Simon Otto is DreamWorks Animation's Head Of Character Animation for the How To Train Your Dragon series, and a thoroughly nice man too. Speaking to him at DreamWorks' Los Angeles HQ back in February, we asked about the "ingredients" that make up different dragons, and he sent us his notes on what makes each wyrm so wonderful. But before you begin assembling your very own out of yoghurt pots and IKEA bins, read his thoughts on how the monster mish-mash idea first came out...
"All of our dragons' character designs and behaviors are essentially constructed through mixing and matching of interesting characteristics that we discovered in the animal world or in objects with character that surround us. It wasn’t necessarily dominating the design conversation per se, but when it came to really nailing down the characters’ behavior / identity, and trying to find what made them entertaining, we researched all of those things that inspired us and studied them in great detail."
"Toothless is a cross between a black panther, a bat and and a small bird of prey. He also has some snake influences in his design and his behavior is a mixture of cat, dog, horse and a whole lot of other odd animals, such as wombats, kangaroos etc." - - - - - -
"Stormfly is a cross between an ostrich, a T-Rex and different kinds of parrots. When we animate the Deadly Nadder, we mainly emote through body language and head angles. We keep his facial range limited. You will find that you can convey a lot through using just the right head angle changes, eye darts and posture adjustments. We think of him as a bird that is always on alert. He is constantly adjusting his vantage point with quick head movements, just like a chicken or a parrot. This helps to sell his bird like qualities, and his sense of alertness." - - - - - -
"Meatlug is a cross between a pit-bull, a crocodile, a Harley-Davidson and a helicopter." - - - - - -
"Skullcrusher is a cross between a rhino, a truffle pig, a dung beetle, a jackhammer and a battleaxe. Skullcrusher is Stoick's trusted tracking dragon and he is always on; always ready to follow a scent or go into battle. His body is well suited for digging; it's square and muscular, particularly around the shoulders and neck, with a low centre of gravity. Its massive weight is supported with short and stout legs that are keeping the battleaxe-shaped muzzle close to the ground. Nothing can stand in its way when it's following a scent: entire rock formations are cracked open, forests get bulldozed over, even other dragons are rolled aside to make a clear path. Once it picks up a scent, it trails it stubbornly. It either rolls obstacles out of the way or it just splits them in half. As it starts digging, it stands on its hind feet for a split second and then throws all its might behind its head and smashes it into the ground with full force, like an ibex or a musk ox fighting off a rival." - - - - - -
"Barf and Belch are influenced by cobras in the way their head and tail movements are fluid and mesmerising, but they walk more like horned lizards or komodo dragons." - - - - - -
"Cloudjumper is a cross between a grey owl, a Great Dane, a vampire bat and an X-wing star fighter. With its regal appearance, Cloudjumper combines dignity, strength and elegance with great size and a powerful, muscular body. This proud dragon has well-developed senses of smell and hearing. However, it's the eyesight that makes a Cloudjumper an unbeatable stalker. Most of its day is spent on the lookout. It usually positions itself on top of a large tree or a rock formation at dusk to start its stalking ritual. During this time its body remains completely motionless. Its head, eyes and muzzle plates, on the other hand, are following every event that takes place within a radius of 10 miles. Once it has locked in on a target, this expert aviator leaves its victim no chance. Silently, it approaches its prey, then once at close range and at top speed, it suddenly deploys an extra set of wings, which helps it to stabilize its glide. It then extends its massive claws to grab a hold of the prize. Skyscreamers, Cloudjumpers' breed, usually hunt at night, but many have seen this dragon kill during daytime." - - - - - -
"The Bewilderbeast is a cross between a mammoth, an otter and a regal lion." - - - - - -
"Grump is a cross between a walrus, a tadpole, an old bulldog and a trash bin. Grump is Gobber's dragon and workshop companion, tasked with keeping the forge fire going. Contrary to Skullcrusher, this lazy slug of a dragon is hard to keep awake, even when in flight. He's sort of useless, but he does serve as a handy travel trash bin." - - - - - -
"Hookfang is our most classic looking dragon. He really represents the basic image that people have of a dragon and we felt that in the first movie we needed to satisfy that expectation in order for us to be able to make a movie about dragons. He has some influences from bats in the way he walks and flies and some snake-like clues can be found in his behavior too."