Brad Lewis: And I am Brad Lewis. I don't have as many titles as Dean does on the movie but I was the producer on How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.
Simon Otto: Hi, I'm the guy with the weird accent, that's Simon Otto. That's me. And I was the head of animation on the film.
Brad Lewis: This was a painting that I was developing. Time lapse over the course of the movie.
Simon Otto: Your evening project.
Dean DeBlois: So this opening sequence was actually designed to do a couple of things. We wanted to establish our heroes quickly for those might have been unfamiliar with the previous films or TV series and we wanted to set up the stakes, that there are still Dragon Hunters out there and dragons are still in danger. We wanted to present our characters in cool new outfits that show how far they have come and how similar they are to their own dragons, these are made from shed dragon scales which make them fire proof and we just really wanted every one to have a cool introduction that allows us to define them in a really quick way.
Simon Otto: I was really happy to see that image became one of the posters, when Hiccup walks through the fire.
Dean DeBlois: Yeah, it's one of my favorites as well.
Brad Lewis: One of the things, Dean, you always said that Hiccup was actually sort of becoming a dragon himself. And I always thought that image of him walking through the fire was sort of one of the iconic images for this scene.
Dean DeBlois: Yeah. And then of course it all starts to fall apart. So, we wanted a moment of cool for Hiccup to be reintroduced to the audience along with Toothless and then to have it all start to go haywire with the arrival of everyone else. The idea was we wanted to present this gang of dragon rescuers, that have all been trained under Valka to do that sort of vigilante work of rescuing dragons, but to all show that they're far too reliant on their own dragons for their success and they haven't really come to rely upon one another yet. It is a little bit of journey that have through the story of becoming a better team together and not so dependent on their dragons in every situation.
Brad Lewis: The other total thing that we really worked on the balance for in this scene was, because it is a big action scene that our gang, they're funny, right? They're hapless. They don't always do everything perfectly and part of it is reintroducing the audience, or a new audience into what the real tone and fun and inter-relationships are and that these guys are, they can be a bump of lean crew as well as even if they are doing something that looks daring, do.
Simon Otto: We should talk about this shot, real quick. So this shot was one of the most challenging shots in the movie for us in animation because it essentially is ??? thousand frame shot with no cut and we figured out a way to do it by adding seven animators and we grabbed them from other movies just to kind of work on this shot, it was essential they did it all together handing off from character to the other and it was incredible to see how this shot came together in a fairly quick time for what this shot is.
Dean DeBlois: This is the longest shot ever created by DreamWorks, correct?
Simon Otto: I mean it's definitely up there, if it's not the longest then it's definitely one of them.
Dean DeBlois: Yeah, it was certainly, it was ambitious on the part of Gil Zimmerman, our head of layout, that he was inspired by some of these shots of dense choreography that we had seen in recent films and he wanted to create it in animation but he didn't quite realize what we were handing off to our animation team.
Simon Otto: I love the dense fog and the light and the way the light plays with it. That was really exciting.
Dean DeBlois: It was really nice to start the film with what becomes a series of strong color choices in terms of the palate and time of day and atmosphere and I really love the bold choices they were making. Now here's the last purpose of the scene, which is to introduce, in a very brief way, the Light Fury. She was one of the dragons left behind in the cages but because of her camouflage she ends up remaining there because Toothless didn't quite make her out. He senses that someone is there but doesn't quite figure it out til a little bit later in the story.
Dean DeBlois: Now of course we wanted to have our iconic fly into the village with the this is Berk speech and really use this moment to establish how far gone they are as a dragon-viking utopia. It's on the brink of collapse. It's absolutely overpopulated, and we wanted it to be fun and chaotic. No one is really complaining about it except for maybe Gobber but it should look unsustainable, it should look like they can't handle these numbers and they're going to have to make a change in some way. So part of Hiccup's problem in this story is that he is in denial about it. He's achieved his dream, here it is Vikings and dragons living together, the largest commune on the planet and at the same time it's gonna fall apart very soon. It was really challenging for our crowds department on this movie to populate these scenes with so many dragons and so many Vikings and still not distract the eye so you're able to follow the important action. Hats off to the whole department they managed crazy numbers. I think they've done the most complex shots by far in DreamWorks history within this movie.
Simon Otto: It's really challenging to give them all a purpose and they felt like they belong in the environment doing something specific and I think we succeeded.
Dean DeBlois: We were trying to establish relationships here that we wanted to track through the story. This one is Snotlout wanting to be the prize student and he's doing everything he can to suck up to Valka and then gloat to the others about his status.
Dean DeBlois: Fishmeat is a baby Gronckle, so Fishlegs rides a Gronckle named Meatlug and this is one of her babies. He acts as the surrogate father carrying it around in the little baby buran. Another silly little thru line. We designed this dragon partly inspired by a tree frog meets a French bulldog and he is in part voiced by my now sadly deceased little French Bulldog, Gordon. But he is an alarming sight for Gobber and we don't quite know why. But as we track through the story we start to see the Hobgobbler multiplying at an alarming rate and finally we'll pay that off in the end.
Brad Lewis: This opening shot coming into this sequence in addition to the opening shot of seeing how overcrowded Berk was and that fly in shot and that shot we talked about in the ship are three of the most complex shots in DreamWorks history, all with entirely different lighting sets and amount of detail really stretching the new render and our lighting team and effects team just knocked these out of the park.
Simon Otto: I think the thing to say is there is usually an animator takes on a shot and does all the characters in the shot. For example, this shot was animated by Sean Saxon who just animated all these characters and there was crowd characters done by the crowds department but some of these special shots you were mentioning Brad were shots that were animated by five to eight animators at the same time and to coordinate how the characters interact with each other is incredibly challenging in CG animation.
Brad Lewis: I could get POV and Dave had their hands filled with lots of high aspirational ideas in this movie that Roger Deakins helped them execute. How many beard jokes did we have in the original version of this storyboard? I think we had six beard jokes. Dean, I think we fell in love with them but we had early feedback we needed to pull a couple back.
Dean DeBlois: Some late feedback as well. We ended up cutting a couple of shots that were done and lit that had Tuffnut cracking beard jokes. It just turned out to be a bit too many. Now here again is a completely different look. This whole location was actually designed to represent the oppression of the negative effect of war and humans and how they kind of desecrate this sacred site and turn it into a war camp. And here we see dragons are being caged and tortured and being weaponized and this whole idea is to show what awaits the dragons should Hiccup and his people fail to protect them. This is where that cargo of dragons was headed to.
Simon Otto: And another species of dragon that we hadn't shown before are these Deathgrippers who are sort of a mixture of scorpion and strange insect like beasts. That was really something we had to develop and invent the way these guys move.
Dean DeBlois: Now normally we figure out the cast of a character before we get very far into animating that character. In this case it was special and different. We had finally settled upon a design that we really liked for Grimmel and that was provided to us by Carta Goodrich and as that character was turned into a model and articulated and ready for animation the supervising animator of this character whose name is ?? was kind of just looking through the internet and considering different possibilities of who the actor might be that would play the character and he was providing a few suggestions and in the case of F. Murray Abraham he found a clip he really liked and he animated a test using the animation that was ready for this character and it was so appealing and surprising and charming that it won everybody over and Murray wasn't initially on our minds for a candidate to play the character but this completely sold us and we sent that test and a description of the character to Murray and he responded right away saying he would love to be a part of it. It was the best choice we could have made. He's just such a fantastic character.
