In terms of onscreen monsters, it’s hard to beat the versatility of a dragon. They can be furry or scaly. They can be friendly or fire-breathing. They can be the ultimate villain in a fantasy epic or just an icon on a map that marks uncharted territory. But what does it take to make a successfully executed and truly kickass movie dragon? According to YouTube video essayist Rossatron, it takes a few things.
First, your dragon’s look needs to serve its narrative purpose. If, like in Pete’s Dragon or The NeverEnding Story, the dragon is supposed to be a powerful friend, then its face should have some personality to it. The audience should be able to recognize the dragon as a friendly, if sometimes ferocious, stray dog. But, if the dragon in your film is purely a destructive force, then make it look mean as hell. As the video notes, Reign Of Fire does this particularly well even if the rest of the film is kind of a dud.
The way your dragon comes across on screen also depends on the actors’ reaction to it. This can be particularly difficult because—and this is going to come as a shock to some—there are no dragons actually there on set. Actors have to convincingly convey fear to the audience while they’re running away from absolutely nothing, or, at best, running from a tennis ball on a stick.
Finally, the most important features of a good movie dragon are its physicality and weight. Dragons, if they actually existed, would be massively heavy and constantly knocking stuff over. Game Of Thrones did a good job depicting the physical impact of a dragon attack during last season’s much-ballyhooed loot train attack. Rossatron notes that the 1981 film Dragonslayer, though it now appears pretty dated, accomplishes this effect better than most. Using a process called “go motion,” the film’s special effects department brought their giant model of Vermithrax Pejorative to life, giving it both personality and real, physical presence in the world. Doing so reportedly cost twenty-five percent of Dragonslayer’s budget, so, if you want your dragon to be legit, it’s going to cost you.