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Story stays top priority in How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World made with new rendering tech

The third film in the beloved animation franchise How To Train Your Dragon serves as the epic conclusion and Canadian writer-director Dean DeBlois and US producer Brad Lewis are determined to make it the best.

In How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, which opens here tomorrow, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) will need to let go of what he loves in a bid to develop as a man, while his dragon, a Night Fury he named Toothless, will be granted the gift of flight, while also meeting a love match, a rare Light Fury.

A new villain threatens the human-dragon utopia that is Berk, forcing the heroes to travel to the edge of the world to find the dragons' hidden kingdom.

To help them achieve their goals, DeBlois, Lewis and their team at DreamWorks Animation have new rendering technology called Moonray, which allows for incredibly complex shots and also a story of which they are extremely proud.

How has animation changed since DreamWorks made Antz (1998)?

Brad Lewis: The great thing about stories is that stories haven't changed at all in the last 25 years.

Technologically, there have been a lot of great changes.

What is funny is that we have had one same conversation over the last 25 years on every movie, and that is about natural phenomena.

It is always about, "Hey, water, what does that look like? What does that feel like? How about fire? How are we going to do that? Fog? How are we going to do clouds? And fur. What about the hair? What is that going to look like and feel like?"

Computers can do scientific simulations fairly well, but we make art, so there are a lot of conversations about how we turn that into art. And they are incredibly computationally difficult.

The great news is we now have a render that can handle complexity like we never had before.

Dean's creative aspiration can be as high as it needs to be. It means when Dean throws out an idea or when our creative team has a creative idea, we have a one-word answer to it; we say yes.

Because the capacity of our artists is phenomenal and because of the capacity of technology, more often than not the answer to yes or no is the story. We put it up, and we look at it.

It is not that we can't make a 15-minute action scene. It is more a case that such a scene is probably not going to work for the story because people will get tired of it.

The story tells us what we can and cannot do.

What is the most challenging shot you've asked for on this film? In The Hidden World, you have a long shot at the feast with hundreds of Vikings.

Dean DeBlois: We were all inspired by some of these tour de force shots that we saw in (2015's) The Revenant from cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.

They are sort of gutsy and interesting and impossible with animation because they are lengthy shots and involve lots of characters and complex choreography in the way that they hand off from one another.

For our opening sequence on this movie, there is a dragon for every character, so it seemed daunting to even consider a scene like that.

In the end, eight editors spent two months working on that scene, just to get through the blocking of the animation.

Then, the lighting team had to get into it, as well as our effects team. It was truly complex, but I think the studio welcomes a challenge.

Everyone is very proud of it. I think they really want to please the fans. They want to live up to the expectation that is out there and we feel that expectation; it's all quite intense.

People want us to outdo ourselves and not disappoint, which is often the case with the third part of a trilogy. We definitely want to feel like we are about to deliver the best of the three.

Indeed, the feast sequence is one of the most complicated animated scenes of all time.

DeBlois: Somebody said if you go all the way back to Shrek (2001), the number of hours that it took to render a single frame, we have increased that by 5,000.

That is how much computing power we have to put into a single frame. Luckily, we have much more powerful computers and a better rendering system.

Animators always find a way of testing the technology to its extreme limits even when they are given a new tool to play with.

Can you talk about the inspiration from real animals when designing your dragons?

DeBlois: The animators love specificity so we often sit together as a group and watch nature documentaries, looking for cues from animal references and finding specific behaviours we can attribute to our dragons.

We want to make the dragons feel as though they are part of our animal kingdom.

They exhibit the same behaviour that you may see if you took a safari through Africa, or if you went studying birds up in the north of Canada.

Also, it allows the animators to avoid being generic with the animation. It opens up doors to really charming behaviour that sometimes is odd and surprising but is also directly related to a specific dragon breed.

Lewis: Often in animation, you are looking for a tether to reality, so there are a couple of rules to the way in which the animators might work.

It is not that the cartoonist can do anything at any point in time. In this movie, we have the Light Fury - she is the call of the wild so she is feral and feline.

You look at the natural behaviours of animals and then apply it to the role she is playing in the story. It starts to layer together, but it does have that tether to a deeper authenticity.

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