Brad Lewis: And as an enthusiastic actor, every session Murray is infectious, enthusiasm and always wanting to get it right and working hard making sure that he loved it, Dean loved it and that we got the story point right.
Simon Otto: It is really a highlight for the animators when Murray came to our daily session excited and sat with us as we were reviewing some animation and all the animators were sitting in the room, it was really a highlight for everybody.
Dean DeBlois: Originally this flashback was meant to be one of I think six different flashbacks we had in the movie that would show Hiccup at a young age and reacting with his father. Memories that had an impact on his present day and the decisions he had to make and they were really sweet. We've included some as deleted scenes in the home video version of this. But when you are making an animated movie you're limited by time. The budget dictates how long the movie can be because it so expensive to make these films and so ultimately we had to choose the most important flashbacks to use in the movie and the ones that had the greatest relevance in the narrative and so we had to cherry pick. This is one of two flashbacks that we have in the film with Stoick and I think it lends a really warm presence to see this character back on screen and also it's just very sweet to see Hiccup at an even younger age. It gives us a glimpse into those moments that made Hiccup the character he is.
Brad Lewis: For me this moment when he admits that he had a plan for peace, co-existing with the dragons. To me it's a huge reveal in this flashback that really buys its' way into the movie. Flashbacks should be there not just to reminisce but to be there for a good strong story purpose and the idea that Hiccup and his do share some similarity of heart and soul by knowing that Stoick wanted to have dragons put away from the humans so they wouldn't be warring forever, I thought was a really great early reveal, emotional reveal.
Simon Otto: I guess you sort of get a greater understanding of the character of Stoick.
Brad Lewis: So in this scene we have fun with the prosthetic, right, where they are playing catch with the prosthetic and I think that early on we thought the idea in the story was entertaining, but we also wanted to make sure we were being respectful about it. We had the opportunity to show the movie to the Amputee Coalition and they laughed heartily at this scene and they said they really enjoyed this and other ideas and fun that we had with the prosthetic and sort of interactions.
Simon Otto: A lot of these scenes between Hiccup and Astrid through all three movies were animated by the two supervising animators of these two characters. Jakob Jansen for Hiccup and Shaggy Hornby for Astrid and they have kind of reached a level of understanding of these characters, how these characters move and the launch is that you Dean gave these animators. You kind of just gave them the box of what the purpose of the story is and how this scene should function and you kind of let them explore it and it's really great to watch them come back with not just one scene but usually a string of scenes, ten, twelve scenes strung together and you could watch the moment unfold. And of course there's other animators that supported this sequence as well but it was very interesting to see them work together on these scenes.
Dean DeBlois: Yeah. And Hiccup in this movie, in particular, Fabio Laguini had taken the lead on a lot of these important performance shots with Hiccup including this right here. Such a playful, beautiful interaction between the two of them and it feels so natural. I mean, that was our goal in order to make sure Hiccup and Astrid feel like an established couple, they don't have to be kind of giddy around one another and nervous and full of butterflies. I think they've been together long enough that they know how to rib each other and just be comfortable in one another's presence. We want to get the sense that Hiccup is unaware that Astrid is his true support and his future, cause every thing that Hiccup has achieved so far is largely credited to his bond with Toothless. Before that, Hiccup was kind of in the way all the time, he couldn't do anything right and his relationship with Toothless is what changed everything for him. Now he's respected, he's powerful, he's a leader and I think Hiccup's deep sense of insecurity is that should Toothless ever go away he would be reduced to that unworthy character he saw himself as in the first film of the trilogy. And this really where we introduce that problem, that challenge for Hiccup, is that Toothless comes upon this rare and elusive variation of his species, rather innocently in the woods. He doesn't quite realize at the moment that this is part of a trap and she does try to warn him right away. But the idea is that she is the engine of change. She's brought into the story in a nefarious way by Grimmel but her interaction with Toothless is pure and his fascination with her is met with her curiosity about him, though going forward they're drawn together and we soon learn through Grimmel that Furies mate for life. So it's a bond that neither one of them can really fight and Hiccup, who is at first very enthusiastic about Toothless finding a mate, is going to have to come to realize that Toothless having a mate means Toothless will be drawn back into the wild eventually.
Simon Otto: You can see here some of the great fun and challenge of working on the How to Train Your Dragon movies for the animators was that you're communicating fairly complex story moments through pantamine with animal behavior and the supervising animators on these characters , Dave ?? for Toothless and Thomas ??? for the Light Fury, had the real important moments here to understand that she tells him don't come here, something really dangerous is here and this his just immediate crush he experiences on her and then her disappearing.
Dean DeBlois: And that disappearance was something we came up for the Light Fury in order to make her have a unique ability, one that she later teaches Toothless. So the idea was that she would blast a fireball ahead of herself, fly through it and the heat from the fire would turn her and her scales mirror like so that she would reflect her environment, whether it's in the sky or in the forest, she would seem to disappear until she cooled off and then she would reappear seemingly out of no where.
Dean DeBlois: I always love watching Fishmeat in Fishlegs backpack, or where ever he is. He seems to be perpetually entertained, very happy little dragon.
Simon Otto: So we did a lot of hunting for animal behavior on this movie, in story and in animation, and think what are all the interesting things that different kinds of animals do, like mating dances, courtship behavior, and also just like everyday things that animals do and we tried to find the behaviors that fit these dragons the best that help define and differentiate each dragon. We wanted them to feel grounded in reality, feel familiar.
Dean DeBlois: Again, I just love the contrast that our production designer, Pierre-Olivier Vincent, and our visual effects supervisor Dave Woolvard, came up with in working with Roger Deakins for each of these sequences. They feel complimentary and very different going in to the forest from that stable, just the palate changes completely and we really kind of commit to the idea of the environment, how that balanced light effects the color of their skin and the environment is just alive with insects and all of the ferns are moving around. This is something that we were not able to do in the past or we attempted it was at just great anguish and expense but the great gain of the movie is that we have something called Moonray now and it's a backend render which allows to put so much detail on screen that just was not possible before because it's very fast and the method of tracking the light from these sources is much more sophisticated. It actually tracks the light rays from whatever light you decide is the dominant light of your scene and then as the light falls upon their faces or their hair, that's all calculated in rays and as the light bounces off of say the green ferns and gives them a green underlight, that's also all calculated. Millions of light rays calculated mathematically at lightning fast speeds and it gives it such a sophisticated look.
Simon Otto: Technology is kind of the, they're the unsung heroes of our movies, right? In a way, pushing it forward with each movie, some new things become available that allow us to do certain things facially that we weren't before.
Brad Lewis: This movie is a tour de force for that kind of thing, in addition to what Dean was talking about with the renderer. You know we have all the ferns moving, we've got the hair on top of the cliff blowing, we've got character effects and effects development that were sort of debuting on this movie that allows us to handle hundreds and thousands of effects on things in a scene that really it sets you atmospherically in that place. You get a feel for that scene because off all of these things that are naturally happening that might not draw your eye, but really brings you to a sense of place.
