Berk's Grapevine

New Trailer, NYCC Panel, and Cast and Crew Interview!

During the New York Comic Con panel, DreamWorks previewed a new trailer for The Hidden World — the same trailer that was released for the first time publicly today! The focus of the How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World panel was clips, clips, and even more clips! But if you weren't there and didn't see the new clips other than the new trailer, don't worry: between the clips, there was plenty of discussion about the story of the final dragon film, as well as the production process.

Many of the clips shown at New York Comic Con were also shown at the Toronto International Film Festival panel. Fortunately, Berk's Grapevine was at TIFF as well! For a detailed discussion of those clips, see our detailed discussion of the last Dragon panel.

Finally — a Berk's Grapevine exclusive — we were lucky enough to have one-on-one discussions with Dean DeBlois, Jay Baruchel, Brad Lewis, and president of DreamWorks Feature Animation Chris DeFaria backstage after the panel. And we asked them some of the questions you submitted! We also asked them if they had a message for you, the Dragon fans, and they had some great responses. The discussions are printed in full at the end of the article.

Warning: The rest of this article contains spoilers.

"Course Correct Us When We Go Astray"

The panel started with Grae Drake, senior editor at Rotten Tomatoes and panel moderator, introducing writer and director Dean DeBlois and a couple special guests: Jay Baruchel, voice of Hiccup, and Brad Lewis, Hidden World producer.

The very first topic of discussion wasn't the film, but the fans of the film. DeBlois discusses how exciting it is to have such an active fan base. He mentions how Dragon fans are, saying that they are especially vocal and passionate, and willing to "course correct" the Dragon crew when fans believe they "go astray."

"Don't Have Anybody Walk Through Flame!"

Dean DeBlois and Brad Lewis discuss the challenges of producing a film like The Hidden World. DeBlois compares Dragon to working on films using hand-drawn animation, such as Lilo & Stitch, where detail had to be stripped away and characters simplified in order to be drawn frame-by-frame by animators.

Compared with hand-drawn animation, CGI animation allows for more complex characters, but is limited in other ways: films were limited in the number of sets, or the kinds of effects used. Water, cloud, and flame used to be hard, but things have changed. With The Hidden World, the ability to create is "boundless" compared to prior technology.

Brad Lewis discusses during the panel — and in our interview with him afterward — the benefits of using Moonray, the new renderer debuting in The Hidden World and critical for achieving the effects and monumental complexity of the new film.

Grae Drake mentions that the new technology was important in designing a new character on this film, the Light Fury, and the special ability she showcases in a clip. The clip, called "First Date," was the courtship sequence shown at TIFF between Toothless and the Light Fury, some parts of which were also shown publicly in the first and second trailers. During this clip, Toothless and the Light Fury's first significant moment together, we see for the first time the Light Fury's special ability to disappear with only her outline visible as a displacement of her background.

"Sometimes It's Hard to See Where I Stop and He Begins"

In response to the clip, Jay Baruchel discusses his long and unusual relationship with Hiccup. Having never played any character longer than he has played Hiccup, for over ten years including the films and television shows, Jay Baruchel feels especially connected to Hiccup. "Sometimes it's hard to see where I stop and he begins," Baruchel comments.

When Jay Baruchel surprised us at TIFF, he had something similar to say about Hiccup, who DeBlois described as "kind of a beta leader" who is "ahead of his time" — a personality that fits Baruchel especially well. Baruchel also revealed that he was trying to make Hiccup sound as Canadian as possible during recording. (We ask him about this and other secrets about Hiccup's personality during our discussion with him backstage — read his answers below!)

"But Wait, There's More!"

Following the Grimmel clip, there was another surprise guest — the voice of Grimmel himself (and Academy Award winning actor for his role in Amadeus) F. Murray Abraham! Pandering to his New York audience, Abraham walked on stage waving a Yankees jacket.

A fan shouts, "Amadeus was awesome!"

"How to Train Your Dragon is better!" he shouts back.

F. Murray Abraham repeatedly tells us how incredible it was working on How to Train Your Dragon. DeBlois says that, though Abraham and Baruchel have very different acting styles, they are both "self directing" — they can read through a script and correct lines to make sure they sound correct. And for The Hidden World, F. Murray Abraham played a critical role in crafting the character of Grimmel, editing lines and repeating takes until they can "get it right!"

