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Award Season FocusIdeas/Commentary

Oscar Ballot Guide: ‘How To Train Your Dragon 2’ Acting and Performance Analysis

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Part two of a five-part series in which Ed Hooks, author of Acting for Animators, does an acting and performance analysis of this year’s five Academy Award-nominated animated features.

Read his analysis of The Tale of The Princess Kaguya.


A talented actor can make even the most poorly written dialogue sound credible. The idea is to come up with a good and credible reason for saying and doing whatever the script requires you to say and do, an objective. The script for How to Train Your Dragon 2, written by Dean DeBlois who also directed, is too often over-written, full of expository wordy monologues and general filler. It presents its cast of characters with many challenges and, unfortunately, not all of them are up to the job.

Cate Blanchett (Valka) is a good actor—world class, actually—and therefore her dialogue scenes seem credible even when, on the page, they are not. Jay Baruchel (Hiccup), on the other hand, displays a narrow acting range, which makes his dialogue often seem even sillier than it already is. Gerard Butler (Stoick) is a talented actor, but is saddled with a one-dimensional stereotype character and rarely has much to work with. The courtship sequences he has with Cate Blanchett are lovely, the best acted in the film. Significantly, those scenes also have the least dialogue. Djimon Hounsou, voicing the villain, Drago, never has a chance to do much acting because his character is a one-note baddie, an underdeveloped growling menace designed for grade-school children.

Let’s look at a few specific sequences, to examine how actor, script, and animation performance are functioning together. The time-code is from the iTunes download.

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10:16 – 13:09 This is the first scene between Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera). The set-up is that she wants to know why he didn’t participate in the Berk Village dragon races earlier that day. He says he’s been “avoiding my dad.” Astrid: “Oh no, what happened now?” Rather than answer the question directly, Hiccup begins a game of impersonations.

“You’re going to love this,” he explains. “ I wake up; the sun is shining, Terrible Terrors are singing on the rooftop. I saunter down to breakfast thinking all is right with the world, and I get… (he rises now to his feet and starts strutting around, doing a purposely corny impersonation of his father, Stoick) ‘Son (heavy fake Scottish accent), we need to talk.’”

Hiccup’s impersonation of Stoick amuses Astrid so much that she joins in with her own extreme nasal, over-physicalized, over-the-top impersonation of Hiccup. At this point in their conversation, her question about what happened with his father that morning has been tossed into the back seat while the two of them clown around like adorable goofballs. The sequence goes on like this, with Hiccup imitating Stoick, until he imitates the part where Stoick told Hiccup that he would one day become Viking chief. Then Astrid excitedly tries to get him back on topic: “Oh my God, Hiccup, that’s amazing!” And she punches him in the chest with her fist.

We are almost two minutes into the Hiccup/Astrid scene before it gets to the point. Finally, it emerges that Stoick has formally christened Hiccup as his successor and, rather than respond to the honor like the twenty-year old adult that he presumably is, Hiccup ran wordlessly away. That is what brought him to this location where Astrid finds him.

Acting principle: Acting has almost nothing to do with words. In general, when it comes to screenplays, the leaner the dialogue, the better. Stage plays are about words; movies are about moving.

Another sequence, illustrating the challenge faced by the actors in this film: 14:11 – 16:49 Astrid’s dragon, Stormfly, has been captured by Eret’s men, and Astrid was almost killed in the process. Illogically, Astrid and Hiccup storm the fort, the two of them up against a band of thugs. Realizing the danger finally, Hiccup says, “Look, we don’t want any trouble.” That is an asinine line. What, other than trouble, would one expect if one’s dragon had been violently snatched out of the air and the heroine almost dies?

A stronger actor than Mr. Baruchel might have delivered the line in a self-effacing, attempted-humorous fashion, the intention being to defuse the situation. But poor Mr. Baruchel delivers it straight, which makes him seem like even more of a ninny. The way he handles this encounter makes you wonder what Stoick had been drinking when he named the kid his successor.