Simon Otto: It's tangible and it feels real. It's designed and stylized but feels real. That's always something we talked about in terms of look and design we wanted world that felt charactured and pushed to a certain degree and the shapes were exaggerated and a whimsical version of reality, but we always wanted the textures to feel real and the world to be believable so that we could believe in the dragons and the human characters and their emotions in the story itself.
Dean DeBlois: The look is very much tied to the story ??? of making it appear that dragons once roamed this world, our world, and this is the story of when they existed and ultimately when they went away and part of that is we wanted people to believe in the peril. Not only are these dragons influenced by very specific animals that the animators referenced but they also are very importantly, the physics feel real. If you got in the way of dragon fire it would burn you. If you fall from a great height you wouldn't make it, you would die. This is a world where cartoon physics are not the dominant mentality. And so part of that was rendering it with a certain amount of believability with credibility and the textures. When you see the fur, the scales, the hair, the skin it's designed to look tangible and credible as opposed to leaning on cartoony conventions too heavily.
Brad Lewis: We talk about little bits of improv and different sessions. I love that take of Murray's when does "Should I call you Hiccup". That was just so funny, just him kind of playing around with different deliveries for the idea for that line, when he came up with that and was hilarious.
Simon Otto: Just the sting in the line when he says, "what would he think of you?" I just love it and it really comes through that he is mocking him.
Dean DeBlois: This movie allowed us the opportunities to really explore a villain that had charm and a point of view and just some on screen entertainment. He's not just a brute. He represents intolerance. He's cunning and calculating. He's an accomplished hunter whose established a reputation for himself by being so effective. And so we wanted to create a nemesis who was going to be fitting for Hiccup and somebody whose core philosophy would absolutely be opposed to what Hiccup stands for. This idea of integration, of coexistence is appalling to Grimmel and so not only has he come here to find to Toothless to trap him and ultimately kill him, he's come here to teach this kid a lesson about his forward thinking and what it would do to his world.
Brad Lewis: He's a very different kind of hunter. He's not just a might hunter. The way he's eliminated Night Furies is by psychologically out thinking them. It's a predator that out thinks it's prey. And basically now were introducing the idea of it's exactly what he is going to with Hiccup, his new prey. He's going psychologically out think him. He's psychotic.
Dean DeBlois: These Deathgrippers were a lot of fun to design as well but we recognized that we needed to establish a method by which Grimmel could control them. So within our world that's important. We know that Hiccup has taught people how to befriend dragons. Drago was all about brute force and intimidation but Grimmel's a little smarter than that and so he's actually used the specific species which have a stinger not unlike a scorpion and he extracts the venom and with small doses by reinjecting that venom he can subdue dragons and kind of lean on their will a little heavier.
Dean DeBlois: We did so many versions of this scene. Some of them were just with Hiccup and Astrid and Valka. Simon boarded at least three of them. Ultimately it ended up being this town hall with everybody and it's an important scene because it has to be credible that Hiccup would consider leaving their home of seven generations to embark on this wild goose chase of a quest. We had to make sure the stakes were high enough that he didn't seem overactive nor did he seem cowardly. He needs to be thinking about the future, and even though it's controversial among his people, his point needs to be strong and so we thought having everybody gathered together in the wake of Grimmel's attack was the right moment to float this wild idea, very Hiccupy idea, of finding the Hidden World.
Brad Lewis: The other thing we talked about is there's demarcation point here. This is as confident as we have seen Hiccup to this point in time as a leader and he's got Toothless by his side and sort of little do we know that after this scene he loses Toothless and then he also loses his confidence. That is visually, symbolically important as well to the story that Toothless is at his side.
Dean DeBlois: Right and what's also important is that Astrid, even though she doesn't believe in this idea, that she thinks is kind of crazy, she already said so on top of the cliff, she does silence everybody and supports him publicly. And that's something that is powerful in their relationship and I think it speaks to how necessary they are to one another.
Dean DeBlois: Simon, you should talk about the challenges of having this many dragons and people and sheep in disguise all up in the air. It's gotta be pretty complicated.
Simon Otto: Yeah. And again you say, similar to earlier there's so many layers of different people doing different things. Obviously there's the ??? animation, the foreground animation and different levels of crowds in the back in certain cases, for example like Gothi with her seven terrible terrors. That was animated by an animator who's just working on that particular thing and then we copied that animation into multiple shots. We found so many different ways of making it because you couldn't open shot inside the software and see it all in it's finished state. So we kind of have to find some work arounds to get it all in there and make it entertaining and believable.
Dean DeBlois: Now these intercut scenes used to be entire scenes unto themselves and it was thanks to our editors and their very clever idea of turning it more into a montage but keeping the best bits of both scenes and intercutting them.
Brad Lewis: That such a tough effect to pull off period but to pull that disappearing effect off in the middle of the bright sky is, the effects team did a phenomenal job of it. This is just one of my favorite moments in the movie.
Simon Otto: Just tosses him right off.
Brad Lewis: It's nice to meet you.
Simon Otto: That always got a laugh from the early boards and different versions we had of it, it's just always worked. She would just toss him.
Dean DeBlois: And also in just a comedic way goes to express the dilemma here. Hiccup is learning very quickly that he's not part of this equation and if Toothless is to establish a relationship with the Light Fury and her join their flock, he's going to have to do it on his own because Hiccup is unwelcome in the Light Fury's world. She's quick to get rid of him, which is kind of embarrassing and humbling for him the Viking who's taught everyone how to interact with dragons and seemingly can tame even the most wild and aggressive of dragons. So if POV, Pierre-Olivier Vincent, our production designer, were here he would talk about this island which we come to know as New Berk as being a bold statement. It was meant to be an island that looms out of the clouds with sheer cliffs hundreds of feet high and above it through these rocky battlements you would discover a valley, a pristine valley with a lake, trees and pastures and just this ideal spot for the dragons and humans which is accessed only by those with wings. It's both safe and kind of a paradise. We figured if they were going to leave Berk they would have to find a place that was not just equal but would surpass it in it's beauty. And ultimately though it makes it's way into the story as kind of a pit stop, it becomes in the end the place where the Vikings settle.
Dean DeBlois: Beautiful shot by Sean ???. He's got a real knack for these comedic shots.
Simon Otto: He was supervising those, like the kids characters, Snotlout, Fishlegs, Ruff and Tuff and Fabio Linguni supervised not only parts of Hiccup but also Gobber throughout all the three movies. Here we have the multiplied beach balls. We always called them beach balls.
Dean DeBlois: From the moment I wrote that joke I figured it would get cut out and strangely it's always gotten a good laugh so-- but it was a groaner from the beginning and we just figured out now that nobody needs to be reminded of Stoick's death in such a callous way.
Brad Lewis: But it sums up Snotlout so clearly. He's the only idiot that would say something like that.
Simon Otto: I love the idea that they're immediately like, they immediately want to build an entire village.
Dean DeBlois: They're so used to rebuilding their own village.
