Patrick Gilmore and Tim Johnson shared directing duties on Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas. From very different backgrounds, the two collaborated to make the unique combination of traditional 2-D animation and 3-D computer technology.
Gilmore explained, "I'd been working in video games for a long time and working in some form or another with Jeffrey [Katzenberg] and doing a lot of game products that heavily featured animation. Jeffrey and I were talking for almost two years and he called me in one day and said, 'I think I have something right up your alley.' He said, 'It's 'Sinbad' and I said, 'Where do I sign?' He pitched the story of Damon and Pythias, which is an old piece of Greek mythology which is kind of the thread that ties all our great Sinbad adventures together. It just felt like such a great, cinematic, strong interesting spine, the story of two friends, one of whom puts his life on the line for the other and then sets the other one free and asks, now what's he going to do? I was in from the moment he said, 'Go.'"
Johnson added, "I directed 'Antz' up north at PDI and [was given] the opportunity to come down here and work in my original love with 2-D artists. I started as a 2-D animator. So, while I love and will return to CG animation, the opportunity to get involved with 'Sinbad' and an action-adventure on this scale, [it was a chance] to modernize something as classic as that and especially to work closely with 2-D artists, which bring a level of emotional realism to things far beyond what computers can do."
"Sinbad" is powered by stars the likes of Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones, but unlike your "Chicago's" and your "Spy Game's", those faces won't really help sell tickets. "You do have to realize that with an animated film, you're not getting the dazzling smile and the million-dollar hairdo," Johnson said. "You're getting the voice. The other thing you realize very quickly, having worked with a wide range of acting and talent is that these people are famous for a really good reason. There's something about their ability to speak a line that makes us pay attention and feel a more universal emotional connection with that line. It's not merely stunt-casting to be able to grab somebody like Brad Pitt and put them in the role as Sinbad. We did listen to a lot of voices. You paid attention to him, you believed him, you wanted to go on the ride with him. There's a charisma that extends beyond the blonde hair and blue eyes. It's really amazing what a great actor does purely with their voice. I don't know what Pixar's process is. Ours is to put the voices on CD or audio tape and listen to them without any visual reference at all and let our minds do the experiment of placing their voice in the design of our characters. When you know they work without any help from their faces, you know they're going to bring a terrific drive to an animated character."
About the "audition" process, Gilmore explained, "Our casting department usually makes a tape with 15 or 20 people on it and we sit and listen to the voices. For a film like 'Sinbad', if it's slightly urban or slightly accented or feels like it takes you to a different place then it didn't really fit and we don't know who they are. They come back to us afterwards and say, 'Well, that was Ed Norton from X, Y or Z or this person or that person.' So, for us it's like a blind taste test of voices. We just sit there and listen and say, 'Okay, which one of these feels most like the character we want to put in our movie.' In this case, we heard Brad, Jeffrey heard Brad, and everybody at the same time said, 'This guy is casual, he's fun, easy-going, physical but still has that youthful quality that Sinbad needs to have.'"
The film is scored by Harry Gregson-Williams, who sets the swashbuckling tone of the adventure aurally. Johnson knew Gregson-Williams' work and insisted he score 'Sinbad'. "I worked with him on 'Antz'," Johnson said. "He's such a genius. He's so capable in everything musical. We told him that we wanted a 21st century action-adventure and you go to 'The Raiders of the Lost Ark' and you listen to that kind of classic work and really put down the line for him in saying, 'Give us something timeless, like a fantasy of 1,000 years ago, but make it a 21st century action-adventure - okay?' See ya!' The score comes last so he's actually composing to the cuts and pastes of the show. And you often get the question, 'What was it like to see your movie all finished?' And you lie and say, 'Well, it was great!' Because you had the freshness beaten out of you. We've seen every shot in this film - and this is not exaggerating - 2,000 times. But, the first time you hear original music composed for the movie and especially since Patrick and I had the privilege of going to the composing sessions in London at Abbey Road Studios, where basically you can burp and it sounds fantastic. The room's acoustics are just beautiful. I think I can speak for both of us when I say of the many highlights of the picture, many may equal, but none exceed sitting and hearing 80 pieces play Harry's score to our picture and feeling like maybe we hadn't seen it before and it was becoming new in front of our eyes."
Gilmore also gave much credit to the composer. "Part of the reason that Harry is great is that if you listen to his score to 'Spy Game' or any number of the movies that he's done, he's really gifted at creating a sound that feels somewhat traditional, but then weaving in instruments and arrangements that are super-contemporary," Gilmore said. "He'll find a way to weave it into the composition so that it doesn't feel like too much of a throwback and it doesn't feel too much like Errol Flynn. It does feel contemporary. If you listen to the score for this film, it's really amazing how thoroughly that's woven in."