Build­ing Up to Epic

Animation Magazine - - Features -

Writer-di­rec­tor Dean DeBlois steers Hic­cup, Tooth­less and the rest of the Vik­ings of Berk straight into tril­ogy ter­ri­tory on a large scale with How to Train Your Dragon 2. By Tom McLean.

way due to a plot point in the movie, re­quir­ing an idio­syn­crasy in his per­for­mance.

As for the drag­ons, the se­quel pre­sented an op­por­tu­nity to im­prove their de­signs and ex­pand the num­ber and type of drag­ons al­most ex­po­nen­tially. Otto says they wanted as much di­ver­sity as pos­si­ble, start­ing by bas­ing de­signs on more tra­di­tional dragon looks and then stretch­ing the idea as far as pos­si­ble. Each one was grounded in some way with an an­i­mal and de­signed to be as in­stantly rec­og­niz­able as pos­si­ble.

For ex­am­ple, Valka’s dragon, Cloud Jumper, had a kind of alien but mes­mer­iz­ing look, Otto says. “We started look­ing at owls. We were re­ally ground­ing the idea of that char­ac­ter in an idea we knew the au­di­ence would know.”

The movie deftly han­dles its epic bat­tle se­quences as well as it does its char­ac­ter mo­ments, again up­ping the ante in a mas­sive dragon bat­tle in which op­pos­ing forces backed by gi­ant drag­ons en­gage in a beach­front bat­tle. Again, the new tech­nol­ogy was es­sen­tial in bring­ing a new level of com­plex­ity to those se- quences. “That type of shot wouldn’t have been fea­si­ble in the past,” DeBlois says. “We could barely have a few char­ac­ters on screen at the same time and the an­i­ma­tors would have to turn off any other char­ac­ters they were work­ing on.”

Cre­at­ing those ac­tion se­quences was a long process of re­fine­ment. Each char­ac­ter, for ex­am­ple, has their own sto­ry­line within the se­quence and there was a lot of whit­tling down and re­think­ing how to present those in­di­vid­ual sto­ries as it de­vel­oped.

“It’s def­i­nitely trial and er­ror,” says DeBlois. “We had big am­bi­tions; we wanted a full on Lord of the Rings type bat­tle and I think it has a great sense of scale.”

As with the first film, there is a healthy dose of comic re­lief in Dragon 2, an el­e­ment DeBlois says he finds re­fresh­ing and in­vig­o­rat­ing when work­ing on such a long project. “It’s such a key in­gre­di­ent in the soup,” he says. “The com­edy just adds a re­fresher [to the process] and re­as­sures you.”

DeBlois says the high bar set by orig­i­nal movie and ev­ery­one’s de­sire to en­sure the se­quel matched it was an im­por­tant re­al­ity check. “We would con­stantly check with our­selves, is this good enough? Is it equal to and bet­ter than the first movie? It kept us hon­est.”

Hav­ing com­pleted the sec­ond act of his tril­ogy, DeBlois is anx­ious to see how the film is re­ceived. Early re­views have been pos­i­tive and the film was ex­tremely well re­ceived at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val.

He’s happy with the film and ready to take a break be­fore jump­ing onto Dragon 3, set for re­lease in 2016, even as he’s keenly aware of the chal­lenges the third chap­ter — for which he has a well-ref­ered-to out­line — will pose.

The long haul of mak­ing an an­i­mated movie can be dif­fi­cult, es­pe­cially when you’re re­view­ing a se­quence or scene dozens of times. “It re­ally is a part of the dis­ci­pline of di­rect­ing an an­i­mated movie and re­mem­ber­ing what was re­ally suc­cess­ful about an idea,” he says. “You have to re­mem­ber that first re­sponse, and then as the movie de­vel­ops, some ideas get squeezed out.”

The an­i­ma­tors ex­per­i­mented with dif­fer­ent per­for­mances for the new char­ac­ter Valka be­fore de­cid­ing they had found the right mix of moth­erly and mys­te­ri­ous for Hic­cup’s long-lost mom.

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