Brad Lewis: I love how they shave their armpits. Who knew?
Simon Otto: It was really important back in the day.
Dean DeBlois: We had to make little adjustments to the Snotlout-Valka dynamic because of our first test screening people thought that there's a little romance developing between them and that was never the intention. We just wanted to indicate that he was sort of desperate for her attention. He wanted to be the teacher's pet. He just wants validation. he just wants to be number one at something, anything.
Simon Otto: Slowly adjusting his expectations.
Dean DeBlois: And again this was a difficult relationship to get right. We adjusted this several times, the Astrid-Hiccup dynamic so she was just supportive enough without being to sycophantic I guess and at the same time supportive where she could have been judgmental. Just finding that right balance so that she's going along with it but she's letting him know that she doesn't entirely believe in it. And it's just a way of keeping that relationship strong with strong points of view. They respect one another to give each other the space to think and at the same time she'll call him out if she thinks he's leading them astray.
Dean DeBlois: This is one of those sequences where we do our best to get rid of dialogue and let the pantomime and John Powell's beautiful music kind of weave a spell and we've come to realize since the first film with Forbidden Friendship and Romantic Flight, those sequences become stand out moments in the movie. We knew that we wanted to kind of have this bumbling courtship, first date sequence and with it a kind of a magical connection in the beginning as she lures him out of the camp.
Simon Otto: It's actually the first scene we animated. It was the first scene in production.
Dean DeBlois: You're right, the very first scene. So it gave us some time to really get up to speed with not only the Light Fury but getting reacquainted with Toothless.
Simon Otto: And it was like we were, in every department we were still pretty small so we could ??? a few people, focusing on getting that heartbeat of the movie in there already and I think subsequently it helped every screening before that we had this centerpiece there already.
Brad Lewis: And also just learning the animation language of the Light Fury. Lot of conversations about how she might move and how elegant and how feral, how strong she is, but it was in this scene, and these two scenes that we really sort of defined who she is for us as a small team when we started and also for the balance of the movie. It was a real centering time for us.
Simon Otto: Actually the first shot I think is this one right here.
Dean DeBlois: This was the first one to be animated?
Simon Otto: At least the first one we started with, ??? did.
Dean DeBlois: This is a familiar, almost cliched situation, going all the way back to ???, the idea of a bumbling amateur might be looking to someone else hiding in the bushes for advice, but this was our take on it. We thought it would be so fun to have Light Fury who was of the dragon world, she's actually of the Hidden World, she know the dragon ways and she is very distrusting of humans, so she hasn't been corrupted at all. Having to interact with Toothless who is the last of his kind and who has over these couple of years become domesticated. So that interaction was going to be fun regardless because he clearly likes her but he has no idea what to do. To make it worse he's now looking to his human companion for advice, which is a terrible idea. So combined with what he's observed at the stables and with other dragons and Hiccup giving him cues, he's just making a complete disaster of this. And the idea was to have this sequence be a companion piece to Forbidden Friendship in the first movie, so that way he starts drawing in the sand you think you know what's going to happen but in fact he actually produces something that, for the first time, looks like a real drawing.
Brad Lewis: We talk about how aspirational the movie is both in our lighting and effects appetite. This scene for Lawrence ??? and the effects team between the water and the sand and everything, there's so much in it the lighting ??? from having to go from pre-dawn to the sun coming up by the end of the scene, it's sort of a time of day change within the scene, all incredibly challenging and also sets a really high bar for the movie relatively early on. We've already seen a couple of effect heavy scenes but what an accomplishment. You can go scene by scene and see the imprint of so many, so much great team work and such aspirational ideas for everyone in these sequences.
Simon Otto: A lot of the core ideas in this sequence actually came out of the storyboards. It was re-cut and restaged and many new ideas came to it but...
Dean DeBlois; Yeah, some terrific ideas from ??? who had storyboarded a lot of the interaction between the dragons and then Tron May who did some of the early concept work on this sequence too.
Simon Otto: Tron was the head of story on the movie.
Dean DeBlois: The first time I saw the lighting renders come through and saw a shot like this where you can almost see every grain of sand, I thought "wow, we've grown up. This is amazing". It used to be that we'd have to avoid things that would displace under the feet of the characters. We couldn't have them walking through grass or lose dirt without it being painful. I'd always say stage it on rock, but this is just so impressive, so believable.
Simon Otto: It also goes with first sequences. You second guess yourself more than you should. Remember how we were talking about should this scene be in, should this scene be out and we trimmed down shorter versions and then extended it again and in the end I think with a little bit of distance we felt pretty confident that it was actually there.
Brad Lewis: It's such a significant thing to talk about, we weren't talking about limitations of artistry and technology or appetite, we were talking about what was right for the story and that's such an immense freedom to just think about what is right for the this shot, for this story, this sequence. Not we better put that on a tile surface because we can't do something that's organic. It's been phenomenal in that way this movie right, sort of freeing artistically.
Simon Otto: It's the kind of sequence where the story point comes through the script and it's clear what the sequence has to be about but it can be executed in so many different ways that when it's just pantomime and their's no dialogue in it, it can be interpreted in so many different ways and to find that is the pleasure and pain of making animated movies.
Dean DeBlois: This is another thing, if you're paying attention as a viewer you'll notice that Astrid is collecting scales that Toothless is scratching off of himself and they dump them into a mortar pestal and mash them up with some Toothless saliva creating a paint and that paint because it's made of dragon scales is fireproof. So that's the way in which Toothless' new tail can be permanent, can be a tail that will stay together even in dragon fire. And I thought that was a really clever solution that Kevin Oaks came up with. Kevin Oaks is our head of rigging and he's quite a scientifically minded guy. But if we couldn't put actual scales on the tail, he said why don't you grind them up, then you could have a paint, which made a lot of sense.
Dean DeBlois: This was one of the early sequences as well. Maybe the second one we put into production.
Simon Otto: I was just going to say that one shot where Astrid is holding the tail and Hiccup paints it, Astrid's hair is just amazing. There's a lot of really complex hair on hair interactions and hair with objects and ??? in the character effects department. A lot of the interactions between the characters and the environment is done in a separate department. They do grass and the ferns and the hair and the cloths and basically animate a lot of these objects that makes the characters all feel more believable because there's true interaction. The department is led by Damon Crowe and I think we had a pretty large number of character effects artists on this film. It's just so much of that happening.
Dean DeBlois: This shot says a lot about Hiccup's mindset. He was so proud to send him off and determined to help facilitate this bond between Toothless and Light Fury but he suddenly realizes and feels quite naked without him as he flies off.
Simon Otto: You always describe that moment as kind of like a mother sending her kids off to school, the first day of school and then in the moment after the bus drives away, doesn't quite know what to do with herself.
Dean DeBlois: This is just a quick moment that we put into help with the pacing of the movie and to remind the audience that Grimmel is continuing his pursuit. And so it's staged as an attack but then we see that he calls off the Deathgrippers because he wants them to come, he's baiting a trap. And it's a nice pairing actually with this sequence which was storyboarded by Simon Otto and it's a beautiful pantomime sequence of Toothless tracking down the Light Fury after an exhaustive search and he's ready to give up and then he hears that distant sound of her blasting her fireball. I think they work really well having the peril and then kind of the romance side by side. It kind of shows the two paths we're on.