That’s not the worst of it in this section. Eret (Kit Harington), the dragon thief, proceeds to lecture Hiccup and Astrid about his personal business, including his relationship with Drago, the villain. Acting-wise, there is no reason at all for Eret to dump all of this on Hiccup and Astrid. It is included in the script in order to provide exposition for the movie’s audience, which is the worst possible reason to include dialogue in a script. Mr. Harington understandably can do nothing with the monologue other than to say the words. Acting-wise, Eret appears not to have a motivation other than to hear himself talk.

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Let’s fast-forward to the first scene in which Hiccup and his mother, Valka (Cate Blanchett), interact, 30:45 – 32:29, so we have something positive to talk about: Valka, covered from head to toe in her costume, has captured Toothless and Hiccup without realizing that the young man is the son she has not seen since he was an infant. The scene requires Valka to reach out and touch Hiccup’s cheek, discovering his identifying chin scar. Think about the acting required for that moment: What possible motivation would this woman have to touch this young man’s cheek? She doesn’t know who he is, right? She has literally knocked him out of the sky and taken him prisoner. Touching his cheek is just about the last thing Valka might want to do. The only reason cheek-touching is included is to set up the upcoming expositional monologue which will explain how he came to get the scar in the first place.

Acting-wise, it is a tough moment for Ms. Blanchett. Being the kind of actor she is, though, she chose to go primal with the moment, almost animalistic, pre-human. Not having seen the videotaped references from Blanchett’s recording session, I cannot say with complete certainty that she authored the physicalization in this sequence but it “feels” to me that is the case. My bet is that to justify the moment, she paused in recording, reached out to touch Hiccup’s cheek and then proceeded, a gesture that found its way into the film. If the animator authored the gesture without a specific reference, like Blanchett or the mo-cap actors, my hat is off to them, with apologies. Valka reaches out tentatively, like she has not recently been this close to a human, like she is herself more dinosaur than human. It is a brilliant acting choice. Blanchett—or perhaps the animator—motivates an action that, in itself, makes no sense whatever. Once she touches and recognizes his chin scar, she reacts strongly.

Acting note: Acting is RE-acting. Non-verbally. Hiccup says, in reaction to her reaction, “Do I know you?” “No,” she replies. Beat. Breathe. “You were only a babe…” Beat. Breathe. “…but a…mother … never forgets.” World class acting here. Cate Blanchett is so marvelously talented that she pulls Jay Baruchel up by his bootstraps. Another acting note: It is almost impossible to be a bad actor if you are acting with a good actor. Robert DeNiro, for example, has never had a weak acting partner.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the second installment in a previously-announced trilogy and, as such, writer-director Dean DeBlois faced many challenges. The toughest one was the self-imposed necessity to catch up to date any viewers who might have missed seeing the first film.

Ideally, this second installment would stand alone without such expositional catching up. Toy Story 2 stands alone, for example, as do each of the films in the Star Wars series. The audience should be able to glean sufficient back-story through inference based upon the present-moment actions of the characters. Dragon, though, is overloaded with exposition, and too much of the plot progression depends upon coincidence. How, for example, do Stoick and Gobber manage to discover Hiccup’s little helmet floating in the icy ocean expanse? (32:40) In general, coincidence is a tricky plot-development screenwriting device. (See Story – Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting, by Robert McKee, page 357: “Coincidence, therefore, must not pop into a story, turn a scene, then pop out.”)

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There are several legitimately moving sequences in this film, and they work primarily because they are classic shamanistic moments. The courtship dance and lullaby scenes (56:17 – 1:00:37) featuring Stoick and Valka are worth the price of admission. They are magical, moving, cleanly written and sensitively acted. Stoick’s funeral pyre (1:14:03 – 1:18:35) will make you cry, so full of emotion and ritual. Significantly and this really cannot be overemphasized, the best moments in Dragon 2 are non-verbal. The movie works best when the screenwriter Mr. DeBlois gets out of the way and lets Mr. DeBlois, the director, do his job.

