How To Train Your DragonStarring the voices of: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig and T.J. Miller.
From DreamWorks Animation, the studio that brought you "Shrek", "Madagascar" and "Kung Fu Panda" comes "How to Train Your Dragon".
Set in the mythical world of burly Vikings and wild dragons, and based on the book by Cressida Cowell, the action comedy tells the story of Hiccup, a Viking teenager who doesn't exactly fit in with his tribe's longstanding tradition of heroic dragon slayers.
Hiccup's world is turned upside down when he encounters a dragon that challenges him and his fellow Vikings to see the world from an entirely different point of view.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON opens in Australia March 25, 2010.
...And The Dragons Who Fight Back
According to the myths put together by the filmmakers, the Vikings came to Berk about seven generations before the film takes place. With their first foot set on Berk's soil, so came the first dragon attack. And Vikings being Vikings-meaning incredibly stubborn-they refused to leave their newly chosen homeland. So they're determined to stay and fight, and fight to win, no matter how long it takes. The raids come mostly at night, and it stands to reason that the dragons go somewhere during the day. If they could just find their nest, they would stand a chance of eradicating the threat of nighttime attacks that have plagued them for more than 300 years.
"How to Train Your Dragon," fittingly, begins with such a night attack, with hordes of dragons-and not just one breed, mind you-bombarding Berk, flying off with sheep, and destroying property. Dean DeBlois explains, "It was very important to Chris Sanders and me to start off with a big set piece, because we wanted to establish, right off the bat, the fantasy action-adventure element and to set up the conflict between the Vikings and dragons. We wanted to give audiences a big bang and set a tone, with lots of excitement, while letting them know that there will be a story with emotion and heart. But the film is bookended by really big, exciting action sequences."
And so, dragons. Lots of dragons.
"In Cressida Cowell's original book, the dragons did speak. They had their own language, but we made a choice early on to have the dragons be more animal-like, with nonverbal communication. I think part of the reason was that it felt like that made the dragons more beasts, difficult to conquer, giving Hiccup and the Vikings a bigger obstacle to overcome. And ultimately, I think it made it more interesting for the animators, as well, because it really challenged them to give the dragons their own personalities, without relying on a voice. There is a sound element to it, but it's really about how they move and their facial expressions, and that is what animation and 3D do so well. In the end, I believe that's what differentiates our film from all the other dragon movies," comments Bonnie Arnold.
Of the multiple breeds of dragons included in Cressida Cowell's work, the filmmakers chose to focus on six individual, and very different, kinds of dragons-and while they each get brief introductions during the opening attack sequence, they are truly showcased during the sequences of Dragon Training, where a specimen from each breed is studied as it is thrown into the ring on successive training sessions. The film also includes a scene where Hiccup is leafing through the Dragon Handbook, where literally page after page is filled with a myriad of dragons-"That was our way of letting the audience get an idea how extensive this whole vast network of dragons surrounding these Vikings is. Then, they can understand that when they go out fishing or hunting, there may be a dragon hiding, in the water or in a crevice in a wall. Or up in a tree. And that makes their world seem even more complex and dangerous than we were able to do in the time we had," adds Chris Sanders.
The filmmakers were so committed to creating the rich mythology of Berk, the Vikings and the dragons, they went to great lengths to establish their own version of Norse reality. Per Chris Sanders: "As a kid, I was fascinated by blueprints, and I've been drawn to knowing how things work ever since. And I may have gone a little too far with the dragons. At one point, I wanted to know which dragon was the biggest and heaviest and such, as they're kind of deceptive, because some are very long, some are very compact. So I asked visual effects supervisor Craig Ring if there is a way for them to calculate the volumes of the dragons. And at first he said no, but I knew they could. And within 24 hours, he came back to me and said, 'Okay, they figured a way to do it.' What they did was put virtual ping pong balls inside each dragon. And they basically filled each dragon and then counted how many were in each. So they came up with a ratio of which dragon was the biggest, the longest, and all that. And in case you're wondering, the two-headed Hideous Zippleback is the biggest dragon, and the Gronckle is second."
