Posted on Friday, May 22, 2015 by IcelandicEel
You asked questions for Art and Doug, the executive producers of DreamWorks Dragons: Race to the Edge, and now we have the answers! The full interview is included below. Of course, it was impossible to ask all the fantastic questions that were submitted, but there will certainly be more interview opportunities on this site in the future!
One of the great things about Dragons is that is really appeals to everyone. There are 8-year-old fans and 40-year-old fans who can find something to love in both the films and the show. How do you make this happen, and how will you make this new series appeal to such a wide audience range?
Doug: I think that the meaning of the franchise starting with the movies is that there is something for everybody when you watch the movie or the show. And there are certain themes that are universally relatable—the boy and his new friend and pet, the father-son relationship, good against evil—that type of thing. And I think we consciously, continuing the series, try our best to make it something the whole family can watch together. And include jokes that the parents will get, that the kids will get, and storylines that will be meaningful to both the parents and the kids.
Art: And we talk to parents all the time about them watching the show with their kids, and the whole family loving it. And we’re really conscious of the hard-core fans that have been there from the beginning that have grown up with the franchise, and we’re also conscious of new fans who are just becoming of the age where they are starting to watch the show. We balance that as well so that there are nuggets in there for the hard-core fans who know the franchise—Easter eggs and all that stuff—and there’s new stuff for the new fans as well.
Do you think that now there’s a new series and people have known the show for the last two or three years and now you’re moving to Netflix, do you think there are now new direction you can take the show for the slightly different audience?
Doug: The show that is going on Netflix will be taking the show in a completely new direction in that Hiccup and the gang are going to be away from Berk and on their own for the first time. It’s sort of like they’re going away to college. They’re going to explore away from the archipelago and find new dragons, and have to solve problems without Stoick, Gobber, Gothi, and the people they’ve relied on in the past. As 19- and 20-year-olds, they will face and solve problems a little differently than they have in the past. They aren’t kids anymore, so it definitely will be different.
Art: And they develop deeper relationships because of that not only with each other but with their dragons, just due to the fact that they are on their own. They have what they call the “Dragon’s Edge” that they’ve built in a sort of an outpost. They’re exploring and they’re out there, and they’re meeting all sorts of new dragons, solving problems on their own, and forging new relationships.
Speaking of relationships, will we get to see more of the other characters, like Astrid, Fishlegs, Snotlout, Ruffnut and Tuffnut, and their relationships with their dragons?
Art: Definitely. Just because there isn’t enough time, in the movies, it’s mostly Hiccup, Astrid, Toothless, and Stoick: that’s your core. What’s great about the TV show is we get to explore everybody. We have episodes dedicated to Fishlegs and Meatlug, or dedicated twins episodes. We do interesting pairings like Astrid and Tuffnut. We get to play around in that sandbox which is really exciting and fun for the fans.
You have a lot of great characters from the first film and the first two seasons, and it seems like you’re going to introduce a ton of new characters, both villains and dragons. What’s the balance between keeping the older characters as part of the series, and how will they connect to the new characters?
Doug: In the beginning, you’ll see mostly the characters that you’re familiar with—aged up a little bit. And as the show goes on, you’ll start to see new villains emerge, you’ll see new tribes of people emerge. But it always comes back to our core characters and the stories will always going to revolve around them. It’s just they may just have relationships with new characters you haven’t seen in the past more often.
Art: There are a couple characters—like Heather, who was in the first season—she comes back and plays a big role in the upcoming seasons. She becomes part of the team. Her whole storyline is interesting in how it evolves and what you find about her history. And then we have Gustov who’s a littler kid, about 12 in the first two seasons, who comes back from time to time. He’s now the age that the kids were in the first movie. He rides his own dragon, Fanghook, and he’s pretty funny. So we get to do that. As Doug was saying, the other characters are mainly introduced as bad guys and new tribes of people.
Right, like Dagur and Alvin? Will we see more of them? Will they be part of the new set of villains?
Doug: You’ll see Dagur. Alvin not so much, but Dagur is a huge, huge part of this new season.
That’s great, everyone loves him!
Art: Yeah, he’s so funny, man. David Faustino is hilarious. When you see him in the first episode, he’s been lifting weights, getting buffed up, getting tattoos. He’s been in prison for the last three years, so he’s much more wound up and crazy than ever.
So there’s a bit of a time gap between Defenders and now?
Doug: Yeah, our series begins a year and a half before the second movie begins, so it’s about three and half years after the dragon series.
Art: We call it the prequel to the sequel. Because the second movie jumped ahead all these years, we’re really showing how things got that way. We’re setting up the flight suit, showing how that was invented. The dragonblade. How Stoick got his dragon, and how Gobber got his dragon. We get to have Stoick, which is great. It makes that relationship really powerful, because you know when you’re watching these scenes with Hiccup and his father based on the second movie that you know what happens?
Will we get to see new crazy Hiccup inventions, and how he builds up the village with the new dragon buildings?
Doug: You will see a lot of cool stuff at Dragon’s Edge, where they end up living for the series. At this point, we’re not really sure if we’re going to deal with the inventions from the movie or how they came to be. But there’s always a possibility, we’re not really sure.
Art: But you do go back to Berk from time to time, like the beginning of the series. You will see Berk stuff changing from time to time.
Now that you have the first and second film giving it a place and a time, has it constrained things you are able to do, or made things easier creatively?
Art: I think it does both. Anything can happen in between the time that we last left them and the second movie. So there’s really no constraint on what we can do as long as they end up in the same place as we find them in the beginning of the second movie. So we can explore and it’s pretty wide open, I would say.
