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"The Art of How to Train Your Dragon" reveals the film that DreamWorks Animation almost made

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"The Art of How to Train Your Dragon" reveals the film that DreamWorks Animation almost made

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Did you see where “How to Train Your Dragon” was No. 1 again at the box office this past weekend? According to Box Office Mojo, if this Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois film keeps up this pace, it will soon become DreamWorks Animation’s highest grossing non-Shrek movie.

Which is kind of ironic. Given that – as Tracey Miller-Zarneke’s excellent new making-of book, “The Art of How to Train Your Dragon” (Newmarket Press, March 2010), clearly points out – this isn’t the movie that DreamWorks Animation initially set out to make.

Cover of the book "Art of How to Train Your Dragon" by Tracey Miller-Zarneke and Cressida Cowell
Excerpted from THE ART OF HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, Preface by
Cressida Cowell, Foreword by Craig Ferguson, Text by Tracey Miller-Zarneke
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (TM) & (C) 2010 DreamWorks Animation,
L.L.C. Reprinted by permission of Newmarket Press, 18 East
48 Street, New York, NY 10017, www.newmarketpress.com

You see, the initial version of “How to Train Your Dragon” that DreamWorks Animation put into production was a pretty faithful adaptation of Cressida Cowell's 2003 book. In that it was set in a world where Vikings & dragons are already co-existing.

In fact, on the island of Berk (which was modeled after the remote island off of the west coast of Scotland where Cressida spent her summers as a girl. You can see a picture of the actual place below), it was a rite of passage for every child in the village to catch & then train a dragon. Those who failed at this task were then exiled from the Viking community.

A remote, uninhabitated island off the west coast of Scotland where Cressida Cowell got her inspiration for Dreamworks "How to Train Your Dragon"
Excerpted from THE ART OF HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, Preface by
Cressida Cowell, Foreword by Craig Ferguson, Text by Tracey Miller-Zarneke
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (TM) & (C) 2010 DreamWorks Animation,
L.L.C. Reprinted by permission of Newmarket Press, 18 East
48 Street, New York, NY 10017, www.newmarketpress.com

Which is why -- in DreamWorks' very first pass on a film version of "How to Train Your Dragon" -- a very young (we're talking six, maybe seven years old) Hiccup ..

Drawing of Hiccup as a young boy by Nico Marlet
Excerpted from THE ART OF HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, Preface by

Cressida Cowell, Foreword by Craig Ferguson, Text by Tracey Miller-Zarneke

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (TM) & (C) 2010 DreamWorks Animation,

L.L.C. Reprinted by permission of Newmarket Press, 18 East
48 Street, New York, NY 10017, www.newmarketpress.com


... and an equally young Astrid ...

A drawing of Astrid the young Viking from Dreamworks "How to Train Your Dragon" by Nico Marlet
Excerpted from THE ART OF HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, Preface by
Cressida Cowell, Foreword by Craig Ferguson, Text by Tracey Miller-Zarneke
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (TM) & (C) 2010 DreamWorks Animation,
L.L.C. Reprinted by permission of Newmarket Press, 18 East
48 Street, New York, NY 10017, www.newmarketpress.com

... and Fishlegs ...

An early version of Viking Fishlegs from Dreamworks "How to Train Your Dragon", by Nico Marlet
Excerpted from THE ART OF HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, Preface by
Cressida Cowell, Foreword by Craig Ferguson, Text by Tracey Miller-Zarneke
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (TM) & (C) 2010 DreamWorks Animation,
L.L.C. Reprinted by permission of Newmarket Press, 18 East
48 Street, New York, NY 10017, www.newmarketpress.com

... all go on a perilous journey to the eastern coast of the Island of Berk. Where -- at Wild Dragon Cliff -- these young Vikings were then expected to rush into a dark cave and, using only their dragon baskets, capture a baby fire-breather to train. 

A concept painting of an early version of the story in which the young Vikings had to trek to the dragon rookery
Excerpted from THE ART OF HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, Preface by
Cressida Cowell, Foreword by Craig Ferguson, Text by Tracey Miller-Zarneke
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (TM) & (C) 2010 DreamWorks Animation,
L.L.C. Reprinted by permission of Newmarket Press, 18 East
48 Street, New York, NY 10017, www.newmarketpress.com

Mind you, on their journey to the dragon rookery, Hiccup, Astrid and Fishlegs were supposed to be joined by Snotlout.

