Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas: About the production: Cast on
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 fun 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 Eris, 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 fun 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 the problem. 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 turned 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 fun 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 air, 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.”
As the character evolved, the filmmakers and supervising animator Bruce Ferriz modified the overall design of Kale to better fit Haysbert’s portrayal. Gilmore explains, “Kale was always a big, strong guy, but once we started listening to Dennis’ voice, we made changes to the character, mostly in how he moved. Kale doesn’t jump into a fight and spring around defending himself. He just walks right into the middle of it and calmly and politely relieves people of their weapons, leaving a trail of unconscious bodies behind him.”
Another member of the crew who takes an instant liking to Marina is Rat, who, in contrast to Kale, is small and wiry and more at ease swinging from the crow’s nest than standing on the deck. Rat is voiced by Adriano Giannini, the son of legendary actor Giancarlo Giannini. Tim Johnson says, “Adriano came in with so much energy. Even performing at a microphone in a cold room, he made me feel like he was swinging from mast to mast or hanging upside down to confront Sinbad.”
No matter what, Sinbad knows he can at least count on the loyalty of man’s best friend: his beloved dog Spike. Well, maybe not, says Johnson. “Spike has been by Sinbad’s side through all his adventures, but when the beautiful Marina shows up, even he can’t help but find her pretty special. In a way, Spike plays matchmaker for the two of them in the picture.”
“Spike and Marina have a wonderful relationship,” Zeta-Jones smiles. “The idea of sharing a bunk with him isn’t too nice at first, but they develop a great friendship that grows and grows’much like Spike’s part. Spike has taken over the movie,” she teases. “As actors, we’re none too pleased with him. It’s hard to compete with such a charismatic animal. In fact, I ran into Brad Pitt recently and told him that I want to do another movie with him where we don’t have to compete with Spike.”
The filmmakers put a lot of thought into what kind of dog a character like Sinbad should own. Gilmore relates, “At first, Spike was a well-groomed Akita-type dog’very pretty. But we took one look at the design and said, ‘No, that’s not Sinbad’s dog.’ We went back and found the American Kennel Club description of a bull mastiff. They are huge and powerful. I mean, these are dogs that fought elephants. We said, ‘Okay, that’s the kind of breed Sinbad would have.'”
While it only took one actor to voice each of the human characters, it took no less than eight dogs to play Spike, and both directors agree the “dog days” were the funniest on the recording stage. Johnson recalls, “Those were probably the wildest and most unpredictable days in front of the microphone. We had dogs of all shapes and sizes to voice Spike, because there were all these acting moments that we needed. In some ways, Spike has more lines of ‘dialogue’ than some of the humans in the film. So it took eight dogs, four hours, and a whole lot of bowls of water to get what we needed for our one dog Spike, mostly because some of the better takes were destroyed by our own laughter.”
“Any trained dog can bark on command,” Gilmore expounds. “It’s the grumbles, it’s the mutters, it’s all those sounds that bring the character to life. And you should have seen the tricks we pulled on those dogs to bring Spike to life: We put mayonnaise on plates to get those wet, drooly, licking sounds; we showed them a toy and then held it back to get those frustrated whines’ It was basically sitting in a recording room playing with dogs to get the wide variety of sounds that Spike makes. But it was important, because from the moment we decided Sinbad was going to have a dog, we knew we wanted it to be a real dog’not a cartoon sidekick, not a dog voiced by a human, but a real dog. Spike does a lot of cool stuff in the movie, but it’s stuff a real dog could conceivably be trained to do, if he belonged to someone like Sinbad.”
Amongst the canine ensemble cast as Spike, there was one dog that took the lead in both voice and mannerisms: Harvey, a bulldog with a face only an animator could love. A veteran of such films as “Batman” and “I Love Trouble,” Harvey is trained by renowned animal trainer Boone Narr, who says, “I got the call that they were looking for a dog with an unusual ‘voice,’ and we knew that had to be Harvey. We took him down to the recording stage, and Harvey stole the show. He has several pitches of barks, and when you scratch his stomach, he makes these guttural snorty sounds. I’d say he’s the Marlon Brando type’he only says a few words, but when he says them, it means something,” Narr laughs.
Narr relates that audiences will also see some of Harvey in Spike, as the animators, led by Serguei Kouchnerov, incorporated a number of the bulldog’s expressions to go along with his “voice.” “They really captured his curiosity’the way his head tilts’things like that. So even though several dogs went into creating Spike, the main part of him is Harvey.”