What’s really special about this series is it’s one of the very few CGI animated TV series out there, which means you have to deal with constantly changing technology. How much has the technology influenced the series? Is there anything you can do now that you couldn’t have done in the previous series?
Doug: Absolutely. We are now able to do water interaction, which we couldn’t have done in the first two years. We can now do crowds and herds of dragons, which we couldn’t do in the first couple of seasons. Technology moves so quickly. If you look at the show now and put it up against the show from two or three years ago, there’s just no comparison. It looks so much closer to the movie than it once did, it’s amazing.
Art: And a huge amount of credit goes to David Jones, who is our visual effects supervisor. He loves to be challenged, he loves to create new things. He always jokingly says to us “keep writing scripts that we can’t make” so that we can push the technology. He’s amazing. The look of the first two seasons was really good, but now it blows it away.
Doug: It’s not even a comparison. We were tasked with giving the show a new look, a more cinematic look. And they’ve really done that, and gone way beyond their call of duty.
Art: And the animators have gotten so much better too. They know the characters so well. For the first couple of seasons, we were scrambling a lot because it was such a huge undertaking.
A lot of the readers of the site are really interested in animation. What is it like working on the show, going from an idea to a finished product, and how difficult is it to make a single episode?
Art: Episodes are always in different stages, but if you look at how long an episode takes from concept to being done, it takes about nine months to a year. What we do is we break the season first with our writing team, which is basically the arcs of the seasons, where it’s going, what each episode is going to be, what new dragons we’re going to have, what new locations we’re going to, what new characters. And then we go from the concept to outline, and then from outline we go to script. After that, there’s the animatic stage, which is like a moving storyboard, where sound effects and music are put in. And then from there starts the animation process, layout, animation, and lighting.
Doug: It’s much more like live action than 2D animation, because you have an existing set of assets, like Hiccup and Astrid and the set they live in. And that’s basically what you have. You can’t really just think “I want to send them to this glacier on a volcano or whatever” and draw it. You need to build it and it takes time. We have to work with what we have.
Are there stories that are more challenging to tell than others?
Doug: There are elements that we try to limit, which is the number of shots, the number of visual effects, the number of people within a shot, the number of camera moves. It’s defined by the producers and the budget of the show. We try to push it as far as we can, but at the end of the day, we only have so many resources and so much time. We’re not a movie, so we don’t have unlimited resources. So that’s where the challenge comes in, where the writing exceeds our resources.
Art: And we balance it, so if we have X amount of big, epic episodes with a lot of characters and action scenes, we balance it out with smaller episodes, with a couple characters off on a mission or doing something, pairing people up. We do that purposely because every show can’t be a huge, huge expense.
Are we going to see more continuing episodes, or two-part episodes?
Art: We have a number of two-parters—those are always fun. Some stories just lend themselves to that. We’ll be breaking a story and we’ll go, “you know what, this really feels like there’s a lot to tell here, we should do it in two.” I would say, of the 26, we have maybe 4 two-parters: the opening two-part episodes and the closing two-part episodes and then one or two others in the middle somewhere.
Doug: One thing that’s great about Netflix is that because of the way Netflix is viewed, we’re able to lean into more the continuous serialization. Although we do try to have what we call “standalone episodes”—for every five episodes, we try to have three of them that are standalone, meaning you could come in not knowing anything, and it’s a new dragon or that sort of thing.
Do you have any advice for aspiring animators or people who want to be involved in animation?
Doug: It depends on what side of the business you want to be on. If you want to be a storyboard artist, the advice that I have is to go to art school. They’re always looking for artists. There’s a shortage—especially now in the animation world—there’s a shortage of good artists. If you want to be in the animation part, that’s a little tougher because a lot of it’s done oversees now, especially for television. If you want to be a writer, the way to do that is just to practice writing.
Art: If you want to write, you want to look at animated shows that you like that are on TV, and write some sample episodes. That’s how people get to know your skill set. If you want to be in production, we have interns a lot—that’s a good way in. DreamWorks has a pretty extensive internship program. And we’ve actually had a couple of interns that graduated from college and we ended up hiring. Depending on what you want to do, there are a lot of ways to go about it.
Doug: It’s a great time to want to get into the animation business because everybody is starting to do it—Amazon, Netflix, Hulu.
And wouldn’t it be cool if some of the people reading this ended up working on the show!
Doug: It’s not unusual, it does happen. Our first writing assistant wrote an episode, and is now one of the writers on Turbo.
Art: And we really believe that one of the best parts of our job is to give people opportunities. One of our editors started as assistant editor, and he did such a great job. When we promoted him to editor, he was the youngest editor ever at DreamWorks. We just love that, and believe in that.
What are you most looking forward to in this entire series, in terms of characters, stories or new locations?
Doug: For me, I’m just really excited to see what fans who have been with us for a while—like the people on the Grapevine—think about the new show, what they think about the way it looks, whether they’re excited about it and think it looks cool. You’ve been with us since the beginning—you’re our guys. It’s going to be really cool and exciting for us to see the show and get to see what we’ve been doing. You’ll really notice the difference, and that will be the cool thing to me.
Art: I’m excited to see how people react to the comedy, because we really upped the comedy. When you have this many episodes to play with, you have to find new ways to skin the cat. Which makes us think outside the box. So we think the comedy is really funny, it’s really out there. Tuffnut has, early on, a chicken who follows him around. They have a full relationship with each other and it’s hilarious. We’re able to really have some fun. That’s not to say that there are some serious episodes, but we always balance it. We know our audience, and we know they want it all.
A huge thanks to Art and Doug for telling us what they're working on, as well as to the readers of the site for submitting such great questions! Don't forget to check out the questions page, where Doug answered a couple questions in the comments as well!