When Dean DeBlois wrote and directed the “How to Train Your Dragon” pics (along with Chris Sanders for the first film), he was looking to take some creative risks and defy convention.
It paid off; the series is a box office and critical success, and for his work, DeBlois will receive Whistler Film Festival’s Trailblazer in Animation Award on Dec. 6, as well as take part in a Variety Contenders Conversation.
DeBlois is also leading the charge to harness new computer technology to enhance animation. “How to Train Your Dragon 2” is the first film to take advantage of DreamWorks Animation’s Apollo software, an overhaul of tools ranging from animation to lighting, and a new cloud-based system that makes an unprecedented amount of computer processing power available on demand.
This allows the creation of simulation algorithms that can spawn anything from hair and fur movement, to fat jiggle. Details that were once difficult or impossible to animate are now within reach.
“It really comes down to just the limits of our imaginations,” DeBlois says. “Now (animators’ work) goes directly from thought to creation without having to wait for those exhausting renders and counterintuitive tools.”
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In “Dragon 2,” a key epic battle scene involving hundreds of dragons would have been impossible without Apollo.
“It allowed the artists to work in a very intuitive way,” says DeBlois. Instead of having to work with spreadsheets and graphs, the artists are able to manipulate images in real-time with a stylus and a tablet, a quicker and more dynamic approach. “They are drawing again and their thoughts are being communicated through their hands — it’s such a pleasant and exciting way to work,” he says. That’s a relief for animators, and it allows for bolder choices and experimentation.
And it’s just the beginning. “I don’t think we’ve seen the limit of it yet,” says DeBlois. “It means that anything is possible.”
New tools developed for one film become part of the toolkit for future films and future animators. “It just becomes an expanding toolbox all the time,” he says.
For all that technology, though, DeBlois cautions that artistry comes from the animators, not the tools.
“You can’t replace talent with computing power.”
What: Film Festival
When: Dec. 3-7
Where: Whistler, British Columbia, Canada