A few words about Drago, the antagonist in this story. Unfortunately, the character is not at all empathetic, coming off in shades of black. His strongest scene is when he displays his arm stump (1:08:10 – 1:10:32), identifying him as a kind of Captain Ahab-esque character, but with none of the literary nuance. There is a missed opportunity at 1:11:15, after Toothless kills Stoick. As it is, Drago dismissively shrugs at all the carnage and blithely walks away. If only he had paused for two or three seconds, taking in the scene, letting it register mentally that this just might be awful. Let us see him recognize the stakes, have at least a shred of regret, and still turn away.

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The moment was an opportunity for Drago to evoke a sliver of empathy in the audience. In the real adult world, evil people do not think they are evil; every human is a hero in his or her own life. Drago’s characterization cements this entire film as a movie for kids. Cate Blanchett’s work comes close to dragging the whole thing into a more mature category, but she can’t do it by herself.

Overall, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is more an example of artisanship than artistry. The character design for the dragons, all umpteen thousand of them, is drop-dead wonderful. The animation simply can’t be beat. DreamWorks is home to the best of the best in that department. If awards were given on animation craft alone, it would be hard to beat this. What’s lacking is script. Hiccup, the protagonist, is presented as a wuss and follows a convoluted character arc. The story would have worked better if Hiccup were not so aimless at the top. This being a trilogy, they will have another chance to get it right.


ED HOOKS is the author of Acting for Animators, (revised third edition, Routledge, 2011). Ed pioneered Acting for Animators in 1998 while working with the animators at PDI/DreamWorks in northern California, and teaches the Acting for Animators masterclass internationally. For Cartoon Brew, he previously wrote a performance analysis of Disney’s Frozen. For more information about his practice, visit EdHooks.com

  • Tom

    Good write-up and you make some fair points.

    As for Drago, I actually preferred that they kept him a straight-up baddie. Allowing him to have a moment of empathy would have been, in my opinion, forced. It would have felt like the writers gave him a softer side just for the sake of it, when there really was no reason for him to be (unless they worked something else into his back-story that might justify it). I think Djimon Hounsou’s voice-acting definitely elevated the performace; it was worth it alone for his blood-curdling battle cry.

    • Barrett

      I feel like they were going for the “Shan Yu from Mulan” approach with Drago; an angry “force of nature” type barbarian leader with no relatable aspects other than a desire for power and conquest. I think it worked better in Mulan than it did here, but I think it’s fine to have more “simple” villains sometimes. In the last 25 years or so, the “conflicted/complicated villain” thing has become almost as cliche as the mustache-twirling baddie of old once was. There are certainly interesting examples of this “modern” kind of villain, such as Syndrome in “The Incredibles” or Lotso or the Old Prospector from the “Toy Story” series.

      What I think would be really interesting is to go beyond these types of villain characterizations and actually have an animated villain who we watch transform from well-meaning to evil, Walter White-style. This would probably have to be in the context of a series, as a 90-100 minute film can really only accommodate a limited number of stages, though in the case of Syndrome in particular it was done well, showing him as an idealistic-but-clumsy kid who refused to be brushed off, until a huge rejection turns him into a vengeful figure who deep down still “wants to be the hero.”

      In any event, Drago really wouldn’t have worked as someone we got to know, unless his backstory somehow tied in with how we’d arrived at this point with Hiccup’s mother living alone with dragons and Stoick having to raise him all alone. I did find it interesting how Eret the trapper was shown to be not just a bad guy in the end, I think they wanted his development to stand out by having the villain he was serving contrast with him by JUST being bad.

  • Céu D’Ellia

    “Stage plays are about words; movies are about moving.”
    You could not say better.

    • GlennoC

      “Show, don’t tell” is an old, common guiding principle of screenwriting. And a very good one. Though like all principles in art, it’s not universal. Depends on the movie, and the moment. Some of the greatest movie scenes — or entire films — are largely about the dialogue. Think of the story of the USS Indianapolis told in Jaws. A lesser filmmaker nowadays, who was stuck on “rules” by so-called screenwriting gurus, would feel s/he had to show flashbacks of that harrowing event. And they’d be intense, incredibly cinematic visuals, needing few words. But how much more dramatic it is, in context, to spend three and a half solid minutes fixed on Robert Shaw telling that story — in the midst of a much longer dialogue scene in which nobody really moves! It serves the story beautifully because it keeps us focused on these three characters and their dynamics, and it keeps us claustrophobic in this little boat cabin, and it increases the tension the longer it goes on since we know in the back of our minds that an attack could come at any moment. Breaking from that would have dissipated the tension and lost track of what really mattered: the characters. Here, telling was the more dramatic choice.

