×

DeBlois, Arnold Talk Up DWA’s ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’

Annecy presentation lifts lid on awaited second part

ANNECY — In a first ever extended presentation to an audience outside DreamWorks Animation, writer-director Dean DeBlois and producer Bonnie Arnold lifted the lid Tuesday on one of DWA’s most anticipated movies, “How to Train Your Dragon 2.”

The presentation, delivered at an Annecy festival Work in Progress session, included three clips, plus images and behind-the-scenes commentaries from DeBlois and Arnold.

Neither gave away the pic’s plot, but the footage and explanations, which were received with jubilant applause by an audience of animation industry pros, toon fanboys and film school students, served to suggest directions “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” which bows June 2014, will be taking.

The pic is a fantasy action adventure with a balance of fun and comedy, DeBlois told Variety after Tuesday’s Work in Progress.

DeBlois will also pen and helm “How to Train Your Dragon 3.”

Per DeBlois, who co-directed the franchise’s first part with Chris Sanders (“The Croods”), “one of the marching orders that I was given by Jeffrey Katzenberg at the beginning was: ‘Let’s age it up a little bit.’”

Taking place five years after the first installment, part two ages up Viking Hiccup and his friends from 14-15 year olds to 19 and 20.

Hiccup has also wised up technology-wise, acquiring a prosthetic leg with a retractable foot, a “dragon blade” fire sword which makes dragons think he’s one of their kind and allows him to light protective fire circles, a leather flight suit — “the equivalent of Viking bike leather,” DeBlois joked — and a leather mask with dragon-like spikes on the top of the head. When riding Toothless, he also sports a flying squirrel flight suit. He’s hardly a Viking metrosexual, but this is a far nattier Hiccup than the goofy early teen of part one.

A first clip seen as a teaser at Cinema-Con and repeated at Annecy at four steps — storyboard, layout/pre-viz, character animation and with final lighting and vfx — showed Hiccup, also now less of a dweeb but still wiry, putting Toothless through his aerial acrobatics paces, include a vertiginous nose-spin climb to gain altitude.

Hiccup then used the squirrel flight suit to base jump off Toothless’ back, plunging toward the sea.

Toothless’ artificial half-tail has been painted red.

“I’m such a fan of Hayao Miyazaki that the idea of having an organic form coupled with early mechanics seemed visually and, from a narrative point of view, very appealing,” DeBlois said, citing Mayasaki’s “My Neighbor Totoro” as a particular inspiration.

How to Train Your Dragon 2” introduces at least two new main characters.

One, presented in Annecy in a painting, is a cocky dragon-trapper “who’s a bit of a villain,” DeBlois said. He dresses in the style of Lapland’s ancient Sami hunters, DeBois added.

Another is a vigilante dragon-rider, with octopus-like tentacles emerging from his head.

In a second clip seen at Annecy, the vigilante’s dragon downs Toothless, who crashes through sea-ice, and carries off Hiccup.

In a third clip, the vigilante deposits Hiccup in his lair. There Hiccup calms threatening dragons wielding his dragon blade.

In “How to Train… 2,” Hiccup explores “unchartered lands beyond the Viking map. One of the overall concepts of the film is that he discovers a larger conflict brewing between humans and dragons and he finds himself at the center of it,” Deblois said.

“We conceived the second film as part of a complete trilogy, the second chapter in a larger story,” DeBlois recalled, saying the trilogy’s narrative arc is “Hiccup’s coming of age.”

The trilogy will also explain, as Cressida Cowell’s kid-lit novel series that inspired the movies, why dragons no longer exist.

“There was a period of time, when all the cultures in the world believed in dragons, so what did happen to them?” asked Cowell, who attended Annecy’s Work in Progress.

If Hiccup is growing up, technology has also moved on.

“How to Train Your Dragon 2” is the first film at DreamWorks Animation to use its new software for animation and lightning, through the whole pipeline, said Arnold, whose producer credits include the original “Toy Story,” Disney’s “Tarzan,” and DWA’s “Over The Hedge” and “How to Train Your Dragon.”

DWA’s new generation software — Primo for animation, Torch for lighting — meant “we ended up with so much subtlety, in facial animation, the sense of fat, jiggle, loose skin, the sensation of skin moving over muscle instead of masses moving together,” per De Blois.

Ultimately, however, he added: “All new tools are useful to animators, but great animation comes down to great animators.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Evolution

    ‘Deep’ Animation Studio The Thinklab to Relocate to Navarre for Future Projects

    SAN SEBASTIAN — Spain’s The Thinklab, based in Madrid since its founding in 2006, has confirmed to Variety that it will be packing up its digital paintbrushes and heading north to founder Julio Soto’s homeland of Navarre where the company will establish a new studio for the purposes of producing two feature-length CGI animated films, and possibly [...]

  • Johnnie To Quits Taiwan Golden Horse

    Johnnie To Quits Golden Horse Awards as China Builds Pressure

    Leading Hong Kong film maker Johnnie To has dropped out of the Golden Horse Awards, where he was set to be president of the jury deciding the prize winners. The awards, which take place and are organized from Taiwan, have long been considered the most prestigious prized in Chinese-language cinema. However they are currently under [...]

  • Zeroville

    Film Review: 'Zeroville'

    I’m tired of hearing how some novels are “impossible to adapt.” Balderdash! Just because some books don’t lend themselves to being translated from page to screen doesn’t mean that the attempt ought not to be made. Just ask James Franco, who’s shown a speed freak’s determination to tackle some of the unlikeliest literary adaptations of [...]

  • Red Penguins review

    Toronto Film Review: 'Red Penguins'

    “Red Penguins” is a cautionary tale with particular resonance in the context of our current bizarre intertwining with Russia, the country that interfered in the last U.S. presidential election and is led by the POTUS’ apparent BFF. This wild tale of attempted transnational commerce just after the demise of the USSR in the 1990s chronicles [...]

  • Danny Ramirez'On My Block' TV show

    Danny Ramirez to Star in Film Adaptation of 'Root Letter' Video Game (EXCLUSIVE)

    An English-language film adaptation of Japanese video game “Root Letter,” starring Danny Ramirez, is in production in the U.S. through Akatsuki Entertainment USA. Besides Ramirez (“Top Gun: Maverick,” “Assassination Nation”), the film stars Keana Marie (“Huge in France,” “Live in Pieces”) and Lydia Hearst (“The Haunting of Sharon Tate,” “Z Nation”). With a screenplay by [...]

  • Screen writer Beau WillimonMary Queen of

    Beau Willimon Re-Elected as President of Writers Guild of America East

    Beau Willimon, the playwright and showrunner who launched Netflix’s “House of Cards,” has been re-elected without opposition to a two-year term as president of the Writers Guild of America East. Willimon also ran unopposed in 2017 to succeed Michael Winship. Kathy McGee was elected to the vice president slot over Phil Pilato. Secretary-treasurer Bob Schneider [...]

  • Running With the Devil review

    Film Review: 'Running With the Devil'

    A retired Navy SEAL who for a time was a military advisor on the Colombian drug trade, Jason Cabell conceived his first solo feature as writer-director to tell the story of that particular commerce “from the point of view of the drugs.” The result isn’t exactly a docudrama indictment like “Traffic,” a thriller a la [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content