Dean DeBlois Interview: ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ director
Dean DeBlois doesn’t want to take anything away from the amazing work that his lighting department and visual effects department did on “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” but in our recent webchat (watch the exclusive video above) he couldn’t help singling out the perspective that Oscar-winner Roger Deakins brought as a consultant. “I don’t think you can really extract Roger’s influence from any of the imagery in the films.” Deakins became involved with the series during the first film. DeBlois and his co-director, Chris Sanders, having come from hand-drawn animation wanted to bridge the lighting process with how it’s done in CG by bringing on someone who’s known for their work behind the camera. He came in for a pitch and later said that he would come fully on board the project. “It was a huge surprise for us. We thought we might get him for a couple of day-long seminars,” DeBlois says.
“The Hidden World” brought the popular franchise to its conclusion. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) discovers that Toothless isn’t the only Night Fury in existence and subsequently seeks out the mythical “Hidden World” that dragons hide away in while also trying to outsmart a terrifying dragon hunter. The series has been an international sensation that’s grossed over $1.5 billion worldwide. It’s also netted some serious awards attention with the first two getting nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars (in 2010 and 2014) and winning the Golden Globe for the second film in the series.
While the film becoming a trilogy helped with deciding how DeBlois wanted to lay out the arcs of the characters, it wasn’t something that was part of the film’s original mindset. “The first film was produced in a hurry. Chris Sanders and I were brought on about two years into its development,” DeBlois explains. The direction the film had been going in was a very faithful adaptation of Cressida Cowell’s children’s book but DeBlois and Sanders brought in a heavier feel for the fantasy/adventure aspect of the story. After the first film’s critical and commercial success, DeBlois was asked by Jeffrey Katzenberg to come up with ideas for sequels. “I pitched back the idea of a trilogy and I thought we could take inspiration from the opening lines of Cowell’s first book which was Hiccup as an adult reflecting, ‘There were dragons when I was a boy,’ and I thought that begged the questions of where they went and if they would ever come back.”
One of the biggest additions for the final film was the casting of Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham as the movie’s villain Grimmel. After the character was developed, modeled and given to the animators to do testing on, the supervising animator for the character, Rani Naamani, started pulling voices off the internet to run tests with. “He found this great clip that he loved of Abraham playing a distant uncle in a comedy scene, and it was all the pauses that gave it such life and such surprise.” The production reached out to Murray and sent him the tests that had been done with the character using his voice and Abraham agreed to it. DeBlois elaborates, “Every time we had a session with him he would just blow our pants off with his energy, especially for a guy in his 70’s who was doing a play at the time where he had to be on stage for three hours!”