Berk's Grapevine

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Giveaway: Win a Signed Copy of To Berk and Beyond!

We've given you an inside look at the Dragons activity book To Berk and Beyond and let you ask questions for the author, Richard Hamilton. Now, Insight Editions has been kind enough to give away a special copy of To Berk and Beyond signed by Richard Hamilton to one lucky dragon fan!

To participate in the giveaway, simply sign up using the Rafflecopter form below! By visiting and following Insight Editions and Berk's Grapevine or by tweeting about the giveaway, everyone is able to collect up to 12 points. On Friday, February 12, the winner of the giveaway is decided randomly based on the number of points each participant has collected.

If you have any questions about the giveaway, post them in the comments!

Good luck, everyone!

Interview with Richard Hamilton

A week ago, you asked questions for Richard Hamilton, the author of To Berk and Beyond. He is also working on the upcoming graphic novel The Serpent's Heir as well as contributing to School of Dragons and the DreamWorks Press: Dragons app.

Read below for the full interview and answers to your questions!

Dragon fans range from 4 to 40, and live all across the world. Is there something for everyone in To Berk and Beyond? How do you, as a writer, make your work appeal to such a large group?

Yes, the short answer is there is definitely something for every kind of Dragon fan of this book whether they are new to the property or whether they're one of the most diehard fans that frequent Berk's Grapevine and go in cosplay to the shows and stuff. That was done by design: that's not an accident. The reason I did that is because that's pretty much what my family is like! I have two sons — ages four and seven — and they are both Dragon fans. I'm also a fan of the property and I'm definitely closer to 40 than before. I'm writing not just as as a parent who is trying to think like about what is good, exciting, and appropriate material for kids to be reading and thinking about, but also as a fan: what would excite me about a book like this if I picked it up and I was going to do the activities for myself or if I was going to go through this book with my kids and do the activities with them?

You're also working on The Serpent's Heir, which we're really excited about! How do you compare writing this book to The Serpent's Heir, or to graphic novel writing in general?

Oh, thanks! The good news is that it is all part of the same canon. What was important to me when I was writing this activity book — and I knew I was going to be writing it right around the same time I knew I was going to be working on the graphic novels with Dean — I wanted it all feel like like parts of a whole. If you are a Dragon super-fan or if you are just a very attentive reader, you will pick up on little bits of connective tissue between all those projects. The differences are that the graphic novels are pure narrative and pure storytelling taking place between the second and third films. This activity book definitely has little Easter eggs or "Dragon eggs," as we call them, and allusions to what some of those elements are. It also offers a lot of points of contact between what goes on in the films, what goes on in all seasons of the TV show, and even what's gone on in things like the DreamWorks Press: Dragons app that came out last year. It's finding all those little of points of confluence and trying to stitch them together a story from that.

I'd say To Berk and Beyond is more travelogue through Berk. What would it be like to actually get inside Hiccup's head, or Stoick's head, or Astrid's head and see through their perspective? All the main characters have chapters in there. You see what it means to be a dragon rider living in that time and how flying on the back of a dragon changes your worldview. It allows us to go a little deeper into the history of Berk and the history of characters like Drago Bludvist, who we see quite a bit of in the movie, but there are still a lot of unresolved questions about him. We try to touch all those things. Like I said, it's almost like a travelogue. If you're going to take a vacation to Berk, this is the kind of book you want to read about beforehand to learn about the people, what the culture is like, even with some of the cooking is like!

Were there gaps in the Dragon universe that you tried to fill with this book, or is it mostly based on the universe as it exists now?

There's definitely a fair amount of invention in the book, but I would say there are at least equal parts drafting off the incredible work that's already been done by Dean and the film team and Art and Doug and the TV team. In the movies and TV episodes, because of time and budget constraints, we can't get into every single interesting detail. But that's one of the beauties of a publishing platform like this book and like the graphic novels: it really lets you dig deep and spend time with those cool character moments and explore little details that might fly past you in the TV show.

If I can give you an example, it's only featured fleetingly in the second movie, but there's a dragon hanger that exists in the caverns beneath Berk with stables, caverns, artwork, and banners, and bits of machinery that populate that location. But because of the quick pace of the movie, you you really blur past all that. It was such a tremendous amount of expensive design work done by the art department led by the production designer — we call him "POV," but it's Pierre-Olivier Vincent — and his team designed these unbelievably cool things. For me, as a fan of the franchise, when I saw that, I thought it needed to be celebrated and that people should see all the cool thought that went in there. It wasn't arbitrary or done on a whim, it was just some very careful world building. For me, that's one of the fun parts about writing a book like this. I get to shine a spotlight on the great work that other people have done.

And you're in a unique position, having worked on lots of different Dragon projects!

I've just been really lucky, is the bottom line. I started at DreamWorks almost eight years ago — I think it will be eight years ago next month — and I started as a temp. Prior to that, I was writing and publishing my own graphic novels and my own comic books. I started temping at DreamWorks, and one of the first assignments I got was working for a week on How to Train Your Dragon, filling in for an assistant. What I saw just blew my mind. I saw boards on the wall showing the character designs, storyboard sequences, and big page with all the cast members — Jay, Jonah, America, and Gerard — and thinking, "This is going to be really huge." You could see that that there was definitely a wonderful story in the film, but you also got a sense that there was this larger world happening around it. You could very easily imagine that if the cameras just panned a little left or right in any of these scenes, you could see another exciting story taking place. As that temp job became a regular job, I got to work for our chief creative officer and then got to work on Dragon 2, it always felt like Dragons has been part of my career DreamWorks and I really owe my career DreamWorks to Dragons. So to be able to work on the graphic novels, to work on the app last year, and to work on this book, it is no exaggeration and it is no pun the say that it has been a dream come true.

You've also written for Race to the Edge. How does TV writing differ from writing on the page in To Berk and Beyond?

That's a great question, and it was definitely something I thought a lot about as I was preparing to write this book. I would say the most immediate difference is that film, TV, and graphic novels are primarily visual media. The films and the TV show can't just have characters standing around in a room talking. There has to be action, there has to be movement, and there has to be a sense of pace and urgency. And because it's about dragons and kids who fly dragons, you have to have visual spectacle. It's what Guillermo del Toro calls "eye protein" as opposed to "eye candy." You need to have all that stuff in the movies, TV show, and graphic novels for sure.

For To Berk and Beyond, there is still a tremendous amount of amazing visuals. We have art from the film and TV shows, we have character sketches done by Nico Marlet, we even have artwork that Dean DeBlois did — his original designs for Hiccup's Dragon Blade and his prosthetic leg — those are all in the book! So there are definitely great visual treats their, but because it's a book, there are obviously more words on the page. In your comic books and graphic novels, you have to be very economical because you don't want your entire page covered up with word balloons. Whereas in this book, there's greater opportunity to really write prose. The challenge there — and it's a fun challenge — is, how do you, without the benefit of John Powell's score and without the benefit of the amazing DreamWorks Animation artists and teams actually moving the characters and creating gestures and doing the acting for you, how you make it feel like it is part of the How to Train Your Dragon universe, just your text alone? So it really required me to really dig deep into how would Hiccup say this, versus how would Gobber say it. What would Snotlout's take on this subject be as opposed to Ruff or Tuff's? It's fun and it's a challenge.

Ultimately, my experience of all that is, at the end of day when you do that for the characters, you realize how amazing all the characters are. How to Train Your Dragon is very much Hiccup and Toothless's story, but you have this unbelievable ensemble of this cast, and they all have their own unique personalities and voices. And if you do really think about it and analyze it, you'll see that no two characters are alike, they really are distinct.

Is it a goal of To Berk and Beyond to bring in the perspectives of many different characters?