Simon Otto: It's a tricky thing to storyboard a sequence and then sort of work on the sequence as it goes through production because you have very specific ideas of what it is.
Brad Lewis: Oh, I remember, Simon.What about this? No, no.
Simon Otto: You kind of lose sight of what it can be because you're so focused on how you think it should be.
Brad Lewis: A lot of creative ownership.
Dean DeBlois: I think it's actually a good experience to go through because as a director I often have pretty clear ideas of how I envisioned a moment but as you through and you start to work with other artists you see that idea changes, it morphs and sometimes you think maybe not for the better but generally for the better and it's just part of the collaborative effort of putting it up on screen. You kind of have to embrace the idea that it's a team effort. Everybody brings to it their best and what they think are the winning ideas and it's not necessarily the way you pictured it.
Simon Otto: And give people a chance to add to the idea that you would not have come up with.
Brad Lewis: The great thing about several of these first beats of these moments between Light Fury and Toothless are... One of the things I think Toothless works so well is we thrust him into situations that we relate to. He's trying to impress the Light Fury who he met. He's out searching her. It's like he's cruising down main street just hoping to see her in a car or something like that and then he's here trying to impress her with his strength and abilities. We can all sort of see ourselves as a memory of some sort of situation where were trying to impress somebody. It's so fun.
Dean DeBlois: So we're aware that the aurora borealis does not come out on a moonlit night. But it's here for fantasy. This is the idea that we wanted to introduce this waterfall at the edge of the world as Stoick described it without indicating that it's actually the volcanic caldera, that it's not a circular formation. It just appears to be a waterfall.
Simon Otto: Or you could think of it as the edge of the world.
Brad Lewis: Which Stoick described in his flashbacks. So that's all were giving you at this point.
Dean DeBlois: Yes, we wanted to keep the mystery.
Simon Otto: That moment of talons on talons spinning sort of into the abyss was a scene we had tried to put in almost every one of the movies.
Dean DeBlois: Yeah, you had the idea for when Valka meets Hiccup.
Simon Otto: Great reference.
Dean DeBlois: Like a couple of eagles locking talons.
Brad Lewis: In this case we have the black and white yin yang. It was so beautiful.
Simon Otto: Yeah, I know. It was perfect.
Dean DeBlois: Some beautiful animation here with Fabio Lingini. I love how natural and relatable Hiccup is with his worry. He's immediately casting doubt on the Light Fury. His anxiety over being the third wheel in this relationship is coming through here.
Simon Otto: And it's believable. It remains entertaining both the way these two characters interact is always really fun.
Dean DeBlois: I love the idea that Tuffnut was just in that tent. He just pops out of the tent for no reason. This was one of the gags we we're a little worried about because of course we embrace and celebrate the idea of Hiccup and Gobber and others being heroes with their prosthetics and their amputations but I think this case we didn't know if we had maybe gone too far. That's part of why we screened the movie for the amputee coalition.
Brad Lewis: And that by the way, was the big laugh of the entire screen with them.
Simon Otto: Another moment you tinkered with quite a bit, Dean. Like how to get in and out of this sequence and get this information out.
Dean DeBlois: It was much longer but we realized we were explaining to the audience what they had already seen. And so we cut it short and really just wanted to set up a test for Hiccup. Now that Toothless is nowhere to be found Hiccup has to make a tough decision as a leader and we wanted this sequence to be an exciting and gripping depiction of Hiccup's plan without Toothless and how badly it goes awry. It's meant to be confirmation for Hiccup that ultimately that he can not lead without Toothless.
Brad Lewis: Another incredibly difficult and beautiful lighting sequence and that combination of the ?? painting in the opening scene is just, the atmosphere and depth and detail and transformation of the audience into what this scene feels like is just a, was just amazing.
Dean DeBlois: This was meant to be, we never really said so in the film, but this meant to be an old trappers fort just sitting there abandoned and Grimmel's now using it as the basis for his trap. So the entire armada, the warlords armada is surrounding the island and Grimmel baits the dragon riders closer with that lit window. The whole thing is just a trap waiting to be deployed.
Dean DeBlois: These are always tricky moments in movies when you have your villain monologuing but we realized that we had to get a certain amount out and this is probably the best time to do it now that he has a captive audience here. Really we need to show how they were similar but ultimately Grimmel has a reputation to protect but it's founded on this idea of having made the very opposite choice the first time he came face to face with a Night Fury, the opposite of Hiccup's. We also realized in early screenings that people didn't understand how it was that Grimmel could control his Deathgrippers and that's what this line is about.
Brad Lewis: Talk about your action film choreography. Early on we were encouraged by Chris and Donna to really lean into the action on these scenes. This is a sequence that certainly shows that amazing escape, great shots that have to travel north while they're being chased out.
Dean DeBlois: The Deathgrippers were animated by, or led by Leron Topez and he put a lot of thought into how they move around on those claws and pincers and heavy armored scales across the backs. It's meant to be a monstrous things and I think the way they lunge and attack with their retractable tusks makes them something out of a nightmare.
Brad Lewis: I love how Hiccup made the bad decision to this surprise attack and Valka and Astrid basically save his bacon by getting him out of there.
Dean DeBlois: Which absolutely serves the story mission. We need to show that Hiccup's confidence is really shaken by nearly getting everyone killed and in fact leaving one of them behind.
Dean DeBlois: Again I think this is a really nice bold choice for the color palate coming into the camp of New Berk after that fiery escape. It just feels perfectly kind of dawn and wet and dewy and it's a nice depiction of this place we haven't seen before. I really applaud POV and Dave Walvoord and Roger Deakins establishing some really beautiful looks for the film.
Brad Lewis: I remember when we talked about the decision, should we have Ruffnut captured? Should she be back with Grimmel? We all thought this could be hilarious, right? Because she'd be a tough one and she's so arrogant and full of herself like she is and then Dean, you wrote a really long scene for Kristen to sort of do and riff her way through. What a fun idea, the idea we're gonna take Ruffnut, we're going to stick her in a cage alongside of Grimmel. We'll see what happens.
Dean DeBlois: If I recall correctly, actually, Brad this was your idea that Ruffnut would get left behind as a captive that ultimately he let's go because she's driving him mad. Fun idea.
Brad Lewis: Annoying her way to freedom.
Dean DeBlois: I think people are divided about this scene. Some people who can't stand people who won't stop talking are quite easily irritated by Ruffnut here. But that's exactly the intent. We needed them to understand.
Brad Lewis: Just the veracity of him letting her go and then all within his plan.
Dean DeBlois: Just like having a sequence where you have the pantomime animation and music carry it, it's also nice to have a sequence like this where it's reliant purely on the comedic timing of our actors and some beautiful animation to accompany it.
Simon Otto: The animators had a blast with these scenes. The contrast between his inner reaction and her just going on and on.