"The Ancestral Home of All Dragons"

Dean DeBlois discusses the process of recording the lines for the film, and the challenges of mostly recording each individual actor separately, where he has the job of playing the other characters during recording sessions. "There are three whole other movies out there with Dean doing all the characters voices, which maybe one day you'll get to experience!" Jay Baruchel jokes.

Grae Drake asks Dean DeBlois about the meaning of the title.

"Now let's talk about the title of this film."

"The title is The Hidden World—"

"Thank you, I had forgotten, I was just asking for you to remind me."

"The Hidden World," DeBlois says, "speaks to an old mariners' myth about a secret land at the edge of the world where dragons live completely out of reach. Those sailers that got too close to it went off the edge of a great waterfall, never to be seen again. But it's rumored to be the ancestral home of all dragons."

Pressure building on Berk, Hiccup remembers what his father told him about the hidden world and decides that it's worth trying to find. Perhaps, he reasons, the hidden world could be a place where dragons and humans are able to live together away from Grimmel and any other enemies who may want to harm Berk or their dragons in the future.

"You Feel Like You're Standing in a Magical Place"

"There are 300 people who have been working on this movie for the last three or four years," Brad Lewis reminds us after showing us the beautiful fourth clip, "and they're top of their game, right here with us." F. Murray Abraham seemed to particularly enjoy the previous clip, standing and facing away from the audience and toward the screen so he could watch it with us.

Asked when he first knew when The Hidden World would turn out to be so beautiful, Brad Lewis says he knew from the start! "The greatest challenge you have as a production designer is to invent a mythical word that doesn't exist," Lewis tells us. "You feel like you're standing in a magical place," surrounded by concept art and ideas that bring a sense of realism and plausibility to the fantastical world of The Hidden World and truly bring the universe to life.

"Effort Sounds"

There's going to be a lot of action in The Hidden World, and that can be a challenge for actors to communicate through their voice alone. Jay Baruchel comments that he's always moving about, which often involves shouting and grunting he calls "effort sounds."

"Sometimes you have to jump about to get the proper sound to come out of you!"

Jay Baruchel demonstrates. Laughing along with the effort sounds, F. Murray Abraham says that this is not easy, and Baruchel is very good at what he does. But as far as his strategy for communicating action, he teases: "What I do is a big secret and I'm not going to tell you."

Dean DeBlois tells us how he grew up as a "Star Wars kid" who wrote his own stories and drew Star Wars art, and never believed he would have been in the position of creating his own trilogy of beloved films someday. He talks about the importance of developing a series of films with "quality and integrity" that stand on their own, but also tell a broader story together. The goal, DeBlois says, is to give Dragon films with "a period" at the end and not to "let it carry on and on, losing its sense of purpose."

Talking with the Creators

After the panel, we were very lucky to be able to go backstage and talk with some of the cast and crew of the film! Thank you to everyone who submitted a question for the participants of the New York Comic Con panel! We asked some of your questions during our discussions with Dean DeBlois, Jay Baruchel, Chris DeFaria, and Brad Lewis. Our discussions with them, lightly edited for clarity, are below!

Interview: Dean DeBlois (Writer and Director)

Hi, we're from Berk's Grapevine, it's great to meet you!

Hi, it's nice to meet you! I've been checking your site for many years, it's kind of the pulse of whether fans are happy or angry with us! I heard from one of your cohort that you were at TIFF, but we didn't get to meet you.

Yes! TIFF was a lot of fun, and now we've seen the full collection of clips — except Annecy.

Well, actually, the only one we didn't show in Toronto that we showed in Annecy is the opening one here. So you've seen them all! You've seen everything that we've shown so far! And hopefully we won't show any more. Because I'm particularly aware of the spoilery nature involved.

So when you're in charge of building this massive universe, where the films are the backbone, is it a challenge to pull together all the different story threads of the TV show and the graphic novel?

Well, it may be sloppy writing on my part, but I don't go too deeply into the territory of the series, or even the graphic novels in terms of including them as story material of the trilogy. That's in part because, on the heels of the original How to Train Your Dragon when they said they wanted to make another movie, I said "Let's do a trilogy. Three parts, one story: Hiccup's coming of age. And each will be a standalone movie." I had mapped out what each of those installments would be then, even before we had a TV series, with plenty of story material to explore without bringing in other characters and storylines.