It is! I give all credit, as with most things, to Dean. It was his idea to make Hiccup's journal a communal document, something that he would share with his other friends and neighbors on Berk as opposed to keeping it as a private document that only he would add to. Once Dean made that suggestion, structurally, the book open itself up and wrote itself. Then I realized, okay, Hiccup would definitely write the beginning of it. But he respects his dad even though they don't always agree, so one of the earliest chapters would be written by Stoick. And he would, of course, have Astrid write about the subjects with which she's familiar and a specialist. And then it was easy to imagine, while Hiccup might not ask Ruff and Tuff to write a chapter, they might steal the journal and scribble in a chapter themselves as a prank or to upset Hiccup.

Once we had that kind of conceit, then the fun part was thinking, "What would these guys write about in this chapter?" It also allowed us to chart the progress of the narrative from Dragon 1 all the way through to Dragon 2. So you'll see in the later chapters in the book, we start introducing characters that that we first meet in the second movie, like Valka. And so, although Stoick won't be writing anymore chapters after certain point, you start getting this cool perspective of an outsider like Eret and learning a little bit more about his background and what he's about, and teasing a little bit his role in the graphic novels.

When does the book start and end? Does it follow Hiccup's journey throughout the films and TV series?

Absolutely! In my mind, Hiccup probably started writing it the night after the final shot of Dragon 1. So he's just woken up, he's got his prosthetic leg, and he's seeing now, all of a sudden, the people on Berk are starting to embrace dragons because of the lesson that he and Toothless have shared with all of them and have demonstrated through their friendship. And I think he was probably — again, this is just in my mind and based off conversations I've had with Dean — that Hiccup probably started his journal then. And over the course of five years, he handed it around, people would add to it, they would contribute to it, and then by the time we get to the second movie, we see it's got the map that Hiccup has developed through five years of exploration on Toothless. It has a lot of other information, and goes a little bit beyond Dragon 2. You'll see there are chapters in there that Valka and Eret have written after the events of the second movie. So it's a little bit of a glimpse into the relative future of the Dragon universe.

How do you connect the different elements of To Berk and Beyond — writing, cards, artwork, word games — into a single book?

I definitely had a lot of help in that department with my editors. You can see their names in the book, and they definitely deserve a lot of credit. Lisa Rojany offered tremendous guidance and the entire team Insight Editions. It was very important to them that this be a quality book, and that if we insert anything in there, that it be not just as a gimmick, but something that is germane to the storytelling and is additive, not a distraction. They had some very, very good ideas. The DreamWorks in-house publishing team had some great insights in that and were able to provide many of the assets that we needed. What I wanted is for whoever picks up this book to feel like it's a modern-day reproduction of a journal that actually did exist on Berk, written by Hiccup and the gang a thousand years ago. It's like an archaeologist unearthed it, they reproduced it, and Insight Editions printed nice copies of it. That was the vibe I was going for.

So then I thought, "What would be the cool artifacts that I would want in a book?" I saw that scene in Dragon 2 when Astrid and the guys kidnapped Eret and they track down Drago's camp. Fishlegs is flipping through his cards saying, "deep water dweller, maybe a class five or six leviathan...." I was like, "I want those cards. Those are awesome cards." I thought that would make sense to be in there. Some of these inserts are the sketches that Dean did of the Dragon Blade, Hiccup's leg, and some of Nico Marlet's original designs for Hiccup's flight suit. I knew, as an adult fan or as a kid, that would be the stuff I want. I also looked at like what Insight had done. They did a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles book a year or two ago. It's a beautiful book and it's got a lot of cool stuff in there, like a poster and reprints of the original books. Hiccup's got this amazing map that he has been working on for five years, and I wanted one of those my desk at work. And I'm pretty sure my boys want one for their room. So that seemed like one that should should go into the book. The cool thing about that map is that it is the most up-to-date version. I believe it is even more up-to-date than what you see Hiccup pull out in Dragon 2. Spoiler alert, but some of the locations on the map are hinting at events to come in the graphic novels and TV show. I'm sure the very smart fans at Berk's Grapevine will be able to decode all that in a matter of minutes, but we were trying to be very clever.

Well, we'll definitely try!

You guys are sharp! I was looking at some of the discussion after you guys were kind enough to post information about The Serpent's Heir, and man, Dragon fans are very smart. All the stuff that we thought were being very cool about, being oblique about, and hiding, you guys got it pretty quickly! They definitely know their stuff! The more surprises to come, so hopefully it will be totally anticlimactic for them, but we definitely have to step up our game because you guys are smart.

Now I'll have to go back and read through all the comments on that article!

There's one person in particular, but a couple of people were definitely circling around it. They were close, but not in the way that they think. I'll leave it at that. I'm not saying anything more!

I pride myself on being an expert on dragons. Ultimately, that's my day job, and it is a great job to have, especially because even if I were not involved in this, I would be a fan of Dragons, even if I were not a DreamWorks employee. This is just my bread-and-butter. I love the characters, I love the world. But even though it's my job to be on top of this, every now and then I'm writing something and I realize, "Wait a minute, I don't know the answer to this!" And so I usually turn to Berk's Grapevine. You guys are this amazing collective repository of information, and it's very well curated. Sometimes you go to Wikia, and the information is tenuous at best. Whenever I get information from Berk's Grapevine, I have good peace of mind knowing that it's been fact-checked and it's accurate. It's definitely a virtuous cycle going on between you guys and whatever stuff I'm fortunate enough to be involved in!

What is your favorite part of To Berk and Beyond, either as a writer or a reader? What should someone who hasn't read it look forward to?

There are a couple things. At the risk of sounding vain because I'll be talking about stuff I wrote, but since you asked, I think probably my favorite chapter is when Hiccup gives all Valka kind of, as Dean would call it, the "real estate" tour of Berk. In the second movie, the first time she comes back to Berk after 20 years, it's covered in ice and at the verge of being completely decimated by Drago and the Bewilderbeast. My thought was — and I'm very close to my mom — if I got a good report card or drew a nice picture in school, my mom would put it on the refrigerator, and I loved the idea that my mom would be proud of me. I thought, once the smoke cleared on Berk, Hiccup would probably want to show off to his mom all the progress they've made in the 20 year since she said she left, and especially in the last five years since Hiccup and Toothless had been friends. And again, this is drawing upon the great thought and work that was put into redesigning Berk for Dragon 2 that the film team did. I wanted to highlight all that, but I wanted to do it through the filter of a boy — well, a man — who is just trying to make his mom proud. Personally, for me, that was the chapter that I was really excited about because I got to highlight all the cool stuff that is new to Berk, but I also got to speak to Hiccup and Valka's relationship, which I find a little complicated, but ultimately very deep, very moving, and very relatable.

I would say, for a completely different reason, the other chapter that I really like — I don't know if anyone's going to like it — but I'm a big fan of oral histories. The second to last chapter is an oral history of how the kids distracted the Bewilderbeast while Hiccup went to reconnect with Toothless at the end of Dragon 2. I don't know if this made it in the final cut, but the idea was that they were telling it to Gothi who's transcribing it all. It's a really great way to hear all the kids give their perspectives on the moment and give quick snapshots of their personality at the same time. If you read any the stuff of mine on Dragons, I hope it's clear that I love Snotlout. He's so much fun to write, and I love Ruff and Tuff. Any chance I get to include them into the mix and to provide color commentary, I will take that chance any time I can. I would say, though, for the fans, especially younger fans, getting to hold tangible copies of Fishlegs's cards, which were very faithfully reproduced from the art of the film and Hiccup's map — those are pretty cool keepsakes.

I have copies of a couple of those cards, and they're incredibly detailed for the five seconds they're shown on the screen during the film.

Yeah, exactly! It just really gives you the sense that there is greater world because it's stuff that you see almost subliminally in the movie, right? And even in the TV show, the design work they've done on the Dragon Eye — I have to be careful what I say because of how many episodes are out right now — but there's so much care and artistry that goes into it, and it really does lend the audience that sense that there is this larger world here. That's what ultimately makes writing books like these possible, but also a lot of fun.