      In contrast, the entire love story sequence at the opening of Up probably wouldn’t have been nearly as powerful had it included dialogue. That was visual storytelling at its emotional best.

  • Nadez

    I agree with everything except the dialogue between Astrid and Hiccup at the beginning. I find it quite essential for the movie and the characters.
    There’s a lot of “between the lines” going on in my opinion.
    It sets up Hiccup as a character and two of his most important relationships. Hiccup is not yet set on his goals, he doesn’t know what he wants to be, he feels forced in a position he’s not sure he can handle. He’s that kind of guy who rather runs away from a serious conversation (or pretending he didn’t hear it) than actually face it. This indicates that his relationship with his father is still with a language barrier. One can’t understand the other’s world and world views which is later addressed again with Drago. And how exactly does a “twenty year old” behave? Do they all have the same fears and characteristics? I believe not. They set Hiccup up as an almost grown up trying to fit into the society, which he isn’t comfortable with and rather spends time alone with his dragon exploring the world. Preferring his dragon side over his human side.
    Then there’s Astrid, this scene further develops her and Hiccups relationship after 5 years, it aged, they are now very comfortable and natural around each other after their almost forced relationship from the first movie. They also set Astrid up as one of Hiccups emotional cores, by letting him comfortable talk about the pressure he feels from his father, with whom he does not even dare to speak about this topic. This creates a huge contrast between Stoick and Astrid. They’re both very excited about Hiccup becoming a chief and don’t understand Hiccup’s point of view but while Astrid listens (a ‘show’ moment), we are not even allowed to see Stoick’s reaction. Another indication that even after the events of the first film, their relationship is still lacking of mutual understanding and conversations. Astrid has also grown from a very loud and violent preteen to someone who can sit down, listen and give advice/reassurance without forcing or pressuring the person in her world view.
    So, no, the point of this scene is not to tell the audience that Hiccup will become chief, they will learn that later and soon enough, but to set up Hiccup’s character as one of the two most important relationships, as well as one of the main conflicts of the movie. (What side do I belong on?) It’s definitely not pointless.

    • Tsuji the Aspiring

      Agreed, except for the part where you say ‘we’re not even allowed to see Stoick’s reaction’ on the whole chief deal. I think the scene where Hiccup comes back to Berk to warn his father of Drago does that well enough. Stoick just walks around the forgery and shows Hiccup the ropes of chief duty up all the while not listening to him (until Drago’s name comes up, but that’s besides the point here). Basically, he has blithely decided for himself that Hiccup wants to be chief while not actually hearing his opinion on it, and to me it does a great job of reinforcing Stoick’s character as the chief – of family as well as tribe – who only means the best for his charges but sometimes falls into the flaw of being too used to having everything their way. Something which can be said to be true of many real life family chiefs, I’d add… and in this case doesn’t leave Hiccup 100% in the right either. In the end, both sides have a point, and the name of the game is compromising – so that what has to be done gets done and no one is needlessly hurt in the process.

  • Alex

    “Think about the acting required for that moment: What possible
    motivation would this woman have to touch this young man’s cheek?”

    You pretty much answered that question yourself a few lines down…

    “Valka reaches out tentatively, like she has not recently been this close
    to a human, like she is herself more dinosaur than human.”

    There are plenty of other reasons that might motivate the action. Perhaps there’s something about this young man that is familiar to her. Maybe she’s intrigued by the fact that standing before her is another human that not only rides a nightfury, but also has the absolute loyalty and love of that dragon… she wants to take a closer look. When she then sees the scar, it all becomes clear. I didn’t find it an odd, un-motivated acting choice at all.