And yet, the whole universe is so cohesive, right? Everything kind of fits together.

Right, and that was deliberate on our part. I would get together with the showrunners of the TV show every few months and we would get dinner, and they would talk about what they're doing. I'd talk about what I was doing. And just make sure that we wouldn't be stepping on one another's toes. And that we were consistent about relationships and world explored and new dragons. We wanted it to all feel like it was part of one universe that didn't contradict one another.

We've really enjoyed seeing a bit behind the scenes of the film based on what you — and recently John Powell — have shared online. Where are you now in film production, and what is it like to score the film?

It's amazing. I love working with animators, and it's inspiring. But because I'm not a musician myself, it's fantastic to step into John's world. We've become so accustomed to the temporary score that we have on the movie as it's sort of built up over the years, that it's like a new paint job. It kind of comes in and elevates the storytelling. And it makes — it's kind of magical. Because I don't really play music, I don't understand it. It feels like magic to me. It transcends dialogue, it transcends description, it just touches you in your heart. And that's amazing. So on Friday, we're leaving for London and we'll be recording the score that he's been steadily writing over the past month — at Abbey Road studios for the next few weeks.

And off to Skywalker ranch for the mix. We'll do that for most of November. And by the end of November, the movie will be done.

Do you have a message for all the fans, who are excited about the new films and eagerly looking for new details about it?

Yeah! Because I'm a fan of other franchises myself, I know what it's like to want to know more, and yet hate yourself afterward for digging so deep and spoiling it for yourself. So I would say, if you're a fan who's worried about spoilers, maybe steer clear of social media for the next couple of months. Because I know the nature of marketing. They keep wanting to put stuff out there, and there are so many surprises within the movie that I would personally not want to know.

But thank you to the fans for being so dedicated and being such a passionate fan base! It's really meaningful to us. It gives us such a boost of support and encouragement. We love all the effort you put into it, and we love your love for the characters. It gives reason to all of this. It's super fun to make movies and work in animation, but when you know that it's so well received and that people truly care about it, it goes up another level. It's not something I ever anticipated, but it really warms my heart that people do connect so deeply.

Thank you so much for talking with us!

Hey, I really appreciate it! Thanks for Berk's Grapevine!

Interview: Jay Baruchel (Voice of Hiccup)

At TIFF, we heard Hiccup is secretly Canadian. As the Hiccup expert, are there any other secret details about him you can share with the fans?

Yeah, well. He swears a lot in the booth when we're recording! So there's probably a whole bunch of really offensive audio of me saying the F-word or something.

And to this day, including today, since the very second or third recording session on the first movie, they always get me McDonalds. And so every time I have to record, there's always McDonalds waiting for me, whether I'm in LA, Toronto, Montreal, or wherever. And I got here today this morning off a plane from Toronto and there's a bunch of McDonalds breakfast waiting for me. So Hiccup eats a lot of crappy food!

After playing Hiccup in the movies, TV shows, and shots, what part do you most enjoy recording — the action, the comedy, the drama ... the grunting?

Oh, the effort sounds? Yeah, the effort sounds would be the answer!

No, no. Definitely not.

It's weird. Usually I like doing drama more than the funny stuff in general. But in this character, if I can make him [Dean DeBlois] laugh, that's my goal. I really love getting to make the character my own and he [DeBlois] really gives me the freedom to do so. So I love making jokes and trying to get Dean to corpse. And then, as a lifelong GI Joe fan who played cops and robbers as a wee one, to get on top of a dragon and yell, "Come on! forward!" All that sort of general stuff is fun too!

Do you have a message to give to the fans?

Yes! Thank you! Thank you for liking our movies, and thank you for liking them as they are and for what they are. Our fans have consistently let us know that our movies and TV shows are for them. They're uncommon movies, about uncommon characters. And they're made with a great deal of care. They're movies filled with square pegs. Nobody likes our movies hoping that they turn slicker, or something. And if feels like people like the square peggy-ness, maybe because a lot of our fans are square pegs themselves, maybe.

I think both of us are!

Yeah, that makes three of us here! That was a big one for me after the first movie. I wished this movie had existed when I was a kid. I could have definitely used being able to see it. Because if you're different than the average, if you're wired differently than the average kid at your school, then it can be kind of weird sometimes. It's nice to have three movies that celebrate that. And I want to thank everybody for being on the adventure with us!