What has been your greatest inspiration for writing in the How to Train Your Dragon world?

As a writer, my greatest inspiration has and always will be Stan Lee. I really attribute to him the successful execution of the notion that your heroes are imperfect, that they make mistakes, and that they learn along the way. With Hiccup in particular, I really see that brought to life. As I mentioned, I have a four-year-old and a seven-year-old. They're kids: they make mistakes and are always in the process of learning, as we all are. I see it acutely, on a daily basis with my kids. When I was young, through nobody's fault but my own, I was afraid to take chances and afraid to make educated guesses because I didn't want to be wrong. In somebody like Hiccup, I see somebody who's a scientist and futurist who's willing to take chances. It won't always turn out right and sometimes he will make mistakes, but he will learn from them. I think that's a wonderful role model, not just for kids but for all of us. It's a little later on in life for me, but I'm I'm trying to retrain myself to be more like that. I attribute that to the work Cressida Cowell has done in her book series and first conceiving of Hiccup, but that's definitely something that Dean and Chris Sanders latched onto in the films and really took to the next level.

You mentioned earlier that you started at DreamWorks eight years ago as a temp and now you're working on a ton of great projects! Do you have any advice for aspiring writers who want to do what you're doing?

There are the standard things that I think every writer tells every other writer, which is to keep writing no matter what. If you can get into daily rhythm, I find that's best for a couple reasons. One is that you generate more work, obviously. I think if you really get into the habit of doing it every day, you will realize that not everything you write is going to be good. It's not supposed to. You have to go through a lot of bad stuff to get to something that — even just one or two words — that are good and that at work for you. Second, it teaches you to be a little less precious with your writing. If you're too precious with it, you will second-guess yourself to the point that you don't even write at all. The third reason is — and maybe this is just for me — but I think it's the case of writers in general, there's something therapeutic about it. I'm fortunate that I'm in a position where I get to write for a living, but for the longest time, that was not the case. I had day jobs at DreamWorks Animation, but being able to write, whether it's Dragons or just my own personal stuff, I found it very therapeutic. I found that I love working at DreamWorks, but like every job, it has its stresses and has its good days and bad days. On the days when I did not write, I feel a little grumpy and take things a little worse than on the days when I did write and I was a much happier person. My wife could definitely vouch for that. She can tell the days when I haven't had a chance to write and the days I have written. That's a given, you have to write and rewrite. And don't worry about it sucking because it will suck a little less, and a little less, and then it will be pretty good. I'm not saying I'm at the "pretty good" point at all. I think any writer should have a healthy dose of self-doubt, this really is a great motivator to keep writing.

But beyond all that, the one thing I would say the thing that has really worked for me specifically is to not be shy about being a fan of something and about wanting to do something. For me, like I said, I'm a fan of Dragons and from the time I was a temp through to right now, I make that known any chance I can. And because I expressed a passion, interest, and knowledge about Dragons, it led to me getting to write on these very cool projects along the way. If I had not done that, people at DreamWorks would not known I was interested in it, and I wouldn't have gotten it. I would say no matter what you do, no matter what your job is, whether you are writer or aspiring, don't be shy and don't be afraid about telling people what it is that you are passionate about, what you like to do, and what you're good at. You don't have to brag about it, but if you're too modest, people won't realize that it's something that you take seriously and that you're passionate about.

Writers really do have to stick together and be like a support group for each other because it can be tough! You're putting some of some of yourself out there with everything you write. It's good to get a pat on the back and get the sense that there are other people who going through it with you at the same time.

Finally, the most important question: which dragon would you train, and why?

It's a very good question! I usually say Zippleback because it's two for the price of one. I think a Snaptrapper would be too much, too much upkeep. But you know, lately, I like Speedstingers a lot. And I know they get a little bit of flack because they don't have wings and maybe look more like dinosaurs than dragons. But without being too spoilery, I often wonder what it would be like to be a dragon rider on a Speedstinger and what the applications of that power set would be. Say, in a graphic novel.

Thank you so much to Richard Hamilton for answering our questions about To Berk and Beyond and providing us with a couple hints of what's coming up! And of course, Berk's Grapevine will continue to cover The Serpent's Heir as we hear more about it!

You can get your copy of To Berk and Beyond from Insight Editions!

Ask Ruffnut (Andrée Vermeulen) Anything!

This is a great week for interviews! Now that you've come up with questions for Richard Hamilton, you have a chance to talk to Andrée Vermeulen, Ruffnut's voice actor on the TV series! At 2 p.m. ET today, she will be answering your questions on Reddit about dragons or anything else.
Check the link below for the AMA thread:

(will appear after event starts)

To Berk and Beyond: Interview the Author

DreamWorks has released a new activity book featuring artwork from How to Train Your Dragon 2, notes from the dragon riders, sketches of Hiccup's inventions, postcards, stickers, and games. The hardcover book comes with a ton of collectable items like a full copy of Hiccup's map and copies of the dragon cards Fishlegs uses in the film!

Here is the official description of the book:

"Before Hiccup became chief and Toothless the Alpha of the dragons, Berk’s most famous Dragon-Racing pair kept a notebook filled with thoughts and observations on inventions, mapmaking, and the bond between dragon and rider. Or that was the plan until every Viking on the island decided to add their comments and drawings, too.

"Now new Dragon Riders everywhere can learn to read their dragon’s mind with Ruffnut and Tuffnut, decipher runes with Snotlout, and even chart a journey across the islands with an exact replica of Hiccup’s map. The notebook even includes a collectible set of Gobber’s own Dragon-Racing figures! So take flight with your favorite dragon and start exploring in DreamWorks Dragons: To Berk and Beyond!"

Berk's Grapevine readers also have the special opportunity to ask questions for Richard Hamilton, the author of the book. He has also worked as a writer on Race to the Edge, contributes to a couple dragon apps and games, and is working with Dean DeBlois on the upcoming graphic novel "The Serpent's Heir."

If you have anything you want to ask Richard Hamilton, post your question below in the comments! Or, if you see another question someone else has posted that you would like to hear the answer to, give it an upvote! Question submission ends on Sunday, January 24, so get your questions in soon!

Question submission open until Sunday, January 24
To make sure your question is considered, try to submit it before the deadline.
All questions must be submitted on this page's comment thread.

Interview with VFX Supervisor David Jones

David Jones is responsible for much of the amazing design work and visual effects in Race to the Edge. From designing flames and explosions to creating new dragons, he has had a huge influence on the final product that we see on-screen.

In our interview, we talked about the behind-the-scenes process of creating the show, the future of visual effects in TV and films, and how aspiring artists and animators can get involved in a show like Race to the Edge. Check out the full interview below!

What do you consider your role to be in designing and bringing the show to life?

For an animated show like Race to the Edge, we break it down into sections. There's writing the script — which the writers do — then the story department, which is storyboarding, or drawing 2D images of the entire show with a panel representing every expression or moment of action. So not 24 panels a second, but thousands of panels per episode. That gives us the animatic, or the 2D storyboard version of the entire show

Then we go to layout, which is setting up the cameras and roughly positioning the models and doing the basic camera moves.

The next phase is character animation, which is bringing life into the characters, giving the subtly of performance and lip sync of the dialogue. And what you have at that point is this fully animated characters, the whole show put together, but in a kind of rough plastic form.

And that's where I jump in. Where it goes to lighting — where we position the lights, get the textures in there, and make it look like the final product you see on television. And we also add effects, things like Toothless' blast, a tidal wave, a splash from the boats, or a fire in the background that's lighting the scene.

