How to Train Your Dragon: Interview with Directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois

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Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois are the directors of "How to Train Your Dragon," the latest 3-D animated film from Dreamworks Animation. The film, which stars Gerard Butler, Jay Baruchel, Kristen Wiig, and more, is being released on March 26 in both 3-D and IMAX.

Pairing Up

To helm the project, the studio turned to Oscar-nominated writer/director Chris Sanders and writer/director Dean DeBlois. For Sanders, the attraction to Hiccup’s tale was immediate: “I think the story inside this story is one of emotional depth, which I thought was exciting, but what piqued my interest were the flying sequences,” says Sanders. “For a very long time, I have wanted to do a film that somehow involved creatures, people or superheroes flying, so when I read an early version of this story, I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh! We can take that to places that you’ve never been before!’” 
 
“Chris called me up on a weekend right after Jeffrey Katzenberg had talked to him,” adds writer/director Dean DeBlois, “and he mentioned that ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ was something that was really in my wheelhouse, specifically, a teenaged protagonist in a larger-than-life fantasy action-adventure. And that’s really something that I am drawn to—those are the stories that I write. I immediately was engaged and I read the book. I could see a lot of potential for what could be, and working with Chris again just sounded like an exciting thing.”

Hiccup and Vikings

“Vikings are tough, with a code and a creed,” explains Sanders. “Fighting is second nature to them. If you’re a Viking, you just don’t back down from a fight—you’re physically strong, you’re brave, you don’t flinch. The thing about Hiccup that we love is that he wants to be a Viking. It’s not like he woke up one day and said, ‘I wish I weren’t one of these guys.’ On the contrary, he desperately wants to be one of them.”  
 
That perspective helped the filmmakers shape the motivation and personality of Hiccup into that of a teenager realizing his own potential. “He doesn’t quite understand everything that is going on around him, but one thing is clear—his perspective and abilities are different,” continues Sanders. “His dad doesn’t get it, the village doesn’t get it. But we do, and that’s what we love about the character.”

Sanders on Dreamworks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg

“If you’re doing something halfway, he’ll catch it. He reminds you that while you’re solving story problems, you’re also making a movie. He always challenges you to be bold bold with what you’re doing. To never settle. To go all the way,” says Sanders.

A Familiar Pairing

Sanders and Deblois met working on “Mulan,” and had their first collaboration writing and directing together on “Lilo & Stitch,” nominated for the Best Animated Feature of 2002 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The two found that working together improved their craft. Says DeBlois, “We seemed to connect on the same sorts of ideas—we can arrive at the same end result, but we come at it from different perspectives. I think that I’m able to take on his ideas and add to them without derailing them, and I think he does the same for me. So as we write or direct together, it turns out to be a really beneficial arrangement—there’s a sense of creative simpatico. We complement each other.”