Dean DeBlois: One thing I'll say people might not know is you look at the three warlords, the big guy. We've got Ragnar the Rock, we've got Chaghatai Khan and we've got Griselda the Grevious. Those bodies are actually Stoick, Eret, and Valka with different faces and different costumes. We couldn't-- we were sort of running up against and we didn't have time really to design completely new characters from scratch so we gave ourselves the mission of taking bodies we already had, giving them new costumes and new faces and that's how we ended up with three new characters to represent our warlords.
Simon Otto: In order to create this rich world with so many characters that we've accumulated over the three movies, we had to be really creative in how we use our resources to create the world, this vast world. And that's one of the tricks we came up with.
Dean DeBlois: It could be argued that Hiccup has really bad eyesight because this is the second time in the movie when he flies up and seems to be the last to notice this massive...
Brad Lewis: Gaping hole in the ocean.
Simon Otto: I just love to quickly talk about the work the animators did and we did together to learn to animate flying creatures.
Brad Lewis: Right now you should probably be talking about the effects.
Simon Otto: That's a good point.
Brad Lewis: It's like there's one of the most amazing effects shots that's ever been done in animation by... If you want to talk about flying...
Simon Otto: Put a pin into that.
Dean DeBlois: It is really impressive. The idea of the caldera as the entrance to the Hidden World, it was a dream I had and I talked to POV about it and he did a painting sort of making sense of this idea of a hole in the sea as a massive gaping caldera that rises to the sea surface and the water would be spilling in from 360 degrees and if you were to fly down through that you would find your way into this network of tunnels that would open up into caverns, vast spaces that would be lit in an ethereal way with bio-luminescence either in the fungi or through the dragons themselves that take on a different patterned look in this environment as though flying under a black light. We wanted it to be vast and so you wouldn't have a sense of what's the top or what's the bottom, that would be a home to nurseries of dragons and pods, new dragons that we hadn't seen and the idea that the water would be interacting with magma down below would create such a steamy atmosphere that we'd even start to see coral growing in midair. It's just as a location it was really challenging to design but especially execute. I know Dave Walvoord talked about this being the most difficult thing in the film to bring to life.
Brad Lewis: It's a super tricky design concept to come up with a mythical place on Earth that doesn't feel so fantastical that it's out of keeping with this basically naturalistic concept for a movie. So by tethering it with biological realities, like bio-luminescence and steam and water, it really brings an organic quality to it that makes you think, maybe there is some...
Simon Otto: Fine line to walk, right?
Brad Lewis: Yeah.
Dean DeBlois: Alright, Simon.
Simon Otto: Now they're walking, but I can quickly talk about it. Every animator had to go through two weeks of what we call flight school, where they had to do very specific test shots. One was just flying in the air where you don't see any ??? and you just have to sell the presence of air and by the way the crowds animators had to do that too, just to kind of understand how the physics of flight work and how to sell it. It's definitely a great learning experience for all of us to go through that and I think it pays off because it's really challenging in animation to sell that air is there, it exists and carries these really heavy creatures, gives them weight and dimension.
Dean DeBlois: It certainly worked in this sequence.
Dean DeBlois: This is the realization of we just had about. We didn't just want a cave, we'd seen that in the first movie, we'd seen a more ideallic cave in the second film, the Bewilderbeast's lair where we meet Valka but this was meant to be a world. The idea that the Hidden World would be connected through pockets of vast chambers and tunnels beneath the crust of the Earth, running under the oceans, under the continents and connected all the way around so you might find different access points throughout the world but if the dragons were going to go away at the end of our story as we planned we wanted it to feel like a place that was inviting for them, would be ideallic for dragons and that would be inhospitable for humans.
Simon Otto: That little dance ritual that Toothless and Light Fury do here, would describe the scene where they've come together and Toothless knows what to do and how to answer her movements.
Dean DeBlois: Yeah, it's really a nice kind of bookend to that.
Brad Lewis: This is one of my favorite shots because we've always seen Hiccup put the hand up and he tames the dragon. In this case he throws it up there and the dragon is like, not having any of it. It's like completely defeated.
Simon Otto: He goes this not actually going to work.
Dean DeBlois: It's a really fun dynamic escape. Makes you think of a theme park thrill ride, Escape from the Hidden World.
Dean DeBlois: It's a nice balance and that was the challenge of the awe inspiring and turn it into something that is sad through Hiccup's eyes because he sees that Toothless has found his place and he is no longer needed here and before we can leave it on a downer there's this ??? escape facilitated by Toothless.
Dean DeBlois: So of the six flashbacks this second one was the most poignant and the least on the nose in a way. We had some other flashbacks that were maybe a little to relevant to what was going on in the present but this is thematically what the movie's all about. This idea with love comes loss and that it's part of the deal. It's true of life and it's being depicted in our story. It's ultimately, I think, the truth that Hiccup comes to accept and embrace by the end of the movie and with that comes a certain amount of joy. It's part of life moving on.
Brad Lewis: One of the things that I loved that, Dean, you tackled in this it's a mature idea. It's a very mature idea to put into a movie to say if you love something then you're going to have to, there's loss and you consider letting go of it might be the right thing, the thing you don't really want. It's a beautiful concept.
Dean DeBlois: That's counter intuitive but it's ultimately selfless and it's harder to switch mode. You need someone.
Dean DeBlois: This is a sequence that I love, that I just love watching it because of the work that the team put into bringing the environment alive. Just the gentle breeze that's moving through the grass and the tree limbs and the background, through the hair. It has such a fine tuned finish to it that just blows me away because in the ten years we've been working on these movies the technology has grown with us and it's reached the point where I think I can honestly say if you can imagine it, if you can imagine an image on the screen it can be created now. There doesn't seem to be any limitations given the tools we have.
Brad Lewis: You know we never would have done four foot tall grasses in a... we couldn't have made that choice in the past. This is a testament to if your allergies are psycho-somatic, this series of shots might induce hay fever.
Dean DeBlois: I like this moment because, Hiccup, in past versions of the script I had written him to be a lot more selfish and it was pretty unlikable. He came back having declared his presence in the Hidden World commanding Toothless to come to him, dragging him back and everyone else was calling him out on it and it was just a low moment for Hiccup where he certainly wasn't being heroic but I thought the intention was to have this be his dark moment of ultimately being really selfish and that causes Toothless' capture but in refining it through the help of the team and screenings we had we came to realize that having him realize that he didn't belong in the Hidden World and that Toothless clearly did, that was actually enough because the Light Fury appearance caused him to regress really rapidly. He was reaching a moment of selflessness and then when the Light Fury appeared he thought, "Oh, great. I don't have to go there. We can't all be together, he can have his cake and eat it too." That's right on the heels of Grimmel's attack. So ultimately it still does the same function, it just leaves Hiccup feeling responsible for Toothless' capture and it drives him toward his third act epiphany, that he needs to do something, that he kind of needs to lay it all out, get Toothless back and reverse what he's done.
Dean DeBlois: That was really nicely handled. I thought, you know, when you're working with dragons you don't want to make them too anthropomorphic in this case, and so it was how do we communicate that Toothless is commanding his block to not attack and ultimately follow. It was challenging but the animators managed to pull it off. I think it's clear in pantomime that he has a sense of strategy and he's having them buy their time until there's a better plan.