And the very final step is color correction, sometimes called DI (digital intermediate), which I also look after. We go in and make tweaks to the color so the show feels like it flows together. Or maybe we tint a scene a certain color when we're trying to capture a certain mood

There are some other steps in there having to do with sound mixing and things like that. But that's the visual progression of the show from script through to final product.

Would you say it's a more technical or artistic job? Or are there elements of both?

Yes, absolutely. And on the artistic side, I sort of run our art department, who does designs for new dragons, new characters, props, sets, things like that. New things that scripts call for each week. And each season we have lots of new dragons, a number of new characters, and tons of locations. The show is going on new adventures, so you generally need to go to new places to go on adventures.

Is it a challenge to both design what the show looks like and what will be in it, and then also trying to figure out how to implement it and make it reality?

Well, it's the best sort of challenge because it means that you can temper your artistic vision with the technical knowhow of what's possible. A lot of us have been doing the show for almost four years now. So having a job where I constantly find myself challenging myself — as in, "I think it would be incredibly cool to have a dragon that does such-and-such" and then, "well, that's going to be rather hard, but why not, let's just try it."

And then we come up with a new way of doing something, and then we have a new different sort of dragon we wouldn't have thought of before. So while it is a challenge, it is a challenge that makes it very rewarding to come to work every day, and I do rather like my job, so it's a good thing.

How are you involved in creating the new dragons?

The initial concepts for them generally come from Doug and Art, who I know you're familiar with — they're sort of our head writers. They pull from the source material, the books the shows are based on, and any other resources we have, and the story they're trying to tell. Maybe they need a huge dragon that requires a lot of dragons to defeat, or a very small dragon.

The new dragons we've introduced in the first 13 — the Night Terrors, Windshear, who is the Razorwhip. We actually introduced quite a few — the Quaken. These all have very specific things they need to do. The Quaken needs to be a sort of mega-Gronckle. There are previous illustrations of Razorwhips. But the challenge we wanted with Windshear was that because we were so excited to bring Heather back, we wanted to give her a dragon that was as cool as we knew we wanted to make Heather. Because Heather was this great opportunity to reintroduce a character to the franchise what he fans responded to very positively the first time show was in there. Now we can have someone who's grown up like our kids, but with just a whole different personality. She has a bit of a wild card, she's a bit edgy, a bit more over the top than most of the dragon riders. And we wanted a dragon that reflected that — a bit edgy, over the top, and wacky compared to the rest of the dragons we already have.

Basically, we had a very broad description in the scripts from Doug and Art, and the challenge for me and the art department is to find a way to do that in a way that feels new, but consistent with the franchise, and something that's really memorable and that the fans are going to get into. The goal of our design is always to tell the story in the best way possible. But I think a lot of the jobs on the show all center around the idea of "we start with the script," and how do each of us make the best possible version of the script, whether it's designing the dragons, doing the animation or where to put the camera, the music, the sound effects. Hopefully we start with a great script, and everybody's job is to do the best possible version we can of that script.

So in designing the dragons, the question we ask is, you know the basics of what each dragon needs to do, we know the size. Now what's the best possible, coolest, most interesting version of the dragon that would work in that context?

Were there specific dragons that you found were really difficult in bringing to life? I remember you talking about the difficulty of the Razorwhip and its reflectiveness.

Yes, and I think we talked a little about that in the press day. And that was my own shortsightedness. When you make a metal dragon who is mirrored, which is super cool looking, unfortunately what it means is that whenever you look at it you see what's behind the camera, so you see what's behind you. So we had to come up with some techniques for putting things behind the camera so there was nothing to be reflected on the Razorwhip.

But again, good problems to solve, and we did come up with a solution for it. Surprisingly, one of the more difficult dragons was the Changewing because it has those long sort of vine-like tentacles that hang from its ears. That was a bit of a challenge because there's a lot of extra animation in the Changewing when it moves around to make those look interesting and floppy and natural. So whenever the Changewing comes in the scripts, we're always like, "poor animators."

I would have imagined that the invisibility is the hard part, not the ears!

Once we came up with what we considered to be rules for how it worked, it became a lot easier. So our initial thought was that it can change into anything it touches — which I guess is sort of like Terminator — but it has to be in contact with it to look like it. But then we thought, "How is it invisible in the sky?" And we were like, "Well, if you're in the sky it's like you're touching the sky!"

The nice thing about the invisibility is that there's a phase after rendering — after you work in the 3D package — you output your 3D images, your final, beautiful lit things. We composite those images together — the background and the foreground in a stage we call "comping," the final stage of putting all the 2D layers together. And things like the invisibility are often handled in the comping, and that's a lot simpler and quicker than dealing with things in the actual 3D program.

So the invisibility was actually not as challenging as it could have been, we do a lot of the heavy lifting for that in the compositing stage.

Previously, you talked about using pre-rendered sprites to create the Night Terror flock. Are there any other tricks you use to make these really amazing effects?

I'm sad to say that 50 percent of what we do is some form of trickery or slight of hand. The first time you see Toothless in the series, his breath effect was actually a cheat of a lot of 2D effects. The very first versions of his breath effect were done with a water mister that you might use to scare a cat, brightly lit and shot in front of a black piece of felt that was taken into a compositing program and recolored. We've gotten a bit better, but we still use a lot of 2D elements to augment 3D effects.

You've done a lot of live action outside of animation. Is this an approach you brought in from the live action world?

Absolutely. It's very much to do with my background. In live action, a lot of the work you do is combining elements you shot separately to create your final shot. In Black Hawk Down, there was very little on-set pyrotechnics. There was some, but compared to what you seen in the final film, very little percentage-wise. We then went out into the desert near Los Angeles and shot for days — setting up charges in the dirt, big gas bag explosions — and then filming those elements and recombining them with what we had shot in Morocco to create the final effects so there's no risk to the actors, but we have control and can direct what things happen. That idea of having shot isolated elements and adding them in is something we've done a lot in Dragons. We're trying to represent the look and spirit of what we've seen in the films. The films are such big and fine productions that have a long time and a lot of personal, and we're obviously tackling similar problems but with much less money and time and people. This is one of the shortcuts we use, and it's been fairly effective. We've gotten better and better at it over the past few years, so hopefully now even to an expert eye, the cheats that we're doing are fairly well-hidden.

Would you say these time and money constraints of TV are one of the challenges you're facing?

Any television show that's based on a film property will face the same issue, but one of the reasons Dragons as a film series stands out in people's minds is it's a wonderful story with wonderful characters that's photographed very beautifully. Both of the films are absolutely stunning to look at. "Stunning" is a prospect that takes a huge amount of time, money, and expertise. So we want to capture the spirit of that within the more limited confines of our schedule.

I've seen on the website that a lot of people are asking the question of, "Why does it look so much better now than when it started on Cartoon Network?" And the very simple answer to that question is that we know a lot more about how to do this now. We haven't changed software as people hypothesized. We've always just used Maya and Mental Ray as our rendering engine. It's just that we and the people who are lighting and animating the shots have had more and more experience. So we've been able to better use the time and money we have to make better images. Rather than spending time on experimenting and failed ideas, more of the money that we have in our budget goes up on screen in making the best possible pictures. I was absolutely new to computer animation of this sort at the beginning of Dragons. I don't know if I'm an expert, but I've had a lot of time on Dragons learning intricacies of how to get the best possible images in the time frame and with the budget we have.

Hopefully the show continues to look better and better as we get better at doing it. But it's very gratifying to hear people saying the look has improved so much over the past few years.

It really is a gorgeous show!

Thank you! One of my primary responsibility is coming in and looking at lighting shots — we call it "dailies" — where we take all the shots together, put them up, and look at them one after the other. And I really look forward to that part of the day because the images are so pretty. They're just nice pictures to look at. So I very much look forward to that part of my day. That's everyone's goal. To continue to make really pretty images. That's the bricks and mortar you build the house from.

