Grad Dean DeBlois shares his passion for storytelling
Writer and director of How To Train Your Dragon trilogy visits Sheridan
During a visit to Sheridan’s Screen Industries Training Centre in Toronto recently, Dean DeBlois, writer-director of the How To Train Your Dragon trilogy, was asked how he has managed to keep his stories fresh. Reactions from people at advance screenings are certainly a reliable source of feedback, he responded, but primarily he follows his instincts and sticks with story ideas he truly believes in. “You have to dig in your heels regarding issues you care about and choose your battles,” said the Oscar-nominated animation alumnus who headlined presentations both in Toronto and at Sheridan’s Oakville campus on October 13.
One of those battles – involving a decision supported by none other than Steven Spielberg – resulted in a scene that DeBlois is especially proud of in How to Train Your Dragon 2. It’s the choice to include the death of Hiccup’s father. “The scene was never meant to be gratuitous,” DeBlois explained. “The best friends Toothless and Hiccup are wrenched apart by the incident but they end up stronger than ever. That is truly the heartbeat of the story told in three instalments.” (How To Train Your Dragon 3 is scheduled for release in June, 2018.) The safety of the movie theatre provides one of the best places to address the strong emotions of love and loss, added DeBlois.
Although DeBlois’ visit to Sheridan marks 25 years since he graduated, the influence of the College on his career remains strong. “I give much credit to Sheridan College,” said DeBlois who graduated from the three-year International Summer School Animation program in 1990. “Sheridan was the touchstone for everything I’ve done since graduating. It all starts in this place with its great legacy of nurturing a love of the art form.”
Sheridan President and CEO Dr. Jeff Zabudsky presented DeBlois with an Honorary Degree this past June in recognition of his extraordinary accomplishments and contributions to the animation industry.
Many of the lessons DeBlois learned at Sheridan still resonate with the writer-director, including the following advice from former professor Zack Schwartz which DeBlois shared with the audience. “There will always be lay-offs in this industry. Your job is to make sure you are the one they can’t afford to fire.” That means demonstrating those must-haves for success: dedication and tenacity, added DeBlois, who said he was rejected by Disney the first time he applied because his portfolio wasn’t good enough. “Getting ahead is not about using people to bolster your position and hustle your way into the industry. That may work sometimes. But eventually your work has to speak for itself. Impress people with your work, not your words.”
Questions came fast and furious following Dean DeBlois’ remarks on October 13.
The line-up was long to speak to DeBlois who graciously greeted eager students, alumni and others from the animation industry following his presentation at Sheridan’s Screen Industries Training Centre.
Dean DeBlois admires a drawing of himself by an animation student.
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