After Hiccup manages to shoot down one of the attacking dragons-which goes unnoticed by everyone in the village, given the chaos of the attack-he believes that this is his chance to cross the threshold and become a man, a Viking man, by slaying one of their mortal enemies. Jay Baruchel recounts, "He thinks he's supposed to kill the thing, but his gut tells him that he can't, but because the Viking in him-namely, his dad-would want him to kill the dragon, I think he really makes an effort. He makes a go of it, but he just can't bring himself to do it, especially when it looks as pathetic as it does. He looks up, and just stares at Hiccup. In that moment, he realises that the dragons are as scared of the Vikings as they are of them. So instead of killing it, he sets it loose. And little by little, he eventually forges a bond with it, almost like Black Beauty or White Fang. It's really tense and tentative at first, but it becomes quite magical."
Chris Sanders pinpoints the emotionality in the scene: "In releasing the dragon, he starts this whole ball rolling. But it's also really about revealing to Hiccup the awful truth. He comes into that scene just like he's lived his whole life up to that moment, saying, 'I'm a Viking, I'm a Viking, I'm a Viking and I can do this.' And then, when that scene is over, he has to go home, realising he'll never be that one thing that his dad wants him to be."Head of story Alessandro Carloni boils it down even further by adding, "The fascinating point of the movie, from that moment on, is that, during the day, Hiccup is going to try to become the Viking that everyone expects him to be by training to fight dragons. But by night, he's going to befriend one and learn to love one. So the whole second act of the movie is about the contrast between loving your enemy and learning how to kill it."
And that enemy-slash-friend comes in one of the most mysterious breeds of dragons, known as a Night Fury. These black creatures are probably the ones most feared by Vikings, as the beginning of their nighttime attacks is nearly undetectable-except for the ballistic noise the diving Night Fury makes, before it briefly halts to deliver one precise and highly destructive burst of flame. Think Blitzkrieg with Brains. Chris Sanders explains, "The design of Toothless was governed by one need, which was that if you're going to have Hiccup, a Viking, befriend a dragon, which was the most forbidden thing he could do, we had to create the ultimate dragon."
"We definitely wanted to go with the darkest possible color," continues Dean DeBlois, "a character that kind of hides in the night. And he has a lot of lore behind him that the Vikings actually fear, because they've never seen one. And so, in that sense, he had to be different looking, as well. Many of the dragons have a kind of theme going on, with a horn right up front, and very dragon-like in their very cool designs with a lot of color and texture. But we thought that Toothless should be a little bit more of a departure-sleek, aerodynamic and graceful. We started thinking of things like black panthers or large cats, and not so much reptilian as maybe mammalian. That was a direction we began to explore. We also really liked the idea of a stare, the one that would really define their relationship and cause Hiccup to free him. The closest equivalent we could find to that was a big stare from a cat or a wolf-stoic, penetrating and powerful. Those are the elements we started with, which allowed us to explore different ideas, feline, wolf-like, and combining those with a little bit of reptilian to keep it in the world of dragons. And, eventually, we arrived at Toothless."
Head of character animation Simon Otto: "I take the vision of the directors and production designer, Kathy Altieri, which gives me what the film should look like. From there, I pick it up and at that point say, 'What sort of animation would work best with that story in that world?' In this case, we have humans and dragons. The humans are fantastic characters that are extremely entertaining, but that also have to deliver a believable storyline, and be the ones that the audience will become emotionally attached to. That was one challenge, the other was the dragons. I had to split my time between those two worlds, looking at everything I could in the animal world with any similarities to our dragons-birds, bats, reptiles, mammals. When the black cat/panther and wolf references were chosen, we began to include surprising references like kangaroos and wombats-slightly odd creatures that we may not be too familiar with, and eventually we came up with a very warm animal that Hiccup, and the audience, can connect to."