    Regarding the general physicality of Valka’s performance, her animal-like movements as she assesses Hiccup, that was 100% the animator’s choice. Cate Blanchett is a superb actor and she does a great job with the voice, but let’s give credit where it’s due.

    As for the Astrid and Hiccup scene, I think @Nadez sums up the intent of those choices perfectly.

    • GlennoC

      Good points. You should be writing these analyses instead.

  • Gerry

    I will never understand the casting of Jay Baruchel for this role. All throughout the first one even, no matter how good the facial animation, my brain could not accept that that cartoonishly nasally/nerdy voice was supposed to be coming out of that character. There was such a huge disconnect between the way the character looked and the way he sounded. Like casting Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage (R.I.P.) to be the voice of Ariel… on second thought, that would’ve been amazing.

    Anyway, another great analysis. I’m really liking these.

  • AmidAmidi
    • Alex

      That was a staged demonstration of the mocap facilities at the studio. Those facilities were used by the layout department (which handles camera and previsualization) to quickly block in the action in a sequence and explore different ways to shoot that sequence without having to spend months animating 30 to 40 shots first. This has little to do with character animation performance. It’s occasionally used by the layout department (not the character animation department) for blocking purposes and camera exploration.

      • MonkeyZ

        This is correct. The mocap was used for previz only. They don’t pay a huge anim crew to sit around edit mocap takes. They hand key it like Pixar and Disney does. JK just wanted a fun way to demo some tools to The President. I’m not sure why Amid hates Dreamworks so much? There are some really great, talented artists there.

  • Jonas Almeida

    To me,the biggest and only problem with Dragon 2 is its the way too similar structure to Dragon 1:

    Dragon 1 was about a boy with a metaphorically unknown father,and villain dragons,that turn out to be not villain only misunderstood,they had to act in a certain way due to a big and really mean dragon in an island.

    Dragon 2 is about a young man and his really unknown mother,and good and friendly dragons turned into villains ,forced to act in that way due to a really big and mean dragon.

    Of course there is other things in the story,but mainly is the same story structure to me.What do you think?

  • Ed Hooks- as an animation student, I’ve been taught a lot about physical movement and how to draw actions for the screen, but I have yet to dive into the acting-motivation side. My school makes this a 300 level course, which strikes me as a bit odd, since acting is one of the most important parts of animation. (After all, it is acting with a pencil, or computer or puppet.) Thanks so much for writing this series. It really helps me, at least, get a much better grasp of the other side of animation.

    And whoever had the idea to do this series: thank you.

    • Paul N

      Annie, there’s a lot to learn about basic motion mechanics and how to portray it before you layer acting on top. That’s probably the reason the performance classes come much later in your sequence. That’s the way we do it where I teach, anyway…

      • Mostly my confusion comes from the fact that one of the 100 level courses I’m enrolled in right now is basically “Make a 30 second short based on an assignment”. The course’s focus is on doing boards, model sheets, animation, etc. based on some predefined guidelines to simulate an actual production. Having something like this before that course would be very useful.

        • Barrett

          Most art schools are not going to go into the kind of sophisticated “acting choices” stuff discussed here or in Mr. Hooks’ book. That probably a big reason why he even wrote the book. I went to a four-year art school majoring in 2D animation and this sort of thing really was only touched on briefly in the conventional curriculum, and that was over the entire four years! Where we actually got into the nitty-gritty was in these exclusive, elective courses that were taught by Pixar animators. They spent far less time critiquing or discussing pushing polygons than they did inner motivations and story structure, even though were were dealing with rather plain and ugly “stick figure” models. They wanted us to see how no matter the glitz or finish, the thing that makes animated characters “real” is their expression of inner thought and consequently, the actions they take in the story and on the screen because of their goals and thought processes. NONE of that was taught to us in the regular curriculum. I felt sorry for the people whose reels were not good enough to get them accepted to the Pixar-taught courses, or worse, who didn’t even know they existed (they weren’t widely advertised because the demand already outstripped the open slots every semester.)