Dean Deblois: This was meant to be a bit of a callback to the first movie as well. Hiccup and Astrid standing on the cliff after Stoick had sailed off with Toothless to find the nest. It's another moment where she's come to his aid when he's feeling most defeated to remind him that he's more than he thinks of himself. He actually has this tenacity in him that was there long before he met Toothless and ultimately she's drudging that up.
Brad Lewis: They're the perfect compliment for one another really. She gives him the tenacity. He wouldn't have it, I don't think, without Astrid, right? That's what she helps light inside him. And I think for her, he helps her not just act like a warrior all the time. He thinks things through. They really are the perfect compliment as a couple. You know, the other thing throughout this story we are trying to set up all of those things so they build to a place where we believe in both of them as a set to lead the Vikings of Berk.
Brad Lewis: Once again Pablo and the team... the lighting on this is amazing. The crowds work. James ??? and the crowds team. There's a master strategy to each one of these sequences both whether it's the lighting temperature up on top of the island, down below by the armada and where the dragons are coming in, where the dragons are leaving.
Simon Otto: It's tracking the continuity over four, five minutes of screen time, so that the directions of the dragons and the numbers that you see shot by shot actually feels like real continuity and those guys did a really big job and challenging job to get that right.
Dean DeBlois: Here's where the benefit of having a really tall island helps out because using the wing suits they're able to make their way down to the armada which is conveniently placed just of the shore of the island. So it allows them a heroic plan to hurdle in there and try to stop what is going on, without dragons.
Brad Lewis: Well, that's funny. We were just having this conversation about hundreds of different aspects of the movie but it's like, hey where did they get their wing suits? It's like should we show them making them earlier in the movie so we know they put them on or... it's sometimes a little bit of movie magic.
Dean DeBlois: There's one indication in the beginning, actually, the opening sequence when Fishlegs flies in when he crashes to the deck and says, "I'm still getting the hang of my wings." That was intentionally there to help set it up without broadcasting it that they all have these wingsuits.
Simon Otto: And we tend to overthink it too and then explain it too much and then cut it back out and then find out whether the audience is getting it or they're confused by it.
Dean DeBlois: This is also meant to be a payoff of the earlier idea that they as a team don't work very well together without their dragons. And so here they are finally covering each other's backs and working together and saving the dragons instead of the dragons saving them.
Simon Otto: So here we have some of the most complex scenes that I've ever worked on in animation that feel much more like visual effects shots where the camera is incredibly connected, moving all the time and you have elements on multiple layers and you try to sell gravity and readability at the same time, particularly the shots where the airship starts falling apart and Hiccup is trying to free Toothless while he's on there. These shots are about to come up and just to make it read and have the story track like in these sections here, it's a big challenge and we're not used to in character animation to stage shots like this, like swinging elements and delivering dialogue and it was a real challenge. We took quite a bit of time to get these right. And you are always in animation, the camera, even though you think the camera is doing the right thing when they come out of layout, once the performance is in there and the action is in there you have to adjust the cameras again and then you have to adjust again, so you kind of change each others tails. Very, very tricky shots to get right and make them real and then you throw them over to effects and lighting and they then have to also make sure that it reads and at first when you conceive these scenes you don't exactly know how all these elements are going to come together, so you constantly react to what you're seeing and you build as you go,
Dean DeBlois: Here again is one of the examples of just how well the team is working together.
Dean DeBlois: Once again John Carr, our editor on the team, came up with great ways of cross cutting the action so that we could tell both sides of the story, Hiccup rescuing Toothless and going after the Light Fury and then the team working together on the deck to turn back this armada. Now if you noticed earlier Toothless commands Cloudjumper, Skullcrusher, and Grump to go back to the island, and that's them arriving with Valka, Eret, and Gobber. Very subtle, but that's how we explain how they arrived. The lightning flashes here are just to help set up how Toothless is going to, ultimately, defeat the Deathgrippers. So there's passing storm activity.
Simon Otto: That really made him mad. The worst thing that could happen to him.
Dean DeBlois: Such a silly idea played out for all its worth. A character who can't grow a beard...
Simon Otto: And this is the resolution to the Hobgobbler's storyline.
Dean DeBlois: Their growing numbers actually had a little payoff.
Brad Lewis: It wasn't a bad omen for him, it was a bad omen for..
Simon Otto: The Warlords.
Brad Lewis: And that was my favorite shot, Astrid with the backhanded chop, it's just awesome.
Dean DeBlois: This is where the team always surprises me because people see these shots in storyboards and then they become pretty amazing in pre-viz during the layout phase. When you see them fully realized once the effects team has had their way and lighting's done their thing, man, just the scale and the destruction, it's fantastic.
Dean DeBlois: So here they are in the snow-capped spires of New Berk. They have six Deathgrippers. Two of them went down with the burning ship, now he's got these two at least temporarily dealt with and the other two that make up the six. And now he's got four on his tail and we needed a way to get rid of them because they're pretty formidable. And we thought, well the Light Fury taught him how to cloak, but for Toothless it took more than a fireball, it took an arc of electricity.
Simon Otto: When we saw these coming out of story and layout we didn't know how we were going to do this because you have black dragons jump a black dragon and it's night and flashing light.
Dean DeBlois: See that was your shot, Simon.
Simon Otto: It came together on this one. I'd actually hadn't seen this shot..
Dean DeBlois: The idea is that...
Brad Lewis: That shot we changed.
Simon Otto: The shot you changed last minute.
Dean DeBlois: That lightning bolt not only did away with the four Deathgrippers, it was enough to cloak both Toothless and Hiccup because Hiccup's wearing Toothless scales. It ultimately comes down to this, where Hiccup is willing to give up his own life so that Toothless could be safe with the Light Fury and knew that he'd be safer with her. And intentionally we wanted Hiccup to start to lose all of his add-ons.
Brad Lewis: That's my favorite shot right there.
Dean DeBlois: Beautiful. Beautiful effects.
Brad Lewis: Slow motion.
Simon Otto: The change in perspective.
Dean DeBlois: So Grimmel would rip away the wings and Hiccup's already lost his dragon blade. There's all these bits and pieces that he's supplemented. They all fall away and he himself detaches the last one and that becomes Grimmel's demise. The design of that in terms of the sound design, we wanted music to take over when it goes in slow motion and for that piercing missile sound that is the trademark sound of Toothless and it turns out the Light Fury as well, that would pierce the music and bring us back to real time.
Dean DeBlois: This was a little tricky in that by the time you have that victory moment coming out of the climax of the movie, I think the audiences are ready to just pack it up and get out of their seats and head home, but we still have a bit of story telling to do here, so we had to keep it moving. We couldn't linger on anything for too long, just keep the audience in their seats and let them know there's more that is going to happen and actually the most poignant moments of the movie are coming up.
Brad Lewis: The most poignant moments in a trilogy really. That was really the demand of, Dean, you saying let's make it a trilogy, there's more endings here. We need to wrap up relationships, we need to wrap up everything. So a lot of completions that are demanded by your aspiration to do a trilogy.
Simon Otto: I think that the first time you talked about the trilogy, to me at least, I remember you talking about the bittersweet ending. It was sort of the driving engines of your desire to make it into a trilogy.