Perhaps the most comical of the dragons is the Gronckle, which seemed to be universally considered as the production's favorite dragon (outside of Toothless, naturally). Someone even referred to it as "crocodile meets Harley Davidson," because of its cumbersome, hippo-like shape, topped off with relatively small, bumblebee-ish wings. According to backstory, these guys are so lazy that they might actually fall asleep while flying. Chris Sanders: "But they're just these generally likable, gregarious-looking guys. You probably would like to hang out with a Gronckle after work, if you could, just because they seem somewhat friendly and nice."
But don't be fooled by its comic potential, adds Dean DeBlois: "He really packs a wallop by hurling molten slugs of lava that come from ingesting rocks. He barfs them out, kind of like a cannonball. He's probably the slowest, most dim-witted of the dragons-and because of that, he's lovable and a lot of fun."
The Deadly Nadder is a star in flight, most resembling a parrot, with its bright colors, and somewhat-developed reasoning capabilities-for a dragon, it's very sneaky and smart. But they are also terribly vicious, and most like Raptors in their tendency to land and confront their prey. Like a bird, however, it has a narrow range of view, so it has a blind spot that can be exploited during attack-an attack which includes a magnesium-based blast that sparkles like fireworks. So, if you disregard the horrible destruction, in the Nadder's case, pretty is as pretty does. As noted, the instantly recognisable, two-headed Hideous Zippleback is the largest of the dragons in the film-also, probably the coolest, if you ask the filmmakers. And not unlike Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, the Zippleback divides its duties, with one head breathing explosive gas, and the other igniting it. Unfortunately, very unlike the directors, this dragon rarely agrees on anything, and since the two heads have to work in tandem for ultimate destruction, it can miss its mark, especially if quarreling or confused.
The Chihuahua of the dragon world, the Terrible Terror is the smallest and most plentiful-and dubbed crowd favorite by the production for its tiny size and huge attitude. Its group dynamic is closest to seagulls-despite their huge numbers, and the potential for a really frightening and effective mass attack, they mostly forage for food, because infighting prevents them from organising on any kind of group level. Also incapable of flying long distances, they hitch rides on larger dragons.
Perhaps the most "classic" of the film's creatures, the Monstrous Nightmare most closely resembles the dragons of yore. They are alpha dragons, belligerent, and will land and face any Viking they see. Their fire is also particularly pernicious, as it is a sticky, gel-based fuel that coats and ignites its target. Also showy and a bit rock star-ish in their demeanor, Nightmares will coat themselves in their own flaming goo while attacking, to amp up the fear factor (show-offs). Because of their status in the Dragon Training class, they are the last dragon faced, and only the best in the class is chosen to face this beast-alone, in the ring, and surrounded by the entire spectating village. And this is a position the Nightmare loves-a crowd favorite, it adores the adulation, and stokes the Vikings with its bravado and fierce screams.
Chris Sanders is quick to point out, "No dragon shares a trait with another dragon, from its characteristics, to its fire, to its armor, to its secret weaponry. No dragon is the same. And we worked very hard to make sure that no dragon has it all. Every dragon can trump another dragon, in some way, and yet every dragon has a weakness as well. I have to admit, that's the thing I totally geek out and totally love about this project."
All this fire fell to head of effects Matt Baer to create. He says, "Our biggest challenge on this film, visually, has been coming up with all the different types of fire that we need for all the different dragons, and then trying to make them all feel like they've all evolved at some point to be different. We pitched to the directors that each dragon would have its own type of fire, but at the same time, we didn't want them to be so different that it would seem like this random scattering of different ideas. And our visual effects supervisor Craig Ring said that he wanted our fire to be dangerous. When you watch a lot of live-action sets, their fire dissipates quickly or doesn't generate a lot of smoke. He wanted our fire to be so flammable that it could set dirt or concrete or anything on fire. So you'll see some of the fire that the dragons breathe is viscous, and it can stick, or bounce and slide off things. It's incredibly dangerous."
To keep the different flying habits of the six types of dragons separate, Simon Otto and his department built what they termed a "flap cycle. It's sort of a pre-animated flight cycle that these dragons go through. It's a fairly mechanical system that allows us to flap these dragons in the same way in every shot. And, so, in all of these hundreds and thousands of controls that we have in the rig, we can actually control the flapping wings with a very small set amount of controls."
