The Art of How to Train Your Dragon

The Art of How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon was recently released on DVD and Blu-ray, but if you’ve already worn your disc out and need a new Dragon fix, then pick up a copy of the film’s companion book, The Art of How to Train Your Dragon by Tracey Miller-Zarneke. Published at the beginning of this year to coincide with the film’s premiere, publisher Newmarket Press has posted an announcement on their website that the title is now back in stock.

The Art of How to Train Your Dragon is a gorgeous hardcover, divided up into five easily accessible sections:

  • The Dragons: The next best thing to having a Dragon Manual — the dragon field guide that Hiccup consults on-screen (and needs to be replicated in real book form) — this chapter details each of the dragons that appear in the film, from preliminary design sketches through to finished CG animation stills. Stats on the different species, some that aren’t revealed in the film, accompany the illustrations, and thumbnails of several dragons that didn’t make it to the screen are included, as well. Budding fantasy artists will find the material in this section invaluable, not only as a tutorial on how to draw credible dragon anatomy, but as a creative reminder that dragons come in more shapes and sizes than the traditional green dragon seen in storybooks. Not surprisingly, Toothless, as the main dragon and the character who underwent the most changes as he winged from book page to silver screen, dominates The Dragons, with considerable coverage also given to his nemesis, the monstrous Red Death, who received a number of progressively scarier make-overs.
  • The Vikings: Early sketches, character studies, CG models, and biographies of the film’s human characters add background and depth to the main cast: Hiccup, Astrid and the other dragon trainees, Chief Stoick the Vast, and blacksmith/dragon trainer Gobber. As an added bonus, original drawings by the author of the How to Train Your Dragon books are reprinted alongside the film drawings. A two-page spread is devoted to the design of Berk’s Viking “extras”, and Hiccup’s mother, Valhallarama, who didn’t survive the journey from book to screen, is memorialized.
  • The Dragon World: Dragon Island’s forbidding environment is showcased, with a focus on the immense Dragon Cave. A maze of shadowy dragon dens, pits, and winding passageways, the intricate Dragon Cave proved to be quite a challenge to build in 3D, leading to it being dubbed “the Swiss Cheese set”.
  • The Viking World: In an exploration of Berk’s varied landscapes, from the sea to the highest mountain peak, digital paintings take readers on a breathtaking tour of the Viking village, houses, Meade Hall, harbour, and training grounds. In addition, visits are made to Toothless’ secret cove and some intriguing locations that were unfortunately dropped during script revisions. A wealth of sketches and illustrations delve into Viking culture, examining the Vikings’ props, iconography, boats, weapons, statues, and the fascinating Meade Hall carvings and tapestries.
  • Bringing the Worlds Together… and Bringing It All to the Screen: The final chapter offers a run-down of the tasks assigned to individual units of the film team: story, layout, cinematography, 3D rendering, animation, character effects, general effects, lighting, and editorial. Filmmaker comments take viewers even further behind the scenes of creating a full-length animated film, and the job descriptions may help those who aspire to work in feature animation decide where their skills lie, much like Hiccup finding the place he fits best in Viking society.

The book’s preface is written by Cressida Cowell, whose children’s book of the same name (the first in a series) inspired the How to Train Your Dragon film, which The Art of How to Train Your Dragon classifies as a prequel of sorts to Cowell’s stories. In her introduction, the author engagingly relates the story of her family’s annual camping trips to a remote Scottish island, a tiny, rugged spot that sparked the idea for How to Train Your Dragon and served as a model for the Isle of Berk, the place that her imaginary tribe of Vikings inhabits. Comedian and late-night television host Craig Ferguson, the voice of Gobber, provides a humorous yet heartfelt foreword that reveals how he conquered his fear of flying, singling out a favourite scene from the movie that expresses his newfound passion for flight.

Expertly penned by Walt Disney Feature Animation alum Tracey Miller-Zarneke, The Art of How to Train Your Dragon benefits from the knowledge of an animation insider, coming to life as Miller-Zarneke deftly pulls quotes from the production crew, sprinkling them throughout the book to enhance her narrative. Compared to other “The Art of…” books, the The Art of How to Train Your Dragon does seem to have less of a text-to-pictures ratio, but is still as enjoyable and informative a read as Miller-Zarneke’s prior film animation book, The Art of Kung Fu Panda, and Dragon’s 350-plus images really do speak for themselves. Beautifully printed in full colour on large, glossy pages, the development art, sketches, pencil and marker drawings, storyboards, digital paint renditions, and finished artwork collected in The Art of How to Train Your Dragon makes reading the book feel like a stroll through a fantasy show at an art gallery. The volume’s binding is stitched, rather than glued, so the book lies perfectly flat, which is particularly handy for artists using it as a reference work.

Fans of Disney’s Lilo & Stitch, the previous film helmed by How to Train Your Dragon writer-directors Chris Sanders (whose unique visual style is evident in the look of both films) and Dean DeBlois, will obviously be drawn to this book, but, as Newmarket Press points out, The Art of How to Train Your Dragon is actually “a book for anyone who loves moviemaking, animation, art, Vikings, and, of course, dragons.”

Order now at
The Art of How to Train Your Dragon
How to Train Your Dragon Book 1
How to Train Your Dragon (Single Disc Edition)
How to Train Your Dragon (Double DVD Pack)
How to Train Your Dragon (Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
How to Train Your Dragon (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Dragon Double Pack)

The Art of How to Train Your Dragon is distributed by Newmarket Press. Follow Newmarket Press on Twitter. For more information about How to Train Your Dragon, please visit DreamWorks Animation’s official How to Train Your Dragon website.


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