Artist profile: Dean DeBlois

Artist profile: Dean DeBlois

Name: Dean DeBlois
Lifetime: 1970-
Nationality: Canada
Profession: Film director, producer, screenwriter, animator, editor.
Most famous works: Co-director on Lilo & Stitch (Walt Disney Feature Animation, 2002), Co-director on How to Train Your Dragon (DreamWorks Animation Studios, 2010).

Dean DeBlois began his career as an assistant animator and layout artist at Hinton Animation Studios in Ottawa, Ontario, while doing a three year degree in Classic Animation at Sheridan College, Ontario. He worked on animated series such as The Raccoons (1985-1991, Kevin Gillis) and The Nutcracker Prince (dir. Paul Schibli, 1990), and graduated college in 1990.
After graduation he was hired by Don Bluth Studios in Ireland. For four years he worked within layout character design and story development on films such as Thumbelina (dir. John Bluth & Garry Goldman, 1992) and A Troll in Central Park (Dir. Don Bluth & Garry Goldman, 1994).
In 1994 he accepted a job in Los Angeles for Walt Disney Feature Animation. He was assigned as Head of Story on Mulan (dir. Tony Bancroft & Barry Cook, 1998), and worked in the Story Department for Atlantis: The Lost Empire (dr. Gary Trousdale &Kirk Wise, 2001). In 2002, Lilo&Stitch in which he co-directed with Chris Sanders was released. He worked on character designs for Stitch! The Movie (dir. Tony Craig & Bobs Gannaway, 2003).
In 2002, he began selling original story ideas and scripts, among these are: The Lighthouse (psychological thriller), Sightseeings (family adventure series) and The Banshee and Finn Magee (ghost story), all of which are still under production. In 2006, he released his documentary on the Icelandic band, Sigur Ros.
DeBlois returned to animation in 2008, this time for DreamWorks Animation Studios. He was assigned to co-Direct How to Train Your Dragon, once again paired up with Chris Sanders. He is currently co-directing the sequel, and is set to work on the third film as well.
What made me catch interest in Dean DeBlois work, was something he said in an interview once. Him and Chris Sanders were discussing how they built up the characters for Lilo & Stitch, and that they wanted to expand character personalities by giving everyone a little bit of good and a little bit of bad. This, they reasoned, is the reality of people: Everyone has a bit of good, and everyone has a bit of bad. If characters are one-sided, they become less real.
In the interview mentioned above, DeBlois spoke about how they designed the environments to buffer the personalities. The character, Stitch, can be quite brutal at times, so the soft tones and earthy colours of the background designs functioned as a mind-calmed; a lullaby perhaps.

Image source. Soft clouds with a warm, almost romantic tone, adds a soft edge to the more brutal characterizations.

Image source. Watercolour background, Lilo & Stitch.

What I find interesting with the Lilo&Stitch’s design is how since character personalities are rather harsh and rough, every single aspect of the production design serves a purpose of evening this out. If you study the leaf furthest to the right hand upper side, you can see how it is just delicately resting in the daylight. Every ‘muscle’ of its structure is relaxed. Soft textures, delicate contour and matte, toned down colours form the impression of a utopian world, and would alone present a peaceful setting. The backgrounds tone down the harshness of characterizations, but simultaneously enhance them by enhancing that little bit of good in the little bit of bad.
The production designer for Lilo&Stitch was Paul Felix.