Dean DeBlois: The dragon animation here is just beautiful, I think. There's so much being communicated. We know that Toothless has a great loyalty to Hiccup but he also knows that he doesn't belong there anymore, that there's something awaiting him in the distance and so when he looks out to that horizon and back to Hiccup he's really saying it's time and Hiccup understands. He's been with Toothless for so long that he knows what the look means and I think what's being communicated even though Hiccup is speaking is largely understood between Toothless and Hiccup. I think the other dragons might be a little confused as to what's going on, all having their saddles removed. Essentially, I think our central cast, they all understand what's happening and if Hiccup's going to go through with it they in solidarity are going to let go as well. When it was all building up to the moment of that hand coming away from Toothless' muzzle, we wanted to repeat that in reverse. So it was such an iconic moment from the first movie and it seemed like a nice bookend to be able to say goodbye that way. So had hats off the Dean Stockner and the team that handled Toothless. I think there's just some really gorgeous stuff here.
Brad Lewis: And honestly, that tear is an artful tear. We sort of- it's not the main focus of the shot and as soon as you realize it, the tears rolling down his face, you realize it's sort of happening. It's a beautiful, I think, choice how to play that.
Simon Otto: It's a delicate thing bringing the audience to this moment where they accept that this is the right course of action.
Dean DeBlois: Yeah. That was the great challenge in all of this. We recognized that our fans really like Toothless and Hiccup together, and the other characters with their dragons, so how were we going to tell a story in which the dragons go away at the end and not have those fans hate us for it. Hopefully, we've accomplished that. Hopefully we've taken the audience on a journey where they understand that this was ultimately the only solution and right solution and that Hiccup's sacrifice is inspiring. That was the idea. Really it all comes down to the ultimate inspiration behind all of this was meeting Cressida Cowell toward the end of the making of the first movie and she said that her last book was going to tackle the disappearance of dragons and why they aren't here anymore. I thought that was really gripping and emotional, so even though the narratives are quite different between the films and the books, I thought it was a worthy goal for the end of the movie to suggest a time which dragons roamed this world and that they had disappeared and their were abouts is a mystery. I really loved the idea of adding to that opening line of Cressida's first book which is Hiccup as an older man reflecting back on his youth and the line is "There were dragons when I was a boy". I thought that was quite stirring and so that was the goal of the end of this movie and this trilogy was to try to take us to that place where he could be reflecting back with fondness. What I had imagined was our group gathered together on a cliff looking out on a horizon that is longer teeming with dragons and over that we would hear those opening lines and that's exactly what we have coming up.
Dean DeBlois: It was also a goal to have a Viking funeral and a Viking wedding in this trilogy and so that moment fulfilled that goal.
Dean DeBlois: This shot was an intentional callback to Hiccup; the close up of Hiccup when we was in Stoick's arms in that first flashback. We wanted to repeat it and kind of duke the audience so they expect to see Stoick and in fact they see a grown Hiccup ten years later.
Brad Lewis: What's fun about the conciseness of this epilogue is that these little, little cards were sort of curtains pulling back and "is that young Hiccup. Oh, my gosh it's his son. Oh, they have a son and a daughter. and then oh, they're back on the edge of the caldera, and then ultimately the reveal of the dragon babies which is just the cutest thing on earth.
Dean DeBlois: We call them Night Lights because they are a combination of course the Night Fury and the Light Fury. And we wanted them to have a combination of traits so if you look at them closely they have some of Toothless' features, some of the Light Fury's features as well.
Simon Otto: You always talked about this scene in Born Free at the end when the lioness returns ???
Dean DeBlois: And I think Christian and the Lion, there's so many videos of, you know, trainers and people who had interactions with either big cats or gorillas. Going back years later, having that moment of reconnection...
Simon Otto: Sort of the time it takes to realize, for the animal to realize that's somebody they know, that's really powerful.
Dean DeBlois: Yeah. It's really heartwarming.
Brad Lewis: This next shot, I think it was rough layout, had this super, in our early screenings, it had this super frightened little girl, the expression, the audience used to crack up every time it looked at her and it made it's way over into an idea for the animation. It was really cute.
Dean DeBlois: Also the boy hiding his head under Astrid's cape, that was an idea brought by the animator Lena and it really worked.
Simon Otto: And were trying to sort of play the kids as the inverse of their parents, so that the girl is the nerdy kid that draws and takes notes and the boy's the blonde...
Dean DeBlois: Kind of brash adventurer.
Dean DeBlois: So this sequence also definitely softens the blow of saying goodbye to the dragons to know that they went back there and had one last joy ride with them, were able to have their kids experience what they experienced flying on the backs of the dragons and even a reunion with Astrid and Stormfly. We wanted a bittersweet ending but we didn't want to depress our audience either and I think this really helps kind of leave people feeling hopeful and like they went on a roller coaster of emotions but hopefully coming out in a positive way. And just this idea that dragons could still be waiting there for us once we figure out our own problems as human beings. There's something sort of uplifting and joyful about that as well. Lastly, the concept for these end credits is that we wanted to revisit the relationships and went right back to Hiccup and Toothless having their first moment of communion and that first contact and getting to know one another. It's just moments throughout all three movies kind of connected together against a beautiful song by Jonsi, who's been apart of all three films writing music for us. I think the lyrics are particularly poignant.
Brad Lewis: You know, we always talk about in these movies, there's tons of individual accomplishment but the incredible reflection really, after you watch the movie, even now as we watched it all together, it's 275,300 people coming together and none is greater than the other, really no contribution is any greater than the other. It a amalgamation of dedicated people trying to make great ideas and you know it's not really a, limitations weren't a function of budget, probably a function of time more than anything else but just great folks trying to do great things that they're going to be proud of twenty years from now.
Simon Otto: And if you removed one element, you know, it doesn't hold up like it-- all these pieces had to come together to be able to create these movies.
Dean DeBlois: At the end of it I think we're at a moment were we're looking, we're beginning to look back and realize what an accomplishment it was for all of us to be together for ten years. Largely the same team. We had new people that joined us for each of the installments but a lot of the same key players, and this has been a part of our lives for ten years. We worked together as a team, we've watched the characters grow up on the screen together. So not only are the characters within the stories saying goodbye, but we are saying goodbye to these characters as well and to one another. Who knows if we will be together working on another film in the same capacity and everything is unknown from here on out but it's been an amazing, wonderful ten years of growth and friendship and inspiration. I'm very thankful. Alright, this is Dean DeBlois signing out, hope you enjoyed our commentary and learned a few things about the movie.
Brad Lewis: And this is Brad Lewis as well and just thanks to everybody for watching the movie, loving the movie as we put it out there like our children. You hoped that they're loved. Thanks for the incredible support we had from DreamWorks, you can see how many credits are going by. It's an incredible organization of dedicated folks.
Simon Otto: I think we should really say thank you to the studio in giving us the chance to work on a trilogy like this. I think it's very rare in a career to have an opportunity to work on something like this and make it at such an amazing place. I'm Simon Otto and I'd like to sign out as well. Thanks for listening.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 Film Commentary