How have you seen the design and visual effects evolve since Riders of Berk and Defenders of Berk?

Part of it's the philosophy of the show. Whenever we do something in the show or whenever we have an effect — whenever Hookfang breathes, or a Gronckle shoots a lava ball — we have the effect we've done originally. You have to do the effect for the first time at some point. So we do that effect, and the next time it comes up in the script, we have the effect we've already done and say, "Well, this worked, but how can we make it better?" We try to improved the effect each time we use it. One of the nice things about having a show now that has existed in some form for quite a long time now is that we've had a chance to make things look pretty good. And because of the things we've learned from doing things over and over again trying to improve them.

For instance, in the first 13 episodes when we meet Windshear, we've never seen her breath weapon. So when we came to inventing her breath weapon, we used everything we've learned from every other dragon breath weapon you've seen up until this point. And the breath weapon — which we've only just finalized recently — is pretty epic. It's much more complicated and interesting than what we've done when we started the show because we were able to capitalize on all the things we've learned doing all the other episodes. And that goes not just for effects, but for lighting, to the scene concepts. For an episode that looks particularly beautiful, we'll take every aspect of that scene — the lighting files, the scripts for compositing it — and we'll send them out to everyone working on the show and say, "This is really good, use this as the basis if you have a scene like this." So for every situation and every possible lighting scenario, it keeps getting better and better because we take the very best work and we make that the beginning point for the next time we do it.

When you look back at some of the earlier episodes, can you really see the improvements?

I can! It's funny you ask because sometimes I look at those original episodes and it's almost a little embarrassing. But then I think back to the state of television animation at the time, and the fact that no one was trying to do what we were doing or going for a really cinematic look. I will always be intensely proud of the work we've done over the years.

But obviously, my newest children are my favorites. And the work we're doing right now is really the best looking we've ever done. But we wouldn't be able to do it if we hadn't done the original work. It all stands on the shoulders of the generation before it. Sometimes you have to squint a bit to appreciate the earlier episodes, but they were still fun stories and we did the best that we knew how. We just know a lot more now.

And I have to tell you, one of the exciting things is that, for as lovely as the first 13 look, the next 13 you're going to see are even better. And the 13 after that are better than that. We're continuing to learn and improve the process, so it keeps getting better looking.

How far ahead are you working? How many episodes at a time do you have to think about at a time?

It's such a long process from script to screen for an episode. It's about ten to eleven months. In terms of scripts, they pretty much just finished all 52. So we know all the scripts though to the end. But because it takes almost a year to do each episode, there are obviously lots of episodes running in parallel. Right now, I think we're probably two thirds of the way through finishing the next 13. And the group after that are very much under construction. And because of the nature of how new dragons and characters will look, we do that so far in advance that we have a pretty clear idea of what everything looks like up to the end of the entire two year run. There are some big things that happen right at the end that we're only just in the design phase for. But even the designs we're really excited for. I hope very strongly that we will continue to up the ante and impress the fans as we go forward.

The thing is, we're all huge fans of the show and the franchise, or else we certainly wouldn't want to do it for a living. And I think we're all big fans of how the first 13 went, and the next 13 are really great. It keeps getting better and better. New dragons, new human characters, and the world keeps growing, expanding, and getting more interesting.

What kinds of things are you most looking forward to when you start working on a new episode or in general about the future of the show?

I'm very keen on the new human characters that they're introducing. I don't think in the first 13 you meet a lot of new humans. I think the next 13 show the first new humans, who have been hinted at. And some of the voice actors we're working with are great. We have Alfred Molina on the show now, who is such a treat. He's such a fantastic actor, and such a great voice. So I'm looking forward to seeing his character work. Then in following seasons there are other voice actors who are just brilliant. So it's very exciting to see them. And to see how the new dragons work too. I'm a bit of a dragon geek, so when we design a new dragon that's different and interesting, seeing it up there on the screen is such a treat. Especially when it works great.

I think the Razorwhip and the Quaken with its two mouths and split lower jaw. At the beginning when I looked at the design, I though, "That seems a little bit much, but let's give it a go." And in the end it worked absolutely as well as we could have hoped. Everything like that is a real treat when it all comes together.

What has been your favorite moment or episode of the series so far that you've worked on?

I'm afraid I'm terribly biased because in that first 13, one of the episodes was my first outing as a director. I directed Episode 10, "Have Dragon Will Travel," which is the intro to Heather. So purely for selfish, personal reasons, that was my favorite episode because it was the first one I ever got to direct, and it was such a great experience for me. Luckily now, I've got to direct a fair number of episodes coming up. It's like your first high school prom, it's such a memorable experience that I think to me, Episode 10 has been a very special episode.

What is it like to direct an episode compared to your usual job?

It's hugely fun. When you're reading a book you like, you see the movie in your head as you're reading it. Because our scripts are very good scripts, you can't help but read these scripts and see the movie in your head. The director has the unique opportunity to take the movie he sees in his head and think of a way to get the movie into his head into the rest of the world's head. It does feel slightly like being king of the world for that one episode. Scripts are open to interpretation and everyone sees things a little differently. And your job is to make your way of seeing things the right way of seeing things. It's an absolute treat. You really get to inject as much as you can possibly think of in terms of personality and charm and how you like the world to work into your episode, and it's just great, great fun. The job of directing is impossibly difficult. Everyone is very good at the individual things they do. So as a director, you get to focus on the funnest bits, which is making those big creative calls about how things work and how the story will unfold on-screen. I love my day-to-day job and the more holistic view I have of the show were I get to deal with aspects of every single episode, not just certain ones. But the ones I get to direct occasionally is great fun too. We're spoiled on all fronts. My day job is fun, and then my little hobby job of directing episodes is great fun too.

Were there some stories that were especially challenging to tell from a visual effects perspective?

Whenever a story calls for a lot of what we call effects. For instance, the rain of the Fireworms when the twins take over the island and the Fireworms set the island on fire. That's a lot of unusual things — shots of burning trees, smoke. The episode where we introduced Stoick's dragon, Skullcrusher, there's a tidal wave coming onto the island. Effects that occur in numerous shots can be a challenge because we do have somewhat limited resources for delivering these very big, time-intensive effects. But it's been a fun challenge and a learning experience to work with the directors to limit the number of shots that show these expensive and complicated things, but to then show them at the most dramatic and story-useful way possible. So for that tidal wave sequence, you really didn't have a huge number of shots that showed the tidal wave, but I don't think you felt we were cheating and not showing it to you. It felt like about the right number of shots. That's the goal. How can we tell the story in a way that doesn't feel like we're cheating, but we don't overstrain the pipeline that we have set up here by trying to do these very complicated additional effects?

Every episode has lots and lots of these special effects going on outside the normal dragons and humans. Those are always the interesting challenges because you want to figure out a way to tell that part of the story, but to tell it in a way that won't collapse under the additional weight of all the work that has to be done.

It sounds like there are two jobs you're doing: you're making a fantastical world with dragons, characters, and effects, but you're also trying to make them believable and realistic. Is this a challenge that you feel like you have to work with for each of the episodes?

Absolutely. I think that's a great question, and one of the things people respond well to in the franchise is that it's fantastical — Vikings and dragons, which is straight out of a fantasy story — but we try wherever possible to present that scenario in a realistic way. This goes all the way back to the first movie where each of the dragons' breath weapons felt like it was based on some physical property. Hookfang's breath was a kind of liquid-like flame thrower, Stormfly has this sparky breath that looks like a road flare. We tried to relate things back to the physical reality because that makes the fantastical elements a little more fantastical because they're based in a more realistic look. It's a daily struggle, but a fun one, to always try to show these unbelievable things in a context where they feel kind of believable. It makes them a bit more magical. Because if everything in the world is completely unrealistic and unbelievable, then having dragons isn't such an amazing thing. But if the world feels more grounded like the world we live in, then putting in these fantasy elements like dragons just is so much more exciting and rewarding for people.

