(Dreamworks, directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, 2010)
Because everyone needs a bit of a break now and again. A couple of friends had told me I would love this film and so, when I saw it discounted in HMV, I thought I’d give it a go. It turns out that my friends know me only too well: I settled down with a glass of wine and had a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours.
How To Train Your Dragon is one of the best animated films I’ve seen recently; not quite on a par with Tangled in my opinion, but pretty darn close. The story follows Hiccup, the most hopeless Viking in the village of Berk, whose sole dream is to fight dragons and be accepted by his peers. When he stumbles across an injured dragon, he finally has the chance to prove himself… but it doesn’t quite go to plan.
It’s a very simple plot but like many so-called ‘children’s’ films recently, there’s plenty of stuff aimed at the adults as well. The relationship between Hiccup and his gruff, rather ashamed father is beautifully observed, even if it’s eclipsed by the growing friendship between Hiccup and his dragon Toothless; and that’s a friendship which is conveyed mostly through subtle changes of expression on a dragon’s face. Not easy. Toothless is a wonderful creation, stylised but at the same time perfectly believable in this world, and with a very distinct personality – I don’t know about anyone else, but by the end I wanted a dragon for myself…
Part of the reason I enjoyed the film so much was appreciating the complexity of the CGI and the skill it must have required to put it all together. I watched the short extra ‘making of’ film in the hope that would give further information about the program they used for the modelling and rendering, but names weren’t mentioned. I suppose DreamWorks can afford to have a custom-built program, but it’s reassuring to know that it is possible to create similar figures using Blender. I don’t speak from personal experience – I think the furthest I’ve got in Blender is creating a cube – but look at their gallery here, for example.
Nevertheless, knowing even the smallest bit about how this film was put together just increases my admiration for the artists. The textures and effects are top-notch; the flying sequences are stunning, especially the cloud-effects; and it would be churlish not to mention the vast amounts of fire, considering how proud the production team was of those sections. This is one of a (thankfully) increasing number of animated films with not only very engaging and moving stories, but also staggeringly accomplished CGI.