Filmmaker Dean Deblois in conversation 

How to Train Your Dragon animator following his film's big win at Golden Globes

click to enlarge Dean Deblois
  • Dean Deblois

In December, Pique interviewed Canadian-born animator Dean Deblois, the director of How to Train Your Dragon 1 and its sequal, How to Train Your Dragon 2 during the Whistler Film Festival (WFF). Deblois received a Trailblazer in Animation award from the festival and spoke about his career. His films, which include Mulan and Lilo & Stitch, have earned over $500 million in all.

On Sunday, Jan. 11, How to Train Your Dragon 2 won Best Animated Feature at the 72nd annual Golden Globes Awards.

Pique: What do you get from talking to people and coming to events like the Whistler Film Festival?

Dean Deblois: Film festivals are fantastic because they showcase so much new, emerging talent and it's a chance to see films that would otherwise be hard to see. But I think it's the communal spirit, the enthusiasm surrounding filmmaking and storytelling. The different mediums involved. It's usually a mix of people who are true fans.

This immersion, to be able to do it in a place like Whistler, which is so beautiful in and of itself makes it that much more special. You go outside and you're surrounded by all this ethereal beauty and then you can stumble into a movie theatre.

Pique: As an animator, I imagine the outdoors has a resonance.

DD: It's a big inspiration for me, particularly because I love cold places. I'm particularly drawn to the poles. We did a research trip, not only to Norway but far deeper into the Arctic. There's (an archipelago) called Svalbard and we did a whole six-day snowmobile safari through polar bear country. It's the last stop before you get to the North Pole. And that's where we got a lot of our inspiration (for How to Train Your Dragon).

Pique: You are working on the third How to Train Your Dragon Now. How's it going?

DD: I'm deep into the writing of the first draft, so I've gone through a process of working on an outline and pitching it back to the studio and getting their approval to move forward. Now, I'm just wrestling with my own demons to turn out that draft.

Pique: It's only your demons and no one else's.

DD: It's nice to have six weeks to write the full draft. That feels comfortable. I feel as thought I know what the structure of the thing is, I've known it for some time, because I'd pitched the second film as the second act of a three-act story. That opened up a conversation about what happened to certain characters and the overall story arc.

Pique: Did you never tell them when you pitched the first film that you had other ones in mind?

DD: We were brought into the first film to kind of rush something together. It takes about four years to make an animated film, we had just had over a year to reconceive it from page one and to use as much as had been built in terms of characters and sets as possible. And then deliver the movie by its fixed release date, which was 2010.

It forced us to be very pointed in our work. I think everybody had to bring their best game, there was no time to mess around.

We weren't thinking about sequels because we were just trying to make a movie that worked! (He laughs.) Afterwards, we realized that we had many story threads that we could turn into a second and third act of an overall coming-of-age story.

Pique: It's great that you've had the support from the studios, because that can be difficult.

DD: Exactly. I felt very supported, emboldened even. (Dreamworks CEO) Jeffrey Katzenburg likes to defy convention where possible.

It felt as though we took a few risks with this movie. I hope that when the trilogy is done it is remembered for its daring and those heartfelt, poignant moments that can sometimes dissuade a studio from wanting to go in that direction.

Those are the parts that I find are the purest because they were there from the very first outline that I pitched and we managed to hold onto them, despite some contention. In the end, those are the moments that create the kind of wonder and the emotion that make the audience really connect with the characters and really remember the movie. I am particularly proud of those.


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