Creating Elliott, the titular creature in Disney’s ‘Pete’s Dragon’

Because dragons are often depicted as vicious, scaly, lizard-like creatures and rarely shown as approachable, friendly or heroic, the appearance and personality of Elliott – the titular creature in Disney’s “Pete’s Dragon” – were the focus of countless meetings between the filmmakers and special effects firm, Weta Digital.

While Elliot is entirely computer-generated, he is still a fully-fledged character in the story, and someone whom the central character, Pete—and hopefully the audience—grow to care for a great deal. Elliot’s presence allows Pete to be able to figure out what he needs, in a narrative sense, and he instinctively understands what’s missing in Pete’s life and that hebelongs somewhere else.

A key objective from day one was to really sell the idea of a friendship between a child and an animal and to show how special that bond can be. But writer/director David Lowery wanted audiences at first to be uncertain about Elliot and his intentions.

Says castmember Bryce Dallas Howard, “Elliot is not like other dragons. He’s playful and innocent and the ultimate best friend, and all he really wants is a family. He is absolutely massive and has a really ominous presence and has the ability to be fierce and breathe fire and fly, but he is also tender and warm and nurturing and protective.”

For the film’s Oscar® nominated visual effects supervisor, Weta Digital’s Eric Saindon (“The Hobbit” films and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy), it presented him with quite a challenge. He explains, “It’s easy to make dragons look scary and it’s easy to make them look cartoony, but we didn’t want either of those for this dragon. We wanted him to have a lot of character so that everyone comes out of the theater in love with him.”

“Elliot has a personality which is unique in terms of dragons we have seen on screen before,” adds producer Jim Whitaker. “Sometimes we see him as potentially dangerous, but other times he is absolutely lovable.”

Instead of the scaly reptile look, Lowery wanted to go in the complete opposite direction and asked Weta to come up with designs for an entirely new dragon. “David wanted more of a mammalian-looking creature, albeit, one that was very large,” says Saindon.

Saindon and the team at Weta began their creative process by reviewing many different species in the animal kingdom to analyze their movements. “We based our animation, in part, on references to animals like dogs, cats, lions and monkeys,” he says, “But we also felta certain obligation to honor the animated Elliot from the 1977 original film in some ways.”

“Elliot has a very distinct look in the original film, including an enormous jaw,” says Lowery, “And there was something about his design and that characteristic specifically, that I really liked. And I wanted him to be furry…very furry.”

Lowery continues, “He’s fantastical, he’s exaggerated, and he doesn’t feel like something that belongs in this world. But at the same time, he has enough qualities that are recognizable so that you accept him as a character and as an animal and as this magical creature as well. He functions on all of those levels, so his design was really more about simplification so that nothing would get in the way of feeling like he belongs in the world of the movie.”

In the end, Elliot turned out to be an approximately 24-foot tall, green, furry dragon that can breathe fire, turn invisible and melt your heart. “Elliot is a big, boisterous playful dragon, but he also has a very quiet and sensitive side that really does come through on screen,” says Lowery.

Opening across the Philippines on September 7, 2016, “Pete’s Dragon” is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures through Columbia Pictures.

Bryce Dallas Howard follows up ‘Jurassic World’ with ‘Pete’s Dragon’

Bryce Dallas Howard goes from one big adventure to another as she follows up the global blockbuster “Jurassic World” with Walt Disney Pictures’ new, re-imagining of “Pete’s Dragon,” based on the ‘70s classic and cherished family film of the same title.

The new “Pete’s Dragon” is the adventure of an orphaned boy named Pete and his best friend Elliott, who just so happens to be a dragon.

Howard’s journey with “Pete’s Dragon” is almost as magical as the film itself. The actress thinks of the original film as a fundamental part of her childhood. “It was one of my favorite films as a child,” Howard says. “One of my earliest memories of watching a movie is watching ‘Pete’s Dragon.’ There’s something singular about that film…I don’t know what it is, but it immediately touches the inner child in me.”

So when producer Jim Whitaker, whom Howard has known for a long time and considers a very dear friend, called her to discuss the film, it was almost too good to be true. Whitaker was thinking of her for the role of Grace, the forest ranger and daughter to old wood carver Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford) who is initially skeptical as to Pete’s claim that his friend Elliot is a dragon, and wanted her to meet with director David Lowery.

Howard was already familiar with Lowery’s work, calling “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” a “fantastic movie, and a really nuanced, impressionistic, sophisticated film as well,” and was thrilled to hear he was attached to the project. “Just thinking about what someone like David could bring to a story like this, elevated everything even more,” she says.

After meeting with Lowery, she was heartened to learn that this “Pete’s Dragon” would be not so much a remake, but a film which would complement the original. “I loved the tone of the script, and David was not looking to step on people’s memories of the first film, but wanted to create a film that could stand side by side with the original,” she says.

Howard continues, “It is a smart, family film but it’s also a compelling adventure, too, and I believe audiences are craving a family film that’s smart and emotionally engaging. The best Disney films are cathartic and feature characters that start with nothing and end up receiving more than they could ever have hoped for, and they provide children with opportunities to process difficult feelings, which this film does as well.”

“What David really understood about the film, is that it had these sophisticated themes running throughout but also had a storyline, which, at its essence, wasn’t necessarily all fun and laughter and music,” Howard says. “But from that kind of realism and from that very real loss that Pete has experienced can come healing, as well as a journey and an adventure that does have fun and does have beauty and friendship and family in it.”