Interview: Chris DeFaria (Director of Feature Films)

We love how much DreamWorks connects with fans, and shares with us the behind-the-scenes experience of making films. How much of that will we see in the future, and what was the idea behind Dragon in getting the fans involved?

There are a couple bits to your question. In terms of our fans, the relationship we have with our fans is the most relationship we have, clearly. It's not just with our movies and our fans, it's with DreamWorks and our fans. So we continue today — both in our formal way — to have lots of programs to bring kids and students and aspiring animators in behind the scenes.

And we also have a social media presence, which is going to really amp up as we get to the release of this film to bring you back and show you what we're so proud of, which is an incredible campus, incredible technology, and incredible artists. Dragons is our biggest, most important movie ever. Obviously it's going to open in a couple months, so we want our fans to know both how important they are to that, and how important they are to DreamWorks in the larger sense.

Interview: Brad Lewis (Producer)

Can you tell us more about the technological achievements behind the scenes of The Hidden World? What makes Moonray and the new technologies we're seeing so special?

You know, a lot of the glamorous stuff about our movie we talk about most obviously. We've got Dean, who's a great story writer, and we talk about romance, and crying, and all the reactions to the movie. But one really impressive thing is that these are marathons! And we've got a lot of people working in so many different aspects of the movie that we keep standing ourselves up on.

On this movie, we're debuting at DreamWorks this crazy new renderer. I think it's going to up the bar for the whole industry. We can do waist-high grasses with pollen in the air moving in the air as people are running through them. I've been around for a little while — and for a director to say, "I want Light Fury to come out of that tall grass and I want Hiccup to run toward her" — in the past we'd say, we can't do that, right? So we built our renderer for that.

If our animators can iterate like crazy and if they can do four, five, or six iterations in an hour or two on a scene, that means we get better animation. They get to see it, and they get to show it to Dean. In The Hidden World, we've taken matte painting and digimatte to a whole new level. When you see The Hidden World, I think it's really tough to see where matte painting takes over, where are our 2.5-D elements and where are our 3-D elements, and how they merge.

The rendering numbers — it starts to get boring to talk about these things — but they're off the charts! So the fact that we have a pipeline that can do that, the fact that we can now have three departments all working simultaneously on a shot? It sounds like it should have always happened, but it wasn't like that way before.

Since your work as producer of Antz (1998) until now, what has changed the most in the way that animated films are produced?

This will sound unusual, but I think that the crew believes now that they can actually do something that's going to be special. They believe that they can finish a movie. When we started on Antz — the second computer generated movie ever and the first one coming out at DreamWorks — I spent a lot of time reassuring people that, yes, it was going to be okay. In a given day, I would have twenty meetings. Every fifteen or twenty minutes, people came and said, "we can't do this." And I was like, "I think we can?" I remember toward the end I said, "I'm just so tired of 'I don't think we can do this,' and being the person saying, 'I think we can!'"

Now that the basic belief is "we can do it," the new challenge is to artistically differentiate yourself. Because if you can do anything, congratulations: now you can be artistically special and have an edge. That's our new challenge. Where before, it was what can we do? Now, if we can do almost anything, what do we want to do? Sometimes that's harder.

Do you have a message for the fans before we go? Something to say to them who have been with the franchise for the past ten years?

The fans give us as much as we give them. Without that sense of enthusiasm and emotional connection to our characters and our world, we wouldn't get up the same way every day — you know you're going to be more inspired because you know it's more important to people out there. And that's important to us. So when we feel that, that's the visceral piece of us. That's what we really hope for. So in a way, they represent our hope, they represent our aspiration. And that's what we get from them. And so I love them for it.

Thank you to Dean DeBlois, Jay Baruchel, Chris DeFaria, and Brad Lewis for their insightful answers about The Hidden World and the filmmaking process! And many thanks to the wonderful people at DreamWorks and Universal for organizing this event and for allowing us to share this incredible experience with you!

As the pulse of the Dragons fandom, what do you think about the New York Comic Con panel, our discussions with the cast and crew of The Hidden World and the newly released trailer from NYCC that premiered today? What are you most looking forward to about The Hidden World?


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