We really based the whole character, dialogue and design of Marina on being fortunate enough to have Catherine in the role.”
Zeta-Jones says that her own upbringing helped her identify with her character, noting, “I grew up in a family of boys and heard many times about what girls can’t or shouldn’t be doing. But I have always been a little feisty myself, and believed that girls can do things just as well as boys, so I related very much to Marina. I hope young girls and women of all ages enjoy Marina as much as I enjoyed playing her She’s bright and funny and honest and strong.. things I hope to instill in my own daughter.”
Catherine’s affinity for her role also benefited William Salazar, the supervising animator for Marina. “Catherine’s voice really captures Marina’s spirit and determination,” Salazar says. “I was inspired by her acting and used some of her movements and poses to show Marina’s attitude.”
Much to Sinbad’s consternation, Marina quickly proves her mettle and wins the favor of the crew, even earning the respect of Sinbad’s loyal first mate Kale, voiced by Dennis Haysbert.
“Kale is Sinbad’s first mate,” Haysbert says. “He makes sure the crew follows orders. If there were any kind of mutiny in the aft, I think one look from Kale would squelch it. But he has multiple job descriptions: He is a warrior supreme with whom you would want to go into battle; he is the friend Sinbad can count on to watch his back; and he also acts as Sinbad’s conscience to rein him in when he gets too ‘out there.’
Brad Pitt acknowledges, “Here is the problem: Sinbad’s got a bit of an ego, and sometimes that ego gets in the way. So he has Kale as his right-hand man to keep him on the straight and narrow.”
“I cannot say enough about what a delight it was to have Dennis in the role of Kale,” Patrick Gilmore comments. “When we first started working on the story, Kale was sort of a yes man. He did whatever Sinbad needed. Then Dennis came aboard. and played Kale as Sinbad’s conscience—that little voice that challenges Sinbad to do the right thing, to do right by his friend Proteus, as well as Marina. Dennis gave so much spirit, nobility and confidence to the character that Kale’s role was actually expanded. There were whole scenes written for him based on what Dennis brought to the part.”