Designs of an Age
As proven with some of the dragons, there is strength in numbers. The same could be said for computer animation, and among the ranks of "How to Train Your Dragon"' are some of the finest in the industry, including executive producers Kristine Belson and Tim Johnson.
"Kristine Belson has unbelievable amounts of energy," says director Chris Sanders. "It's not unusual for you to be discussing something with Kristine Belson and she just suddenly goes off in the corner and does a headstand. I know that sounds crazy, but she's anything but-she just has tons of energy. She uses that energy as a great champion of the film and has great instincts. Tim is one of those guys who is so smart and so well-spoken that you feel a little less smart around him. You'll hunt for some way to say something, and he'll pop up with the perfect words. He expresses himself so well. On top of that, he has a great heart, and he has a really long track record with DreamWorks, so he really knows the ins and outs of the place. He's been a great help in just guiding us through the process here, because it's a little bit different at every studio. He's got great ideas, calm presence, and just expresses himself so beautifully."
To Kristine Belson, one of the key issues was truth, specifically to the story the filmmakers wanted to tell, and the source from where it was drawn: "We went back to Cressida Cowell's book, and there's a lot of spirit in there, and I think that it remains in the movie, but we have definitely moved a lot of it and pieced it around. I think, in a lot of ways, the movie has actually wound up being somewhat of a prequel to Cressida Cowell's book."
Cressida Cowell's book was also a big draw for Johnson: "I have two little boys, and we call this the sore throat book, because I can't resist reading it out loud with every accent. By the end of two chapters, you can't read anymore, because your throat is raw. It's that kind of writing that makes you want to inhabit the characters, to give them an accent, to be an outrageous personality-that was so appealing in the books, and it told us right away there was a big movie here. The world of Vikings and the exotic setting of these North Sea islands, the world of dragons, all of those add up to something greater than the individual parts, and makes for a really unique fantasy experience."
Although most would consider the job of a film editor to be a post-production position, in the land of animation, it is exactly the opposite. Editor Darren Holmes on his role in the "Dragon" hierarchy: "I start from the very beginning, with no picture or sound whatsoever, and based on a script, or even just an idea, the story artist will draw panels. Much like a Sunday comic strip, these include indications of action and the dialogue that's involved for the idea of each scene. Those panels are given to us individually, and we will then record (usually temporary dialogue) with people around the studio here, and then cut those scenes together, to get a sense of how the scene is working-if the character moments are tracking, if the comedy is there. Unlike live action, you're actually able to go back and re-write and re-cut things that you haven't even shot yet. It's a much more fluid process. I like to compare it to the ability to project your script, inasmuch as you're still able to re-write it while you're still editing. You aren't given all the footage after eight weeks of shooting and asked, 'Well, how do you put this together?' And you only have the capability to move things within the confines of continuity-wardrobe, location, day or night. In animation, you're able to move anything, any story point, to where it will properly fit in the film. And this allows you to spot a lot of potential problems earlier without being locked into having shot the whole scene. It's not actually post-production, inasmuch as all of production. We start at the very point where the directors start with their script-the only people that come on before us are the story department, who draw the panels that we need. And we will work all the way through the process, from the initial storyboarding, to the first phases of layout-where we start to explore camera angles and cutting patterns-through animation, visual effects, final lighting, and even the sound process, too."
