Creature Presentation

The live production of DreamWorks' How To Train Your Dragon glides into town for a few days of fire-breathing enchantment.
*After this month's issue went to press,  How To Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular was postponed to allow for technical upgrades. The article below appears as it does in the print edition. We will update you when the new dates have been confirmed.
If you happen to see a long row of semitrailers outside Quicken Loans Arena the first week of September, you'd be smart to keep your distance. There are dragons lurking inside.

The fanged, fire-breathing creatures will be coming to life in Cleveland as DreamWorks' How To Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular roars into The Q for six shows, Sept. 5-8.

Based on the computer-animated blockbuster movie, and produced in conjunction with the same team that created the live production of Walking With Dinosaurs, this show — two years in the making — delivers a performance that has been enchanting audiences worldwide. After debuting in Australia and New Zealand, the show is now embarking on a 29-city tour of North America.

"The kids are in awe and love seeing their favorite characters from the movie, and the adults are pretty blown away by the technology," says Lynda A. Lavin, the show's resident director.

The story centers on a Viking boy named Hiccup, who, as a test of manhood, is sent to kill a feared dragon. Instead, he befriends the surprisingly gentle creature, whom he names Toothless. Later, the pair must struggle to save their world from a gigantic, monstrously evil dragon threatening to destroy humans and dragons alike.

To create the epic settings — a bustling village, lush forests, volcanic caves, watery depths — as well as the illusion of soaring flight, a sophisticated "immersion projection" video system was specially designed for the show. Its screen stretches roughly 70 feet across.

"It's kind of a •surround' video," Lavin explains. "It covers the wall down to the floor; it has a 3-D effect you don't need to wear glasses for. It's beautifully done."

Combine this backdrop with lighting, fog and music, and you've got the perfect setting for the show's biggest stars: the dragons. The performance features nearly two dozen of these smoke- and fire-breathing creatures, some weighing about as much as a family sedan, some with wingspans approaching 50 feet. "This is a newer generation of animatronic puppets since Walking With Dinosaurs," Lavin says. "They're bigger, they can do more. We have not just the floor-based dragons, but we also have dragons that fly."

Indeed they do. The Toothless character alone travels 1.2 miles during each performance, suspended from a 150-foot oval flight track high above the arena floor. Still, all of this spectacle could fall flat were it not for a compelling story and intriguing characters, including a lot of scaly ones. The task of making those mechanical dragons "real" — transforming the massive and complex contrivances into creatures and characters the audience cares about — is literally in the hands of the puppeteers.

"They're actors themselves," Lavin says. "These puppets onstage are their way of acting. They create the character • by how they move, blink their eyes, open their mouth, tilt their head."

With some dragons requiring four puppeteers working in tandem, making the creatures behave "naturally" is a challenge. But months of practice have allowed for refining of each creature's personality and movements. The result of all this effort is that for two hours, you can believe in a world where dragons exist.

"People will come up and tell me how much they love it," says Lavin. "They want to know How do you do that? It's been pretty overwhelming and very positive."

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