Building Up to Epic
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.”