Howard had numerous conversations with Lowery about how to give her part resonance, and together they realized that while Pete is embarking on a journey, Grace is on her own journey as well: a journey to find who she was as a child and to reconnect with that time in her life. “Pete is searching for a home but doesn’t know where it is exactly, and Grace’s friendship with Pete helps her to reconnect with her father and to begin to visualize herself with a family of her own,” she says, “And I just found that to be a really beautiful balance.”

Opening in Philippine cinemas on September 7, 2016, “Pete’s Dragon” is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures through Columbia Pictures.

See the world through a child’s eyes in ‘Pete’s Dragon’

Walt Disney Studios’ classic 1977 live-action/animated musical “Pete’s Dragon” – the endearing tale of a young boy and his friendship with an animated, green dragon – is re-imagined for today’s generation with the new family adventure bearing the same title.

In Philippine cinemas starting Sept. 07, the new “Pete’s Dragon” is the adventure of an orphaned boy named Pete and his best friend Elliott, who just so happens to be a dragon. The film stars Bryce Dallas Howard (“Jurassic World”), Oakes Fegley (“This is Where I Leave You”), Wes Bentley (“The Hunger Games”), Karl Urban (“Star Trek”), Oona Laurence (“Southpaw”) and Oscar® winner Robert Redford (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”).

Disney had been eager for some time to introduce “Pete’s Dragon” to a whole new generation of film goer’s and brought on producer Jim Whitaker to shepherd the project. “There are so many people who grew up with the original film, and the idea of that movie became a leaping-off point for us,” says Whitaker. “We knew that this very simple idea about a boy and his dragon still had the potential to become a really special film.”

While independent filmmaker David Lowery may not have seemed the obvious choice to write and direct a new vision of a beloved Disney film, there are actually some similarities between his first feature, “Pioneer,” and “Pete’s Dragon.” Both stories deal with a sense of belonging, and in Pete’s case, a sense of family. Adds Whitaker, “There’s also a purity to both films and the wonderment of seeing things through the eyes of a child, and we thought David would be able to create a new, simple, yet pure, take on the story.”

As a child, Lowery was a fan of the classic Disney films (“Pinocchio” was the first film he saw in a theater), as they appealed to his sense of adventure. But Disney was not looking for the new “Pete’s Dragon” to have any direct association with the original, other than the title and basic premise; They were looking for someone to come up with a totally original story and new characters.

Lowery and his writing partner, Toby Halbrooks, have always been drawn to projects that have a certain naiveté and innocence about them, and they were excited by the possibilities. “Pete’s Dragon” turned out to be perfectly tailored to their sensibilities as writers. “I loved the idea of making a movie that deals with imagination and has a degree of fantasy,” Lowery says, “And there was no need to even think about reinventing the wheel when that wheel functioned so perfectly well.”

“There’s a process to developing a movie where you go through a series of drafts, but honestly, from the first draft, actually the first 20 pages, we knew the movie was there,” says Whitaker. “David was after a sense of, what he calls, ‘magical realism,’ and that came through because he allowed magic to seep into the script in unexpected ways.”

Many of Disney’s classic films like “Dumbo” and “Bambi” convey important issues to children and help prepare them with the tools and guidance to deal with those issues in their own lives. “Our story asks a fundamental question: where does one belong, “Lowery says.

With a finished screenplay in hand, Lowery began to set his sights on directing, and what he envisioned was a classic movie that would capture the feeling of what it meant to be young. “When you’re 10 years old everything you do seems like an epic adventure,” he says. “You don’t have to be riding on the back of a dragon…just the simple act of climbing a tree is exhilarating for kids.”

Opening across the Philippines on September 7, 2016, “Pete’s Dragon” is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures through Columbia Pictures. #PetesDragonPH

WATCH: ‘Pete’s Dragon’ soars high with teaser trailer

“Pete’s Dragon,” the live-action reimagining of Disney’s cherished family film, has just eleased its teaser trailer which may be viewed below.

“Pete’s Dragon” is the adventure of an orphaned boy named Pete and his best friend rElliott, who just so happens to be a dragon. The film stars Bryce Dallas Howard (“Jurassic World”), Oakes Fegley (“This is Where I Leave You”), Wes Bentley (“The Hunger Games”), Karl Urban (“Star Trek”), Oona Laurence (“Southpaw”) and Oscar® winner Robert Redford (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”).

For years, old wood carver Mr. Meacham (Redford) has delighted local children with his tales of the fierce dragon that resides deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. To his daughter, Grace (Howard), who works as a forest ranger, these stories are little more than tall tales…until she meets Pete (Fegley). Pete is a mysterious 10-year-old with no family and no home who claims to live in the woods with a giant, green dragon named Elliott. And from Pete’s descriptions, Elliott seems remarkably similar to the dragon from Mr. Meacham’s stories. With the help of Natalie ( Laurence), an 11-year-old girl whose father Jack (Bentley) owns the local lumber mill, Grace sets out to determine where Pete came from, where he belongs, and the truth about this dragon.

“Pete’s Dragon,” which is directed by David Lowery (“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”), is written by Lowery & Toby Halbrooks based on a screenplay by Malcolm Marmorstein and produced by Jim Whitaker, p.g.a. (“The Finest Hours,” “Friday Night Lights”), with Barrie M. Osborne (“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” “The Great Gatsby”) serving as executive producer.

Opening across the Philippines on August 31, “Pete’s Dragon” is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures through Columbia Pictures.

Follow the official social media accounts of Disney in the Philippines, namely, (FB) WaltDisneyStudiosPH, (Twitter) @disneystudiosph and (Instagram) @waltdisneystudiosph and use the hashtag #PetesDragonPH.