jon gutman is a previz animator and layout artist at dreamworks whose credits include the how to train your dragon and kung fu panda series.
there’s something undeniably exciting about going to the dreamworks campus. unlike what i usually do, these guys get to make worlds out of whole cloth, and it all starts with previz. not limited just to animation, a previz artist will sketch out basic action and composition as a framework before principal photography even begins on a film. think of it, perhaps, as a very advanced form of storyboarding that moves.
the idea was originally to shoot him with some iconography from one of the films - ideally, how to train your dragon. since the walls were basically covered with materials from movies currently in production showing any of the dreamworks office environment (or, any interesting part of the environment) was off limits. we were able to poke around the merch closet and came up with this little stuffed doll of toothless, the dragon. there were a handful of much larger figures but those were also off limits for us to move and handle. so, little toothless the stuffed animal it was. . . a bit of gaffer’s tape had him sitting nicely on jon’s shoulder. later on the magazine had the idea of replacing the toy dragon in photoshop with a drawn version, but this was quickly shot down by dreamworks PR as they didn’t want it to seem like the actual character from the movie was so diminutive.
wanting to make something a little more fearsome, but still playful, we tried toying with shadows - shadows that were surprisingly difficult to get in the right place. to his credit, jon was amazing. he totally played up the shtick and it was great. if only every subject would be so involved in the process.
we finished up with a little love for the giant kung fu panda in the dreamworks courtyard, just in case dragons weren’t the editor’s jam in the end.