  • edhooks

    I think you have me mixed up with Andy Serkis, Nickip. I fully appreciate that animators create the on-screen performance. My guess is that the voice sessions were videotaped for reference, which is done often. The gesture Ms. Blanchett makes when she touches Hiccup’s chin is difficult to motivate emotionally, that is all I am saying. If the animator did it without seeing Blanchett’s video reference, then good on him (or her). I have no way of knowing what did and did not follow voice-recording reference. I only know that, in general, when those sessions are videotaped, the animators use them a lot. The on-camera animation in the chin-touching sequence looks to me like the impulse came from Blanchett. If it didn’t, I apologize for the inference. At any rate, I know full well the magic that animators do, and I stand in awe of it. I am NOT saying in any of these analyses that actors are responsible for performance while animators sit and watch. Hugs.

    • nickip

      Edhooks, you are the one who first mentioned mo cap actors in your article. Any confusion with Andy Serkis is your own.

      • AmidAmidi

        I’m going to interject to add that a.) that comment was added in during edit phase and not Ed’s, and b.) it was based on my understanding that DreamWorks uses a motion capture process in their films.

        To be clear, even with the mention of that in there, the article never credits motion capture for any performance. It only states that wherever the acting impetus in one particular shot originated, it deserves commendation.

  • Steven Bowser

    This isn’t completely related to the article, but it’s just something I’ve been noticing with Dreamworks animation that I noticed in this film, and I wondered if anyone else sees what I see.

    In scenes like the one between Astrid and Hiccup, or in The Croods when they are scheming about how to get the bird’s egg with a puppet, the animation of the characters seems almost motion-captured to me. Something about the way they move seems a little too jittery and…accurate. Like they aren’t holding any poses, or that their acing isn’t conceived as a single motion, and they’re doing a lot of head bobbling and emoting.

    I don’t fully know how to describe it, but it lacks…connectedness? Like with some mo-cap animation, the characters’ movement and their speech and facial expression have this disconnect.

    To my understanding, Dreamworks animation does not ever rely on motion capture. But I thought perhaps they rely too closely to video reference. I think their films have always had a very different flavor than Disney animation, a more realistic attitude. In my opinion, it doesn’t look very good in the scenes I mentioned.

    Am I crazy or was anyone else not happy with the way Dreamworks animation looks sometimes?

    • Nadez

      Oh, yes, they definitely use motion capture for some parts. My best guess is to enhance their animation, to give the animators and Idea how to subtle emote the characters (especially in the face!). I Think their new software (was it Apollo? I’m not sure anymore) that allows the animator instant rendering and therefore a creative freedom not yet seen before could have lead to WAY over emoting the characters. I don’t think they did it to save some budget, especially because they used it in one of the earliest scene’s they’ve animated. (That video with Obama was like released almost a year before the movie as I remember?) Only to give the animators a better Idea how to use this software to its advantage and not disadvantage,

      I have the exact opposite opinion though.

      3D CG is the CGI of *movement*. The more realistic you make the environment and the characters the more realistic they have to move. You can see that well comparing, as example Mr Peabody and Sherman with Dragon2. One is cartoony and relies heavily squish and stretch animation with over exaggerated movements, the other one created a world that is heavily stylized but plausible and almost realistic.
      Dragon2’s animation has a *weight* to it I have never really seen in a fully animated CG film before, these characters move almost like real people, they emote so subtle and feel like they are made out of flesh and MUSCLES. This really amazed me and still does.
      The Croods worked pretty similar, but was still more on a cartoony side.
      Granted, I agree that the Hiccup/Astrid scene still looked ever so slightly to much, but I really think it’s a huge step forward.

