For this particular shot, it all started with DreamWorks' storyboard artist Tron Mai, who was responsible for boarding Valka's introduction sequence - where she first meets Hiccup and introduces herself. Tron has boarded so many Toothless moments, it's important to point out just how significant this artist was to bringing the character of Toothless to life. With just a few poses, he conveyed such an unusual, almost animalistic way of how she would approach Toothless in this scene. That was always the director's intent. I instantly fell in love with the few poses he'd done and immediately connected with how she would pull off such a move, and began thinking about how this would be done in animation. The final result was inspired by what he drew.
When discussing with Tron, Dean (our director) and Simon Otto (our head of character animation) about "how" she would actually move to get Toothless to stand down, we kept thinking about the idea of it being this ultimate Tai-Chi move, how masters in that art form constantly motion through a move without ever stopping. So I did a lot of research in Tai-Chi, scouring youtube for reference and shooting a lot of my own. I did the drawovers seen in this clip to help me better understand where and how her feet would plant, how her fingers would balance herself on the ground, and how her left hand would slide up Toothless' neck while making it feel like one continuous Tai-Chi move.
I was responsible for animating all main characters (Hiccup, Toothless and Valka). I just put this video together to demonstrate my process for Valka as she was the toughest of the three main characters to get right, since this sequence was all about setting the tone for her behavior, her movement. Second in difficulty, was the challenge of "how" Toothless would drop. We wanted Toothless to feel like he was tricked by the "Yoda" of all dragon masters, rolls over and goes to sleep as opposed to hitting the ground hard and injuring himself (my first attempt at Toothless felt a bit like he was being harmed by Valka). Lastly, was Hiccup left feeling helpless, fearful and confused. Each shot I've done on this film possessed it's own set of challenges. This shot was certainly one of the most challenging for me.