That's one of the great thing about the show and films. It's a show about dragons, but they're treated like real animals, almost like some kind of documentary.

If you think about it in some ways, it's a story about the Wild West and a group of teenagers and their horses. They are sort of magical horses that have really bizarre personalities — they're modes of transpiration, but also friends and big parts of the show. I think the more we try to ground the dragons, the more they feel real. The dragons don't speak English, but they sort of understand the emotional tone of conversations between people. If you are upset, the dragon gets upset, like a smart dog or horse. It's that realistic, animalistic component of the dragons that helps people really get into the series. People are so responsive to Toothless, obviously having elements of cats and panthers — big green eyes and a black body — but I think in some ways, his attitude is more that of a really smart dog. He doesn't speak English, but he's obviously got a rich internal life and deep emotional connection with Hiccup. When Hiccup's in the shot, he's not necessarily following along with the dialogue and shaking his head when he's asked a question because he's not a person who speaks English. But he's very emotionally aware of what's going on. If someone put a saddle on he didn't like, he would be scratching away at the saddle in the background for the rest of the episode.

We as a group feel as much interest and compassion toward the dragons as we do to the riders. We love them both. Obviously with the voice actors, we have TJ Miller and these great comedians doing wonderful voices. So it's very easy to get fantastic fun animation for the humans. But it's also a lot of fun to complement that with really fun animations for the dragons, where there's this interplay between the funny riders and the dragons who are often playing straight men. But I think that's the nature of the work, where you have a kind of Laurel and Hardy team-up between Snotlout and Hookfang, where Hookfang plays the straight man to Snotlout's comedian.

Do you often look to animals or nature for inspiration?

Oh yeah, definitely. Whenever possible, when we're designing anything or trying to decide how to animate anything, we're the hugest fans of Google! When we're out there looking for reference, we can say something like, "the eel should move like water snakes," or "this type of dragon should fly with big, powerful flaps of an eagle." Because when you can find real reference in nature, it inherently feels real. And anything that helps us ground the world in reality enhances the whole thing.

Do you think looking toward nature and real-world things to ground the show comes from your background in live-action?

It's where we've always turned in the past. In Black Hawk, we spent endless hours studying how real helicopters turn, their weight, landing and taking off, and how they disturbed the ground. That allowed us, when adding the CG helicopters, to really try and make that reality. For How to Train Your Dragon, we obviously don't have the benefit of studying real dragons. We don't want to be derivative of other cinematic examples of dragons. So instead, we try and find things that have characteristics of a particular dragon, study those, and then extrapolate the dragon's movement and animation from that.

What kind of animals do you study for the dragons?

For instance, Stormfly we think of a very bird-like dragon, like a parrot. So her little preening motions and quick head movements were often inspired by the movements of parrots and parakeets.

For the Gronckles, a lot of the times we go to small or mid-sized dog breeds, especially dogs with short tails, like bulldogs. There's something about the movement of a bulldog where it's trying to wag its tail, but there isn't much of a tail there, so it wags its whole butt. We have lots of reference of that sort of movement. I happen to have a bulldog, too, so it's easy to get reference. But there's something very funny and cute and proud about a bulldog's motions that we try to get into the Gronckle.

For Toothless, obvious we're deeply inspired by cats. There's something very catty about Toothless. The stretch after they've had a nap, the way cats jump from one surface to another. We have lots of reference of that. I think whenever you can integrate the real animal spirit into the dragons, you always get animation that seems right in character with the dragons and is really fun.

What has it been like working on Race to the Edge compared to what you have done in the past?

Before I came to work on Dragons on DreamWorks, I've always been a bit wary of computer-animated projects because I thought it would be tedious. There's nothing that exists. There's no real-world set you can go to. When you're shooting a film, you build lots of sets. But there are also real-world locations you got to that inspire you, that you shoot things in. And there are real actors in front of the camera. It feels very grounded. I thought for these CG animated things, where every single molecule of what you see on-screen you have design from scratch, would be tedious and would take the fun out of storytelling.

When I ended up coming in and working on the How to Train Your Dragon series, what I realized is that it's not tedium at all. It's huge creative freedom. Everything in the entire universe, every single thing you see, can contribute to telling the story in the best way possible. Everything has a sense of an art direction. Even the rocks, the grass, the clouds in the sky, all contribute to the mood and to better contributing to the story we're trying to tell. And it's not tedious at all, it's actually delightfully liberating. I've become a very big fan of it. I find it very hard to go back to live action now because I so enjoy the huge toy box we get to play with in CG animation.

What about visual effects or design work on the show do you find most interesting or fun?

I think you can never go wrong with designing dragons. It's so much fun because it really is letting your imagination run wild. Designing new characters is brilliant, especially when you know the voice actor you're going to have. Because if you know what the person looks like and sounds like, then you can close your eyes and imagine, "If I could remake the universe, what would this person look like?" So you come up with a few idealized or different versions of the person, which is immensely rewarding.

For visual effects, every time we get new, big effects that we're working on, I have to say there's a great "wow" factor for these explosions, dragon breaths, avalanches, and it's such a treat when we get those things up and running. Everybody enjoys that. There's no one that doesn't like a good explosion once in a while.

What do you think will the future look like for visual effects in animation?

The industry has changed quite a lot in the twenty years I've been involved in it. Originally, in visual effects, which came into being in the early nineties from a very infant form where very few people were doing it, it was initially very expensive to do visual effects. The computers you needed to do it was expensive, the software you needed was expensive. Now you have a ton of experience. Over time, software became cheaper and cheaper. And more importantly, the computers became cheaper. So the cost of entry into the business went down. And ultimately, what this leads to, is once it becomes very cheap to get a computer and software to do visual effects, then it becomes globalized. That's when a lot of the work starts going overseas to economies where the cost of living is lower and it costs you less to do the same work. Then it's no longer prohibitively expensive to get the equipment.

So visual effects over the past 20 years has gone from being very centralized in California to being a truly global enterprise which is focused in huge population centers in Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, and then a lot of work being done in places with very low costs of living, like India, China, the Philippines, and Taiwan. It's been interesting to see what started as a very small group. I remember when there was a time when we tried to count the number of people that were doing visual effects in the whole world. And at one point around 1994, we estimated there were probably less than 2,000 doing visual effects.

Whereas right now, there are probably more than 2,000 people in the state of California taking classes in visual effects in universities, let alone doing it for a living, and let alone the entire world. So that's been a very big change, and I think you're seeing a similar change in animation where it starts with tons of expensive equipment and software that, in many cases, was written by studios and wasn't publicly available. And now the tools are so much better, so much cheaper, you can do it on almost any computer. There's still a lot of expertise required in becoming a really good animator. But that expertise can now be learned in university, it can be practiced at home when none of this was possible 15 years ago.

I think it's not impossible that the animation industry will follow a similar course to visual effects, where it becomes very globalized. It has to a certain extent, and a lot of the work moves to places with lower costs of living because it's a more cost-efficient way for studios to produce films. But that doesn't mean that there won't always be a need for experts and people passionate for the art. It just means that you'll have to be smart about how you jump into the business because there are no longer huge buildings full of people in Los Angeles doing it all the time. There still are now, but I wouldn't guarantee it for 15 years from now.

Do you think changes in technology will change the importance of live-action inspired effects? Will it always be a part of visual effect design?

It's always preferable to do it entirely on the computer. Because then it will be absolutely correct for the lighting of the scene and the camera angle. There will be no compromises or cheats. As we got better and the software has gotten better, we relied less and less on using live-action elements. But it is a great shortcut for getting something that looks very complicated very quickly. Nothing is as complicated as the real world. So whenever you use real-world elements, it adds a layer of sophistication that's hard to duplicate. But we're getting better and better at duplicating it.

