Ben Brand’s poignant animation is an ode to the circle of life

The Netherlands-based director tackles the notion that everything you throw in the sea comes back to you in this thoughtful short

Sea You is director and filmmaker Ben Brand’s latest project and the idea for it came to him through a story of loss. “When my girlfriend told me the story of her family spreading her deceased grandmother’s ashes over the sea, like a lot of people around the world do, I started wondering what actually happens to all that ash. That’s when I started writing the story.” 

The film begins with a woman sitting alone at her table eating dinner, and what unfolds is a series of poignant events that are all tethered together. As writer and director of the short, Netherlands-based Brand worked with a team of people to bring the story to life. “First we created the whole film in 3D and at the same time we started developing the paint-like look,” he says of the film’s aesthetic. “One film I had in mind in terms of the style was Father and Daughter by Michael Dudok de Wit. He painted this film frame by frame and it became so tangible and vulnerable at the same time which I really loved. Also the final frame of my film is an ode to that film.” 

Screenshot from Sea You directed by Ben Brand

What’s striking about Sea You is the way it is chronicled in reverse, and rather than being a confusing element to the film, this decision actually strengthens the narrative. “Believe it or not, the film was actually released in all of Pathé’s cinema’s (who helped fund the film) in chronological order,” notes Brand. 

“At the time of making Sea You I was also shooting a live action so some things I wanted to try, like telling the story in reverse, got lost in the fire. But just a couple of weeks before Sea You’s online release I started wondering about it again and decided to re-edit it on my laptop. This ended up being the film that’s online right now.”

The result is a moving tribute to the circle of life and serves as a reminder that everything is ultimately connected. “For me, the biggest challenge was getting the story told right. Chronologically told, the film focused more on the woman eating the fish in the end and how dirty that actually was,” says Brand. “But told backwards the film focused more on the cycle of life feeling, which was what I wanted and hoped.” 

The reason Brand settled on animation for the film was because of the freedom it offered him and the team. “What I enjoy the most is telling stories in a way that I couldn’t have otherwise told in a live action way,” says Brand. “So on a technical level I love that animation let’s you imagine and create everything you dream of. The only downside for me is that you have to lock everything quite fast which makes it hard to try different stuff.” Despite this, Sea You is a beautifully considered animation that demonstrates the value of combining thoughtful ideas with strong craft. 

Screenshot from Sea You directed by Ben Brand