To establish a lot of the visuals of the film, some of the designers undertook research trips-travelling miles by highway and by Internet. Dean DeBlois also tried to re-create a vision from a particularly singular landscape: "I've traveled to Iceland several times, and we tried to bring a lot of the lighting that's present in Iceland to the film. We wanted a sense that there's something very special about this place, and it lets you know that you're way up there, somewhere in the North. Everything is so larger-than-life, lush and impressive, and it's finding a balance between a place that would be very hard-going if you lived there, and somewhere that you would absolutely want to visit-just because you know that the sights and the sensations of standing there, on those windblown cliffs, with the raging sea, would be unbelievable. It's this kind of energetic, magical place."Production designer Kathy Altieri and a team travelled from the top of the Washington coast, and followed the coastline all the way down to Northern California, taking photographs along the way, particularly at Cannonball Beach on the Oregon coast: "The great thing about the landscape there is that it's all volcanic, with these great sea stacks-we replicated them in our film, albeit on a grander scale. There are black beaches with hard, heavy black rocks that we used as reference for the dragon's home. And the color variation that you get in the cliffs around there is just phenomenal. This is stuff you could never possibly dream up in the wildest, most creative parts of your imagination."Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois were lucky to be the recipients of a great deal of artwork -everything from breathtaking vistas to astounding characters. Much of those early renderings proved a quite sturdy foundation on which to build the Viking world in their film. "Given all of this incredible artwork, we knew the size and scope of the world and how larger-than-life everything was, from a table to a battle tower, so there had to be a very visceral, exciting pace of life for these Vikings," remembers Dean DeBlois.
For Jay Baruchel, even having recorded Hiccup for nearly two years, seeing the character and his environment come together was eye-opening: "I'd like to think that, after playing Hiccup for the better part of two years, I knew him like the back of my hand. That being said, seeing the final finished product of what Hiccup looked like, it was almost a goose bump moment. I was beaming with pride."
Part of what Jay Baruchel no doubt found awe-inspiring was the detail that DreamWorks Animation's proprietary software was able to produce in things long considered "problem areas" in computer-generated animation.
"I'd like to think that I've come to know that in the world of computer animation, things like fur, hair and water are really tough to pull off convincingly," says Chris Sanders. "These Vikings are practically all fur and they are nearly all beard. Stoick's beard is amazing, because it's huge, just like he is. It moves so convincingly, and it kind of catches your eye, once in a while, because you're just drawn to it because of the way it looks and moves. The fur that he wears is a real breakthrough and I challenge anybody not to be fascinated with it at some point when you watch this movie. In fact, all of the materials, the fur, the metal, the leather, the texturing and lighting are just unbelievable."
Character effects supervisor Damon Crowe seconds, "This project is unique in the amount of fur that we have. We have beards on everybody. All the hero characters have fur on their garments somewhere. We're dealing with interaction with that fur when characters get touched or just touch anywhere on themselves, and in addition the beards need to interact with the garments. We've tried to come up with some really good solutions to make the fur process more efficient in character effects, and we have some proprietary tools in house that do that job really well for us which we've been honing since 'Shrek 2.' I would say this film represents the farthest that we've come in our ability to make fur interact better with the characters."
Dean DeBlois is also quick to credit art director Pierre-Olivier Vincent (nicknamed P.O.V.). "We realised right away that this world was going to be something that had a level of caricature to it, but it needed to be rendered in a very realistic way. And our design team completely grabbed onto it right away. The textures are so rich, the detail is amazing. There is a rich sense of atmosphere-foggy woods, storm-bashed coastlines, houses built out of massive timbers and battlements. Everything has a crazy, larger-than-life feel, which is very 'Pierre-Olivier Vincent'-his artwork is huge and over-the-top. It really complements the people who live there, these giant Vikings, and it really accentuates how out of place Hiccup is in his environment, in his own house, in the village and on the island at large. I loved the visual contrast right away-this tiny little character, our main character, set against these gigantic backdrops."
Production designer Kathy Altieri was intent on capturing the spirit of the Viking energy, with its "testosterone-these guys are big, they're brawny, they're energetic, they're used to fighting as a daily way of life. That kind of energy should be evident in the visuals that we have in the film. There are houses that are built, strong and tough, to withstand anything. Along with the hard edges and rocky surfaces, the landscapes are twisted and caricatured and turned in a way that's unlike anything that we've previously created."
The final battle and climax of the film finds Hiccup and Toothless flying vertically up into the sky, in the midst of the biggest battle in Berk's history-the scale is perhaps larger than anything DreamWorks Animation has done. During the hero's ascent, he's blasted by a single, gigantic column of fire, "that must be the size of a football stadium really, in real life, it's huge. And when we saw it the first time, Dean and I were both screaming, like three-year-olds
and in 3D, it's only worse, I mean, better," says Chris Sanders.
