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Oscar-nominated director draws on his Kitchener, Ont. roots

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A creative from Kitchener, Ont. was up for a big award for his Netflix film.

Chris Williams is the director and co-writer of "The Sea Beast", which was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Animated Feature category.

The film is about an adventurous little girl determined to work side-by-side with a group of legendary sea monster hunters.

“One of the things I definitely know is that a director doesn’t make a movie by themselves,” Williams told CTV News, crediting the hundreds of other animators and staff who worked behind the scenes.

Adding: “I am really happy for the crew, and probably especially happy for my mom because she loves the Oscars.”

Williams did not win this time, as Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio came out as the winner.

A still of characters Jacob Holland (Karl Urban) and Masie Brumble (Zaris-Angel Hator) in "The Sea Beast." (NETFLIX)

His mother, Betty Williams, is a lover of art herself who previously worked at the Centre in the Square in Kitchener.

"I laugh when he says that because when he and his brother Matt were young, the two of them would run for the hills because it was not what they were interested in," she said.

Now the whole family are fans of the Academy Awards.

Williams won his first Oscar for directing “Big Hero Six”, the animated Disney movie, in 2015.

Roy Conli, from left, Don Hall, and Chris Williams accept the award for best animated feature film for 'Big Hero 6' at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP)

The “Sea Beast” marks his third Oscar nomination.

Williams’ love for animation all started as a young child in Kitchener, Ont.

“When he was about three years old, we gave him for Christmas some coloured pens,” Betty said. “He sat down and started drawing and he never stopped.”

“I spent a lot of my time drawing in my bedroom and making little stop motion films and things like that,” Williams added.

Chris Williams in an undated photo with his mother Betty. (Courtesy: Chris Williams)

Betty said Chris used to take classes at the KW Art Gallery every Saturday morning.

His time as a student at Bluevale Collegiate Institute is also memorable.

“The teachers that he had at Bluevale were very encouraging. Mr. Boon, Mr. Curry those two in a particular,” Betty said, adding that there were many others as well.

Williams is also a University of Waterloo fine arts graduate and says he remembers frequenting local spots like Phil’s, a popular university bar in Waterloo, before moving on to study animation in Oakville.

“It wasn’t until I was a teenager and my mom started becoming very concerned about what was going to become of me,” he joked. “I have a brother, he is a really smart guy, really good with math and computer science and stuff like that so my mom was always very comfortable he was going to be able to make a living. But wasn’t sure what to do with this kid that just liked to draw all the time.”

Williams said it was his mom who encouraged him to turn his passion into a career “She encouraged me to study animation at Sheridan College in Oakville and once I got there I started seeing it as an actual career and job, and I really committed to it.”

Betty said she never truly doubted him, though it’s obvious now that his love for drawing paid off.

“I will say that there are a lot of starving artists out there and so one never knows where that talent will lead and for him. Fortunately, he found what was best for him which was animation.”

“[After graduating from Sheridan College] I was accepted into an internship at Disney animation in Florida and then I was sent out here to California and I’ve been here ever since,” Williams said.

“It was never really a goal,” he told CTV News, about becoming an award winning film maker. “It all sort of just happened organically.”

Williams said he has been directing for about 15 years now, and before that, he was a storyboard artist.

This image released by Disney shows animated characters Hiro Hamada, voiced by Ryan Potter, right, and Baymax, voiced by Scott Adsit, in a scene from 'Big Hero 6.' (AP / Disney)

After about 25 years with Disney he decided to take a risk and joined Netflix animation while it was in its infancy.

That is where he co-wrote and directed “The Sea Beast.”

Williams said he had the story idea in his head for about six years and was only passively writing it before the idea took off. Serious writing and production then took an additional four years.

“The Sea Beast” is currently available to watch on Netflix.

Williams, who is now a Los Angeles resident, said he still has many close friends back home in Ontario, adding that the eternal summer sometimes makes him wish for snow.

“I do miss home, I do miss Canada a lot.”

The 2023 Oscars aired Sunday, March 12 on CTV.  

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