“How to Train Your Dragon” co-director Dean DeBlois has been living in Seattle for a couple of years now. And he hasn’t really lived here very much. Such is the life of an in-demand filmmaker.
When DeBlois bought a house in Seattle in 2008, he expected to settle in and get some screenwriting done. Instead, DreamWorks Animation called, needing somebody to retool a big 3D animation project that called for serious story work.
That project, which DeBlois tackled with his “Lilo &Stitch” directing-writing partner Chris Sanders, was “How to Train Your Dragon.” So he has had good reason for not feathering the new nest — not when the work was in Hollywood.
I met Dean DeBlois in a Seattle hotel room for a publicity tour for the movie. The genial, 39-year-old native Canadian spoke with the assurance of someone who knows his film has played well with test audiences and has the backing of a big studio.
This being the age of “Avatar,” I had to ask his take on 3D technology.
“The 3D process was already part of the project when we came on,” he said. “Jeffrey Katzenberg (the dean of DreamWorks animation, as he was at Disney in the ‘Little Mermaid’ years) has been a huge proponent of adapting to 3D for a while.”
To get things right, DeBlois and his crew were paid a visit by none other than the King of the World himself, “Avatar” director James Cameron.
“Yeah, Cameron came in to talk about 3D,” DeBlois said, “and one of the useful things he reminded us about was that the world is in 3D.”
We see the world in 3D all the time, so the filmmakers felt they didn’t need to use 3D as a gimmick in which everything hurtles toward the camera.
“On this, we got together with consulting cinematographer Roger Deakins (the Coen brothers’ brilliant photographer) and agreed that 3D wouldn’t be the cart that led the horse — we’d let the moments naturally dictate when 3D would be used.”
He drew a distinction between Cameron’s motion-capture technique with actors and the animator’s freer hand.
“Cameron’s approach is not subject to an animator’s interpretation,” he said.
“We do have cameras on stage when the actors are recording dialogue, so we can pick up gesture and facial expression, but the animators create the visual performance.”
Now that the dust has settled on “How to Train Your Dragon,” DeBlois is mulling over ideas in the “family adventure” vein.
“When I was young, one of my favorite movies was ‘Escape from Witch Mountain.’ I like teens at the core of the story, with a touch of the supernatural.”
He’ll likely be working on that in his Seattle home, until the telephone rings again.