The magic of making dragons

Breathing life into these scaly creatures

Last updated 14:43 18/04/2012
Lyle McMahon

Take a behind-the-scenes look at the arena spectacular How to Train Your Dragon, which starts at Vector Arena in Auckland tonight.

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When your job is to travel the world as a teenage Viking who has a habit of befriending dragons, you must sometimes wonder just what to put in the occupation box on all those airport immigration cards.

Actors Riley Miner and Gemma Nguyen decided to play it safe when they arrived in Auckland this week with the larger-than-life production of How to Train Your Dragon, but they know they are on to a good thing with their unique job.

"It's amazing - that's the only word - because no-one else gets to tour the world and train dragons at the same time," says 17-year-old Miner, who plays Hiccup, a young Viking who bucks his tribe's custom of killing dragons.

"So instead he befriends a dragon and decides to fly on him - which is a much better option."

Nguyen plays Astrid, the love interest and tough girl who gives as good as she gets and she says Toothless, the lead dragon, is a bit of a scene-stealer.

But the question has to be asked - how on earth do you learn to ride a dragon, real or otherwise?

"The closest thing we can ride, as humans,  is probably a horse so I kind of rode it like a horse at first.  Then I started to enjoy it more," Miner says with the swagger of someone who knows exactly what he's doing.

And yes, while Hiccup's dragon Toothless does have a saddle, he is unlike any horse you are ever going to see. 

The size of a mini-bus, and coloured a bit like an oversized paua shell with sparkling green eyes, he is big, scaly and incredibly cute. 

At a sneak meet-and-greet with the cast and creatures ahead of opening night, more than a few people could be heard mumbling something about taking him home and keeping him in the back garden. Good luck guys, after all this baby doesn't create havoc on his own.

The people making Toothless and his fire-breathing friends come to life find their second home in what has been lovingly dubbed the "Voodoo Lounge" in the heights of Vector Arena.

Gavin Sainsbury is the voodoo operator who gives life to Toothless every night.  Wielding what looks like a bionic arm, the Australian can make the dragon do almost anything just by wriggling a finger while wearing what he describes as a "miniature version" of the large dragons on stage.

Sainsbury looks after every movement from the head, neck, body, and manipulation of the tail and eyes, while another operator moves the mouth, makes the eyes blink, the wings flap and creates the haunting sounds of a dragon cry.

A third person is lying underneath the dragon driving it around the stage, controlling the direction and speed of the creature that weighs as much as a family car.

The trio worked for three intense months before the recent Australian tour kicked off, creating the dragons' personalities and making sure the routine was cemented. 

And while all the members of the voodoo and driving crews were part of Walking With Dinosaurs, which toured here last year, Sainsbury says the technology has changed from when the 24 featured dragons' Jurassic brothers and sisters were created.

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"They had another two years to think up ways to keep us busy. There is a lot more trickery involved here - they are faster, we've got all these effects that we have to activate now, so technology wise, it's come on leaps and bounds."

How To Train Your Dragon - Arena Spectacular
Vector Arena, Auckland from tonight until April 22

Tickets from Ticketmaster.

- Auckland Now


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