What has inspired you personally as a visual effects artist or designer?

I'm just a huge nerd and huge fan of the genre. Growing up, I always loved science fiction and fantasy, both books and films. So the opportunity to operate in the arena that also entertains me is a great opportunity. The films that I watch when I go home are the same sorts of films that I worked on. I'm a huge fan of Star Wars Rebels and The Clone Wars before it, which are series that operate in the same sphere that we operate in and use similar kinds of techniques. They're really fun, colorful, and imaginative, and I like the stories. So that's always been what drives me. These are the types of stories that I'm passionate about, so it's great fun to tell them and to watch other people tell them.

I think a lot of people who see Dragons feel the same way and want to get involved as well. Do you have any advice for people who are interested in visual effects or animation in general?

Absolutely! I think the important things to keep in mind is that there are fantastic schools now for the sorts of things we do here that give you a great head start. The thing that differentiates people when they come out of school is what's on their demo reel. What did you spend your time doing your projects on? That's what you'll then get to present to potential employers. If you know exactly the sorts of things you want to do, then getting stuff that appeals to the people who do that on your demo reel is very important. For example, if I decided I wanted to be an animator on How to Train Your Dragon — and this is a "for example," not a roadmap for someone with the expectation of becoming one — what I'd want to do is come out with a reel that really directly applies to the sort of animation and storytelling that the show does. Obviously, you don't have access to the super complicated characters that we have in the show. But if you can make a simplified character that felt like it embodied the same personality and spirit as the characters on the show, I think that would be such a step up. If you did a simplified version of Toothless that had the charm and personality of Toothless in the show and movies, that would be such a strong sales tool for your skill as an animator applied to a show like ours.

That's a very specific example to our show because that's what I know, but if there's a specific genre that you really like, even though you will never have access to the exact, complex materials people use to make shows, for things like animation, it's really not about the complexity of the character. As we know from the famous Pixar opening of a desk lamp jumping around, there's enough character and personality in that so that a thing with very few joints can tell a story and have a personality. So if you can capture the spirit and personality of the things you like in your own work, then you're well on your way to having other people believe in you and want to be part of the process.

And if it's lighting that you're interested in, then it would be lighting in a way that you feel reflects that work that you like. And when you bring that to the people you are interviewing with and say, "I not only enjoy your show, but these are my versions of lighting in similar circumstances," more people respond to this in the interview process. We talk to people all the time, interview them, and hire them for the show. People who are fans of the show, interested in the show and the franchise, it's hard not to feel a fondness and favoritism for them because we're all fans of the show. You want people to work on things they are passionate about. So any time you're going out for a job, if it's a job on something you know about, become passionate about it and that passion will affect the people in the interview who hopefully are also passionate about their work.

What should we look forward to for the rest of the show? What are you most excited about?

There's so much to be excited about. I've read some of the questions on the website. While obviously I do know what happens right up to the end because we've finished all the scripts, it would be irresponsible of me to ruin it for everyone! I'm dying to tell everybody what's going to happen because it's so fun, but also, as a fan who watches the show, I don't want to spoil it. Because really, it's not just episodic entertainment. There's a serial element to it that becomes stronger as the seasons go on, where stories stretch beyond single shows, beyond even two-parters. There are arcs for characters that span whole seasons or multiple seasons. There's not much that I can say that won't spoil something, but I will say there will be lots of new dragons. We introduce new villains and new allies that are absolutely fantastic, voiced by brilliant actors people will know. And as I think you've said on the site, the 52 episodes are really spanning some of the time between the first and second dragon movies. Within the confines of that, where we know where we have to end up, there's a lot of very satisfying storytelling to come that completes all of the arcs and questions that have been answered in the first 13. More questions will come up, but everything concludes in a very satisfying way at the end of the 52 episodes. I don't think people will be disappointed, and I strongly believe that each 13 is stronger than the 13 before it as we get better. We find the questions we're asking and ask them in a better way, then answering them as the show goes on. And the look is getting better and better as we present the complicated things we're trying to do. It does take us 10-11 months to make an episode, and we have lots of teams going at the same time. There is a physical reality to how much can get done and how quickly, but we are getting it out to the fans as quickly as we conceivably can. Just to give you some scary statistics, the 52 episodes represent approximately 13.5 million render hours. So if you had one computer rendering the shows, it would take 13.5 million hours to do it, or about 1,500 years.

We don't do it on one computer, we do it on lots of computers. But it's a huge investment of time and technology to get this done, and we're going as absolutely as fast as we can. I think people are in for such a treat. The next 13 are really good episodes with lots of good episodes coming up. I can't wait to go on Berk's Grapevine and see what people's reactions are.

I'm very excited and very proud. I don't think people will be disappointed, that's for sure.

I think we're all really looking forward to it!

I'm can honestly say, the show gets better and continues to look better, and we're as proud as we can possibly be. The work we're doing feels like it's all come together in a really satisfying way. The script is great, and we're just trying to make them look as cool as we possibly can.

Thank you to everyone who submitted a question for this interview! And huge thanks to David Jones for such an incredible and in-depth look at visual effects, design, and animation on the show!

Berkathon 2.0: Join Us for Race to the Edge, Season 2

The second season of Race to the Edge will likely appear on Netflix at 12 a.m. PT. Whether you plan to watch the next thirteen episodes the moment they arrive or to show up part of the time to chat with sleep-deprived dragon fans, Berkathon 2.0 is for you!
Like Berkathon 1.0, we'll be watching all thirteen episodes back-to-back, with occasional breaks. That's still 5 hours of dragons, but still nothing compared to the full 24 of last week's Berkathon! While the episode times are not yet known, the schedule will be designed so that you shouldn't have to do anything: except for pausing for breaks, just sit back and let Netflix autoplay keep you on track:

— 10 Minute Break After Release —
14. Team Astrid~22:30
15. Night of the Hunters, Part 1~22:30
16. Night of the Hunters, Part 2~22:30
17. Bad Moon Rising~22:30
— 10 Minute Break —
18. Snotlout Gets the Axe~22:30
19. The Zippleback Experience~22:30
20. Snow Way Out~22:30
21. Edge of Disaster, Part 1~22:30
22. Edge of Disaster, Part 2~22:30
— 10 Minute Break —
23. Shock and Awe~22:30
24. A Time to Skrill~22:30
25. Maces and Talons, Part 1~22:30
26. Maces and Talons, Part 2~22:30

Check back later for an updated schedule!

You're welcome to join the Berk's Grapevine public chat at any point during the 5 hour period, whether you decide to stay awake the whole time or jump in during the middle. Just ask @Toothless, our lovely dragon bot, for the episode we're watching and the time!

Interview with Race to the Edge Executive Producers

A month ago, you submitted questions for Art Brown and Doug Sloan about the new season of Race to the Edge, which will be released by Netflix on Friday, January 8. Here are their answers to your questions about Hiccup, Astrid, Chicken, Drago, the new dragons and villains, and much more!

Update: Now with new images and clips!

We've seen all these new dragons in the first season. What kinds of new dragons or returning dragons will appear in the second?

Art: In terms of returning dragons, we will revisit the Snow Wraith in a really cool episode called "Snow Way Out" and the Skrill in another pretty impressive appearance, in addition to some other returning as well. In terms of new dragons, there's the Armorwing, which comes into play in a really cool episode that centers around Snotlout, his father, and their family.

Doug: And several other new dragons, we can tell you that for sure. And the Armorwing is very, very cool because it takes pieces of metal and welds them to itself as protection.

Art: There's also the Seashocker! It's another underwater-type dragon. There's a really cool Fishlegs episode centered around the Seashocker. It's in the electric eel family, this dragon. Its powers are pretty cool!

You mentioned Snotlout's family. Will we see more of the characters' families or other Vikings on Berk?