The CG version of young Viking Snotlout from Dreamworks "How to Train Your Dragon"
Excerpted from THE ART OF HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, Preface by
Cressida Cowell, Foreword by Craig Ferguson, Text by Tracey Miller-Zarneke
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (TM) & (C) 2010 DreamWorks Animation,
L.L.C. Reprinted by permission of Newmarket Press, 18 East
48 Street, New York, NY 10017, www.newmarketpress.com

But because "How to Train Your Dragon" 's storyline featured so many male characters, the filmmakers (for a while, anyway) toyed with the idea of making Snotlout a girl. A very rough-and-tough Viking girl, mind you. But a girl nonetheless.

A concept drawing of the young Viking Snotlout as a girl, by Nico Marlet
Excerpted from THE ART OF HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, Preface by
Cressida Cowell, Foreword by Craig Ferguson, Text by Tracey Miller-Zarneke
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (TM) & (C) 2010 DreamWorks Animation,
L.L.C. Reprinted by permission of Newmarket Press, 18 East
48 Street, New York, NY 10017, www.newmarketpress.com

"How to Train Your Dragon" 's dearth of female characters was also why the filmmakers kept Hiccup's Mom, Valhallarama ...

A concept drawing of Hiccup's mother, Valhallarama in Dreamworks "How to Train Your Dragon"
Excerpted from THE ART OF HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, Preface by
Cressida Cowell, Foreword by Craig Ferguson, Text by Tracey Miller-Zarneke

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (TM) & (C) 2010 DreamWorks Animation,
L.L.C. Reprinted by permission of Newmarket Press, 18 East
48 Street, New York, NY 10017, www.newmarketpress.com

... a part of this animated version of Cowell's book until they realized that ... Well, to quote "How to Train Your Dragon" 's producer Bonnie Arnold: "Due to time constraints and the fact that (Valhallarama) 's existence diluted the principal relationship of this film -- that of father and son -- she had to go."

That's what makes Tracey Miller-Zarneke's "The Art of How to Train Your Dragon" such an entertaining read. This 160-page hardcover puts you right in the room with Sanders, DeBlois and Arnold as they take Cressida's characters and stories and ... Well, as Dean put it:

"It was our goal to take the original concept of the story and bring it to the level of some of our favorite adventure fantasy films, with real world stakes, exciting action sequences, and more mature character interactions and themes."

And when you're the ones who have to make all of the tough creative calls, it's sometimes heartbreaking what you have to leave behind. Take -- for example -- this early, early concept painting for the Red Death, the Godzilla-sized beast who serves as "How to Train Your Dragon" 's main villain.

An early concept drawing of a Red Death dragon by Nico Marlet
Excerpted from THE ART OF HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, Preface by

Cressida Cowell, Foreword by Craig Ferguson, Text by Tracey Miller-Zarneke
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (TM) & (C) 2010 DreamWorks Animation,
L.L.C. Reprinted by permission of Newmarket Press, 18 East
48 Street, New York, NY 10017, www.newmarketpress.com

When it came to this character, the idea that the DreamWorks Animation story team originally toyed with was making the Red Death a creature of the sea. As Miller-Zarneke explains in her text:

Character designer Nicolas Marlet drafted a wondrous creature replete with a jellyfishlike bioluminescence; a coral-shaped mane with stylized tendrils that float like sea planets and detailed, barnicle-inspired scale designs. "But this was too elegant of a dragon, which made it too hard to want to see it killed," recalls Production Designer Kathy Altieri.

There are dozens of stories like this in "The Art of How to Train Your Dragon." Not to mention hundreds of illustrations that will then walk you through the DreamWorks Animation production process. So if you'd like to know how the first animated blockbuster of 2010 (As of Monday, "How to Train Your Dragon" had a worldwide box office total of $372. 2 million) really came together, you should definitely pick up a copy of Tracey Miller-Zarneke's latest making-of book.

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  • Love seeing this movie continue to be a success. I'm glad that it ended up being the film it was. Funny how a lot of films with troubled productions (like this and Ratatouille) can often still end up being so good.

  • I can see now where the strange character trait of Astrid physically pushing around Hiccup comes from. Young girls tend to be larger than boys and can/will do this. In the movie, however, the characters are teens and Astrid's bullying just makes Hiccup look too wimpy to be a good hero and is a sour note in their relationship.

    BTW Jim, the little ad that follows your mouse around, not letting you get on the page without looking at it? It's extremely annoying. If you continue to have it I won't be visiting as often, at least until I get a brouser update that can kill it.

    Just FYI.  

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