‘How to Train your Dragon’ a 3D revelation

Courtesy Paramount Pictures

“How to Train Your Dragon,” Dreamworks Animation’s new 3D film, has Disney and Pixar feeling the dragon heat on their backs. Indeed, the film raked in $43 million in its first week in theaters; proving there’s no authority in the world of animation.

Though the film is based on the popular 2003 Cressida Cowell children’s novel of the same name, the plot is decidedly more adult, focusing more on the conflict in the book. Audiences find Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), a Viking, on an exciting transformation from struggling adolescent to hero. Hiccup starts out with aspirations to become a dragon slayer, only to find he wants a different life for himself – even if that means stepping off the path his father envisioned for him.

Along the way, he encounters some interesting characters, voiced by the likes of Gerard Butler, America Ferrera and Chris Ferguson.

But it is the special effects and dramatic battle scenes that make this film worthwhile. According to co-director Chris Saunders, audiences experience “a rugged world up in the north with… brutal weather, giant dragons, and Vikings… guys who do their talking with their fists and with their axes.”

To Saunders’s own admission, the visuals give moviegoers exactly what they want.

“I mean it sounds silly but it is true,” he said. “[We] think pretty much like our very own audience.”

That method worked well for Saunders and collaborator Dean DeBlois, who also directed “Lilo and Stitch” together. But “Dragon” 3D also presented its share of challenges for the team.

“On a technical level, we had only worked in classical animation up until this point,” DeBlois said. “So learning all the new tools and being able to work in 3D, that was all new to us. And it was great because then you kind of get to learn a new tool.”

The directors say the 3D effects don’t just provide shock and awe moments, but rather make it feel more than just another cartoon.

“With the help of [Roger Deacons], who came in as our lighting consultant, we were able to use all that sophistication of his prolific career and his incredible taste and put it up there on the screen in a way that creates an animated film that just feels like a movie,” DeBlois said.

Both DeBlois and Saunders see the challenge of making “Dragon” 3D as a foreshadowing of their evolution as directors.

“I want to continue down the path toward doing live action films, and to computer animated films, and maybe even traditional films in the future,” DeBlois said. “It’s all very appealing to me.”

Nick Maslow may be contacted at nmaslow@themiamihurricane.com.