      Squish and Stretch animation, in my opinion at least, is really where 2D succeeds. It fits into their world and character designs. When you want to create a plausible 3D world, you have to make the people plausible.
      One of the big reason why I don’t like Disney’s CGI as example is that they try to apply the same techniques of a 2D animated film on their 3D CGI. Be it character designs, movements, shortcuts.. it’s another *medium*. it works and appears differently. Disney’s CGI looks lifeless and flat, polished like a 2D movie and it just clashed with this highly naturalistic 3D world they’re in. Take Big Hero 6 as example, everything is rendered perfectly and then the human characters come in, with this plasitc, rubbery skin and create this extreme contrast to the world surrounding them. They texture hair and clothes till it’s like a photo but create a face consisting out of shapes that just belong in a 2D environment. I don’t know if it’s a stylistic choice or not but it just really doesn’t work for me.

      (Pixar’s animation as example works way better for me because they at least try to let the designs fit their environment and not overdoing one aspect while completely ignoring the other. the given character design usually lives in a world fitting their style and detail complexion.)

      I really like this quote:
      “The concept of today’s level of 3D CGI animation is an evolution from basic cartoon animation into a simulated world that seeks to represent realism as accurately as possible. It does this by slicing up the world into the smallest segments possible, and then controlling how those tiny parts of real world objects move, react and change based on the other objects and conditions within that 3D world.”

      • Steven Bowser

        I guess maybe it’s just me that’s bothered by it, but I’m glad you can see what I’m talking about.

        Personally, I do feel like they over-animate in the scenes I mentioned. It feels like there’s just too much subtle movement and it’s distracting to me. I like the Disney sensibility of making characters act in terms of “golden poses” so that there isn’t too much going on and the audience can read the action.

        In the scene with Astrid and Hiccup, the characters seem lifeless to me because they look like motion captured cartoons instead of cartoons who move “on their own”. There’s just this unnecessary head-wobbling and gesturing that I don’t like.

        That being said, I do like the animation in these films as a whole. I especially like the Croods. But I certainly like Disney’s style a whole lot more. Maybe it’s just my preference.

  • Céu D’Ellia

    It’s very, very hard to believe that they did not use mopcap, for the human characters, in this film. Not only because of this YouTube link, but also because of what I saw in the final film. Too much realistic, boarding the
    Uncanny Valley… Weird.

    • Barrett

      Can somebody from within DWA clear this up once and for all? I mean, there’s bound to be plenty of people with first-hand experience on this film no longer bound by any kind of contractual restrictions, given the “employment situation.”

  • GlennoC

    Strange. Mr. Hooks gripes that “We are almost two minutes into the Hiccup/Astrid scene before it gets to the point,” suggesting he missed the other key point of the scene, and what Dean DeBlois & Co were obviously doing with the scene’s initial structure.

    This scene is not just about Hiccup realizing he needs to figure out his role in life. Though that does nicely develop over the course of the scene, and would’ve played false and dull had it been spelled out any sooner.

    Character-wise, or subtextually, the scene is primarily about Hiccup & Astrid’s relationship. We absolutely get their relationship dynamics and feel their love and respect for each other, precisely because of how they behave and speak with each other (and by extension, how their dragons play with each other in the background, mostly). She teases him, he tries to gain sympathy and to stop her. Both are playful, then caring. If the puckish interruptions hadn’t happened, it would’ve been a dry scene devoid of character and relationship development. We’d have little sense of who they are as a couple.

    Direct question / Direct answer is how trials sound. Not natural conversation. Conversations meander. Particularly when someone has something difficult to say. Good writers shorthand this, as DeBlois does here, but only an amateur writes linear dialogue. Hooks claims “the leaner the dialogue, the better” in movies, which is often but not always true. But there’s not an ounce of fat in this scene anyway.

    That said, DeBlois clearly didn’t structure the initial dialogue and action merely to evoke natural conversation patterns. He did it to cleverly turn exposition into drama. If he’d simply written it as: Astrid asks, Hiccup directly answers and explains, it’d reek of exposition and we wouldn’t be drawn in or care as much. By withholding information, while entertaining us and developing their relationship along the way, he builds tension and our anticipation of the answer… so by the time we get it, our curiosity has been piqued in a way it hadn’t been before, and we feel a stronger emotional reaction. In essence, he got us to ask for, rather than grudgingly accept, our medicine. That’s good writing.

    It’s one of the best scenes in the film, the one I remembered most fondly months after seeing it.