Art: You will see Snotlout's father, Spitelout, who is played by David Tennant, in the episode that has the Armorwing. It's a really cool episode for him because it's sort of an episode where it shows the growth of them as characters. In terms of other family members, I think Spitelout is the main one in the next thirteen.

Doug: There's an episode called "Astrid's A-Team" where she recruits from Berk a group of citizens to ride dragons. Spitelout is one, Gothi is one, Gustav is one.

So we get to see a lot of returning characters?

Doug: Oh, yeah, absolutely! Gustav is really good in this. It's a really funny Gustav episode.

Everyone loves Gustav!

Doug: I know, it's crazy! He's so funny!

Art: One of the comments of fans for the first thirteen was wanting more Astrid. And in the next thirteen, there's more Astrid. Heather also makes a return, and we see their relationship and their working together.

Without giving too much away, what can we expect from Heather in this season?

Art: She comes back to try to find her place in the world and to deal with the information she received in the first thirteen with regards to Dagur. As we introduce Ryker as a new bad guy, Heather will play a central role in infiltrating the dragon hunters.

Doug: Heather is going to be a very big character in this next drop and the next season. She and Dagur will play a big part as well.

How will these new villains fit in with the old villains? Will the work together?

Doug: It all sort of leads to one main villain from the season. Up till the first thirteen, it was mostly Dagur — and it still is for a while — and then it will slowly start to fade into these other guys.  And Dagur's relationships will be very, very interesting with the kids.

Art: But Dagur is still prominent in these next thirteen, but eventually the transition is to the dragon hunters. They're a little more ruthless. Dagur was always funny and crazy. But these are dragon hunters, and they've stepped it up. They're definitely more ruthless. They're brothers, and one of them is more old-school, and Viggo, his brother, is more of a thinking man. It will be a nice addition to Dagur, and seeing Dagur trying to find his way among these new villains.

Doug: So there's still the comedy of Dagur. He's hilarious with these guys. But these guys are completely brutal, gnarly, villains. They're really cool. And one is set up to be introduced in the last two episodes of the thirteen — Viggo — like I said, he's the thinking man. He's brutal and ruthless, but he challenges Hiccup in ways that Hiccup hasn't been challenged.

Read an interview with Alfred Molina about the new villains!

Will the show be getting darker, especially with these new villains?

Doug: No, I think there are some episodes in this season that are among the funniest and lightest that we've ever done. There's an episode with Tuffnut coming up that we think is the funniest show we've ever done.

Art: Him and Chicken are happily involved in this episode.

Oh! So Chicken is now a recurring character?

Art: Yeah, the chicken is a recurring character! The key to this show is always balancing the drama, the character stuff, and the comedy. But we always lean towards making it funny and making the kids funny. Mixing up the villain, changing it up, raising the stakes, especially regards to the dragon eye, is always necessary. And that enables us to be funnier, because you need the comic relief to break tension in those episodes where the villain is. And when they're not, are the standalone episodes are usually comedy-based. We had a lot of fun with our characters on them.

Watch a clip of the chicken below!

What kind of comedic episodes or moments will there be?

Doug: There's the Tuffnut episode that we talked about. Tuffnut believes he has been bitten by a dragon and will turn into a dragon, like a werewolf. And he's really, really funny. We're really proud of that.

Art: That's a great one. Even the Astrid one, where she puts her A-team together in Episode 14, there is a lot of great comedy when you have Spitelout, Gothi, and Astrid together.

How has making this season been different from the last one? What have you learned since the last season?

Doug: We're always trying to keep it fresh and to take the audience to places we haven't gone, which gets trickier and trickier as you go.

Art: What Doug says, we always want to lean into our characters and lean into the comedy that makes them loved. And I think that combined with upping our visuals and special effects and the action set pieces keep pushing the boundaries of that as well. We push the comedy as much as we can, and in new ways of making the kids funny. Especially the twins, Fishlegs, Snotlout.

Doug: We've done almost a hundred episodes. So you're always looking for stuff, but these characters are so amazing and fantastic that there's always really cool stuff for them to do.

Speaking of characters, let me give you one of the most requested questions: How are Hiccup and Astrid doing, and what will we see from those two?

Art: Oh, yeah. Hiccup and Astrid are definitely moving forward. In each season, they will get a little closer and a little closer to where they are at the beginning of the second movie, which is basically a full-fledged relationship.

Doug: We will not disappoint in terms of the Astrid-Hiccup relationship. It just may take a few more seasons to get us there. But I promise you.

Art: You will see the beginnings of it. There are elements and Easter eggs and fun stuff always between those two. Whether it's one of them being in danger and how the other one feels about that, or the kids noticing them getting a little closer. The dragons, and how they react to it.

Doug: And how the other kids react to it is great. I mean, we get to be the ones who show them finding out, let's just put it that way.

Which episodes of the next season took the most time or work to make?

Doug: Well, unfortunately (or fortunately) they all take the same time because we have a schedule that we have to meet. But the most difficult ones technically are whenever the characters are interacting with water, or if there are a lot of visual effects like fire and stuff with dragons that we haven't done before, or new dragons that we haven't done before, gesticulating them and making them move and work the right way. But the great thing is that the people who animate the show overseas are just brilliant and always seem to deliver amazing stuff. They make them better than we could have imagined.

How will The Edge grow and develop over the next season? I've seen lots of cool designs that haven't shown up in the show yet.

Art: There's a great two-parter about in the middle of this next thirteen where The Edge is under siege. Because we have so many episodes, we get to pair up our kids in different situations that we wouldn't expect, and give them a chance to deal with it. Astrid and Tuffnut are going to be forced to work together as they defend The Edge on their own while the other kids are gone. It's a really funny episode with Astrid being by-the-book and Tuffnut being Loki-ish. In that two-parter, because it's all about defending The Edge, we really get to see all the different parts of The Edge. This next thirteen really explores and gives the audience a good understanding of just how cool it is.

What would you say are the overarching themes or stories in the next season?

Doug: The Dragon Eye is the main overarching thing: finding out where it came from, what its use is, what it's all about, who is after it and why they're after it. A lot of it centers around that.

Art: The Dragon Eye really becomes the next thirteen. We got a sense of how they found it, how cool it was, and how it helped them explore and find new dragons. And now, in this next thirteen, they really get a sense of its power. In the right hands, it can be amazing. And in the wrong hands, it can be very dangerous. And another overarching aspect outside of the villains is the relationship between Heather, Dagur, and the kids. There's some pretty interesting things between Dagur and Heather. Heather found out some pretty hardcore information in that first season, and we see how Heather and Dagur deal with it.

How will they continue to use the Dragon Eye to explore their world?

Art: They continue to use it to help them out of tough situations. In the episodes that Doug was talking about — the werewolf episode — it definitely comes into play there. Different lenses are found. And once we introduce the dragon hunters, we'll get some more information about who the Dragon Eye was initially made for. The hunters will know things about the Dragon Eye that our kids won't because it goes with their history. That's a big part of what they're after.

Doug: And it really all goes back to the lenses. Without the lenses, the Dragon Eye doesn't really do much. As well as who is in possessions of it and who can unlock it. Because right now, we know you need the Snow Wraith key to unlock it. There will be some more information that takes it beyond this.

No spoilers, but what do you both think will be the most game-changing episode of the season?

Doug: I would say the finale. The finale is huge. We can't really get into it that much, but what we can say is that it's a game-changing moment both for the dragon hunters and the dragon map. There's only so much we can tell you!

Art: It's really fun. The buildup to that two-parter is really cool, and I think they payoff will be well-received. I think people will be really excited about what happens in the next season.

Thank you so much to Art and Doug for allowing me to ask questions about the next season! It's always a blast to talk to them and hear what's coming up for us! Have any ideas or want to speculate about the new episodes? Post your thoughts in the comments below!