Not only is the story of Hiccup and Toothless told in 3D, but the breathtaking lighting, camera moves and angles are largely thanks to one of the most accomplished and lauded live-action cinematographers in the business-Roger Deakins, eight-time Oscar®-nominated for his stunning photography in such films as "Doubt," "No Country for Old Men" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?." After Deakins was invited by the studio, Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois pitched him the project-and to their delight, he agreed to take on the project, serving as consultant to Kathy Altieri (production designer), Craig Ring (visual effects supervisor) and Gil Zimmerman (head of layout). Per DeBlois: "Roger influenced the lens choices, the camera work, and also the lighting - its sophistication with rich blacks and minimalistic or natural lighting is not something that's done very often in animation. So the cumulative effect is that this film feels-and kind of lives and breathes-like a live-action film, in the best possible sense. And one that's been rendered with the kind of poetic simplicity that only Roger can really bring to the mix."And where there are dragons, there is fire-lots and lots of fire. Head of effects Matt Baer: "On this film, we had what we called an 'effects day,' so all of Redwood City and the Glendale effects teams came together. We also hired this classic film pyro-technician, and we hung out with him in the back parking lot. And for each show that was in development, including 'Dragon,' we asked him to show us the actual effects of what we were trying to create. And so, all day, he did all sorts of explosions, created blue fire and red fire, along with assorted fire blasts, blowing up glass and that sort of thing. And the cool thing about it is that we shot it on these cameras that were capturing at four-hundred to a thousand frames-per-second. So once we had that all digitised and in stereo, it's been a great resource for everyone to just go through and really see what kinds of different textures and colors that you see in the different types of fires."
In keeping with the studio dictum that all films be created and released in stereoscopic 3D, filmmakers had yet another tool in their box to bring the over-sized and testosterone-charged world of the Vikings to cinematic life.
Executive producer Tim Johnson observes, "Honestly, 3D is an incredibly elaborate part of the process. I don't think we were naïve when we went into it. We knew it was going to be a challenge. At the same time, it's much more all-encompassing than we'd ever imagined, because we are authoring these pictures using the 3D tools-we're not slapping it on with a process after it's done. You want to build it into the very DNA of the storytelling. You want to make sure that you're not using it as a trick, but as a way to enrich an audience's connection-seeing through the eyes of the character, and being with the character as they go through their adventures. From the start, 'How to Train Your Dragon' has always been envisioned as a 3D movie, and very early on we had a lot of conversations about how to use this technology to make an audience feel like they were with Hiccup, at his side, and on his dragon, as he bonded and eventually flew in the air with this incredible animal."
DreamWorks' Stereoscopic Supervisor, Phil 'Captain 3D' McNally, worked with filmmakers from the beginning, continuing to share his expertise of the medium and aide them in thinking dimensionally at all times. "We had dailies in the main theater-it's important to see the work on as big a screen as possible to get the 3D effect as strongly as possible-and we'd be sitting there looking at the shots, the composition, the camera positioning, and I'd be adding input: 'What if we make the lens a little wider? We could go a little bit deeper-or do you want the motion of the camera to be stronger here?' Ultimately, it's a balancing act between motion, depth and acting.
"It's a different type of discipline," continues Phil McNally, "because traditional filmmaking has been all about 3D composition, basically taking a 3D space and converting it into 2D art. Now, what we're doing is we're taking a 3D space-whether that's in the computer or, if people are working on live action at other studios-and converting it into a theatrical fantasy 3D space. We're not making it completely flat, and we're not making it like real life, either. We're re-creating a new 3D space for the purpose of the theater, so that's a new discipline. We already have great skill in doing two dimensional composition, and now we're developing great skill for the extra dimension-and that's new to everyone."
Chris Sanders is almost embarrassed to admit something, but he confesses, "When I first started on this film, I wasn't really convinced that it would be a great 3D film, and I was actually very afraid that we were going to have to come up with moments, sort of manipulate moments, to get the 3D out of it. I could not have been more wrong. It's actually an incredible experience to watch this film in 3D, the scope of it, and particularly the flying. There are scenes-like Hiccup's first flight on Toothless, and the Dragon Training sequence with the Nadder, with the kids being chased through a maze by the dragon-that are inconceivable to me now without the jaw-dropping effect that 3D has on them."
