Shakefire spoke with Art Brown, one of the executive producers of DreamWorks Animation's Netflix original series Dragons: Race to the Edge, to discuss Season 2 of the series and how the show has evolved from the How to Train Your Dragon movies. In our exclusive interview Brown talks about the involvement of the film's original cast, the process of creating episodes for Netflix, and offers up a little tease of what's to come in future seasons and how it all ties in to the upcoming How to Train Your Dragon 3.
Shakefire (SF): Dragons is one of those rare spin-offs that actually includes much of the original voice actors from the films. How important has it been to have them on this project?
Art Brown (AB): It was really important. I was really fortunate, especially Jay Baruchel with Hiccup. Hiccup is...he’s Hiccup, you know. That was something we were really hoping for the way Jay has been, he didn’t want anyone else to do it. He was like, “This is my character. I don’t want anybody else to do it.” He’s awesome to work with.
Having T.J. Miller is just a comedic goldmine. We got better at writing for T.J. and that, combined with his improvisational skills, the recording sessions are just ridiculously funny. He just pushes the shows to no end. I never know what’s going to come out of his mouth. And we encourage that, which is great.
And having Chris Mintz-Plasse, just because his relationship with him and Meatlug. Chris has such a tender voice, and that’s important in the sense of balancing it against some of the other characters. And of course having America Ferrera is great. With her busy schedule we scratch in soundalikes while we’re in production until she’s available and then we bring her in. Every time she comes in and lays down her voice it just brings the show up a notch. So it’s hugely important, especially for the kids.
SF: Speaking of actors, this season features Alfred Molina. How did he come on board?
AB: He is the coolest dude on the planet. Honestly, the nicest, coolest, most giving, just accessible from the day I met him. You go into work with him and you’re like, “Holy crap, this is Alfred Molina!” You don’t know what to expect, and he couldn’t be nicer, and his talents are through the roof. When Alfred Molina tells you he loves the script it just makes your head explode. He loves what he does; he loves what we do with him. He’s a pleasure to work with. I can’t say enough about that guy.
SF: The dragons themselves feel very much like characters in their own right. How do you get the feel for them?
AB: I think the more time you spend with them and the more chance we have to do episodes revolving around, I think in particular, one of the kids and one of their dragons. In the movie, obviously they’re limited by time. They don’t have the time that we do to explore so they’re going to be mostly focused on Hiccup and Toothless. We advanced that, Toothless and all he does, but I think with the other dragons when you have more stories that are centric to Snotlout and Hookfang or Astrid and Stormfly or Meatlug and Fishlegs, even the twins and their dragon, the more time you spend with them alone, especially when it’s one-on-one. We’ve had those episodes where only one of them is talking so you have to find ways to bring out the personality of the dragon, and you also have to find ways because we’ll go back to that well and you have to find new and interesting things about them. I think the biggest way we find that is that we all here, myself and Doug Sloan and our writers, we’re all animal people. I think we get a lot of inspiration from our own pets and the different personalities they have and how they communicate with us. I speak for my dog. My dog’s got a voice to me. I talk for her. I’ll have full conversations with her just alone [laughs]. It’s sorta crazy, but it’s funny and makes me laugh. I think that helps us when we’re developing the dragon characters.
SF: And it definitely resonates with other people who have attachments to their pets, too.
AB: Sure, cause if you think about it they’re animal rescuers really. That’s what they do. Not just with their own, but that’s what they do in the show. I think that resonates with a lot of our viewers. It’s really important to us. It’s funny and I have to say that our vendors over the years have gotten to know our characters more and they will often come back with stuff that we hadn’t even thought about and give a little extra for a scene.
I’ll tell you one example. When we first saw the animation on Fanghook and how hilarious Fanghook was. Some of that was from our vendors just plussing the scene and making him really cute and funny. Because he’s a Monstrous Nightmare, that sort of inspires us more to get into Hookfang’s personality. It sort of bleeds over. The vendors play a big role into that, too, as well as our directors of course.
SF: How much freedom do you have to create these characters? The show right now is confined timewise between the first and second films.
AB: Yeah. There’s some boundaries and story points that we stay away from because we know that DreamWorks Animation Studios are more precious about them. We’re in constant conversation with Dean DeBlois and Bonnie Arnold. If there’s an area that we’re not sure about that we think might be treading on the upcoming third instalment of the movie we’ll give them a call or shoot them an email and just say, “Hey, we’re thinking about doing this for an episode. Is that cool with you? Is it stepping on anything?” Nine and a half times out of 10 he’ll say no problem, go for it, or if you could just steer clear of this. We’ve been doing this for so long we’re in the loop of what’s coming so we pretty much know what we can do and where we can go. The main thing we have to keep an eye on is obviously Hiccup and Toothless and their story. The kids, because the kids aren’t serviced as much in the movies because there’s just no time, we’re given a lot of freedom to evolve with them. And to create new bad guys and that stuff. I always look at it as there’s a straight line between movie one and movie two and movie three. Or series currently is between movie one and movie two so you can go off to the side and down those lines and go crazy as long as you make your way back to the straight line by the time you get ready for the next movie to come out.
SF: Does the series plan on catching up to the point of How to Train Your Dragon 2?
AB: Oh yeah, the show will catch up. We get to do a lot of origin stories in the series. As you’ve in some of them the origin of the Dragon Blade or the flightsuit. You’ll get to see, I think it’s next season, how Gobber got his dragon. We saw how Stoick got his dragon. We will eventually service the relationship of not only Hiccup and Astrid, but also how Snotlout and Fishlegs and Ruffnut sort of came to their little love triangle at the beginning of 2. By the time the third movie comes out, the series will have caught up to the beginning of the second movie. I’ll say this, you’ll get all the gaps leading up to the beginning and a little further than the beginning of the second movie. You get a little extra, too.
SF: How has the process been releasing the entire season at once on Netflix as opposed to the more conventional TV release schedule. Has that affected how you produce episodes?
AB: It hasn’t really affected how we produce because the process is sort of the process. It takes about a year, start to finish, from concept to mixing and finishing up an episode. It takes about that long. Obviously you’re doing a lot of them in different stages at one time. It’s awesome. I love it. I love having the fans have a group of episodes to watch over and over and to soak up and to chew on and to see them as they’re supposed to be seen as one big story. I guess for us it’s just, we get anxious and excited to get the next group out. But in terms of the process, it’s pretty much the same. We’re just cranking along. We’ll be in different stages of development and production on different seasons all at the same time, which is always fun. You just gotta keep your head on straight on where you are when you talk about it, haha.
SF: DreamWorks Animation recently announced that they’re extending their partnership with Netflix globally. How is that going to impact Dragons?
AB: In a positive way. We’re continuing to do more seasons for Netflix. The show has been really successful on Netflix; they love it and our fans love it. All positive.