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It’s a truly competitive year in the animation category, and Dean DeBlois, the filmmaker behind How to Train Your Dragon: Hidden World and its two predecessors, finds it a little strange to be back in the conversation after bidding adieu to his creations.
“It did feel like we were making our grand goodbyes earlier in the year, to the movie and to the crew, feeling proud of ourselves for having delivered on our 10-year mission. And here comes awards season and all of a sudden you’re reliving it all again,” he says. “It’s nice but it’s a little strange.”
The Hidden World, which wrapped up the acclaimed and popular story of the unlikely friendship between a Viking boy named Hiccup and his feisty dragon, Toothless, was released 10 months ago, but it’s still making news. A frontrunner in this season’s awards race, the movie was named best animated film by the National Board of Review on Tuesday. On Monday, it picked up six Annie Awards nominations, including one for best picture and one for best writing.
Universal is unveiling a new trilogy-spanning featurette video today as it aims to keep the Hidden World front of mind with voters.
DeBlois talked to The Hollywood Reporter about his thoughts about the trilogy.
What is your favorite scene in Hidden World?
My favorite scene would be the goodbye. That was the culmination of the ambition. If we could make audiences fall in love with these characters and then to have them bid farewell to one another in a way that was bittersweet and in a way that the audience would understand, to me that felt like a tricky goal. And I think we pulled it off. I think the emotion is earned and it’s not too sentimental.
That scene is different from the reunion scene that is 10 years later. Both are powerful.
That one is inspired by Born Free — the warm hug of reassurance that they did the right thing by revisiting each other all those years later.
What is your favorite scene in the entire trilogy?
Oh boy, that is tricky. (Pause.) Jeez, that’s tough. I think the one that felt like it landed… It’s the bookend to the farewell moment we just talked about. It’s what we call the forbidden friendship in the first movie. The beautiful music from John Powell, the whole pantomime dance of it all, drawing in the sand, earning the moment of communion between Toothless and Hiccup. It felt like an iconic scene in the first movie. And to be able to do that reverse, hand in on the snout on the third film, felt like they were conceived together. That made me happy.
Was there a scene that you did in Hidden World that you couldn’t have done in the first movie because of advances in technology?
The descent into the hidden world was something we couldn’t have attempted even in the second film. Just because of the rendering power that would have been needed on the backend. We had some frontend tools that were really amazing, but we didn’t have the ability to put those images onscreen. It was always a bottleneck.
But on this movie, they completely revamped the backend, and they brought in the ray tracer renderer, which allows for fast and subtle lighting to emerge onscreen. It calculates light the way it actually works in the real world, but it’s also lightning fast.
We were able to have multiple light sources and make these elaborate sets that we could fly around. In the past we would have used a lot of matte paintings and we would have had to cheat our way around the scope and scale of the hidden world.
At what point, from a writer’s and a director’s point of view, did you know the fate of the characters?
From the moment we started discussing a sequel and a pitched out the idea of a trilogy. I knew that I wanted it to mirror some of my favorite storytelling tropes: disparate characters brought together in extraordinary ways that may not stay together forever, but they are forever changed and transformed by one another. It’s a storytelling tradition I’ve loved since Fox and the Hound and E.T. There’s also movies like Harold and Maude and Lost in Translation. It’s a paradigm that I think is really life-affirming, and I saw that we had the potential to do that in three installments of Hiccup’s coming of age.
I realized that we had the opportunity to explain what happened to dragons and why they aren’t here anymore. But we also had the opportunity to show how Hiccup had transformed from this Viking runt who had terrible self-esteem issues to this confident, selfless Viking chief by the end of it all.
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