Dean DeBlois says, "We designed all of our flying sequences to take advantage of that depth and make you feel like you're on the back of that dragon, moving through the clouds, having the horizon turned on its ear. All of the experience is really pushed in 3D, because suddenly it's dimension without being gimmicky. Up there, in the clouds with all that separation, feeling that vertigo of the land way beneath and the sky up above-it's a perfect use of the tool. When I think of 3D, I think of the best moments I've ever had, and a lot of them are theme park attractions-they are experiences where you are traveling through something, and putting that camera on the back of the dragon with Hiccup is really the best way we could conceive of taking advantage of the technology." But for all of its advantageous use of the latest in computer animation and 3D stereoscopic technology-is the story of Hiccup and his battle against the norm still front and center, still the heart of the film? No better person to address that issue than the author of the source material herself, Cressida Cowell. Producer Bonnie Arnold offers, "The true test for us was when she came to the studio with her family during summer break, and they got to see a lot of the film. Her kids completely bought into it and were very excited about all the characters-both things that were similar in the book and things that were completely different. When she came to the campus, she admitted that she was a bit nervous, seeing all these people working on the film, but I think to actually see it in progress was really exciting and fantastic for her. It was also very inspirational to our crew, because they wanted to make sure that they were doing things that were loyal to the book, but, at the same time, making it a bigger and different experience than the book. She visited with the animators, the effects artists, the lighters, and all of our different crews, and spent a lot of time with Chris Saunders, Dean DeBlois and myself. She was very gracious and happy."
The voice of Gobber, Craig Ferguson, echoes that experience when he observes, "You know why I love this movie? I see a parallel between Hiccup and his story and all of us and our fear-that once we have a relationship with it, it may, in fact, be the gateway to a bigger, more beautiful and interesting world. That's why this is a great movie. All of the effects and the animation are fantastic, they really are. But the essence of a film is what it does to you inside, and that's what this does to me in here. It's a very powerful story."
Vikings and Dragons Forever
Those who came aboard for the ride of Hiccup and Toothless were just as effusive about their own experiences on the project, starting with executive producer Tim Johnson: "What's fascinating about dragons is you pick almost any culture on Earth, the Far East, Europe, anywhere, and everybody has their own dragon mythology. It's something that is built into mankind, creating these noble, savage, terrifying monsters. Monster stories are a part of every culture. Overcoming your fear of these things, of the unknown, as a child, that's part of every culture's storytelling. For us to be a part of that kind of tradition-taking an animal as far-reaching culturally as a dragon, deciding to tell our own story using Cressida Cowell's books, and bringing it into a 21st century version of a dragon story-that's been one of the biggest honors and challenges of working on the movie."
"I want audiences to feel like they've been on a ride as good as in any theme park. But more importantly, the film, it's inspirational, it's got hope, it's got laughs, it's fun, it's heartwarming," says producer Bonnie Arnold. "In addition to that, it has a nice message. Hiccup is a hopeful character. He befriends the mortal enemy of his village and it's that relationship, between Hiccup and Toothless, which actually changes the world for the better."
"The special effects in this movie are unbelievable," adds writer/director Dean DeBlois. "The animation, the acting, they're incredible. The lighting and the textures and the designs, everything is just at such a top-notch level that I couldn't be happier with it. I marvel every day at what we accomplished. I'm beyond proud of this film, and I hope people see the care we took to make it."
Adding to that sentiment, writer/director Chris Sanders says, "We wanted 'How to Train Your Dragon' to be a mythic experience. It's a world of Vikings and dragons, of scaled wings and iron swords. We lift our audience off the ground and up into the clear Arctic air on the backs of flying monsters. We journey into the heart of a dangerous world and an impossible relationship with ancient creatures that have only existed in the pages of books till now. You won't forget these characters, and you won't forget this place.."