Reel dragons get bigger... and scarier
THIS is a particularly good time for lovers of cinematic dragons. Thanks to advances in animation software and live-action visual effects, and a growing skill set among the artists who use them, scores of scaly beasts are taking over screens, big and small.
There's Maleficent, featuring CGI (computer-generated imagery) homage to the dragon from Disney's 1959 classic Sleeping Beauty, How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Game Of Thrones, whose dragons continues to terrorise goats and humans.
For Maleficent, Disney animators looked at everything, from the fire-breathing dragon in The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug (given the overlapping production schedules of the two films, there wasn't much to see), to the stop-motion creations of fantasy-film legend Ray Harryhausen (The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad).
"The main focus, though, was always to go back to the original Sleeping Beauty film," said Carey Villegas, senior visual effects supervisor for Maleficent.
And no wonder: That hand-inked beast, with its snapping jaws and glowing green eyes, remains one of Disney's most popular villains.
For the latest version of Maleficent, animators increased its digital wingspan to 21m, got rid of its front legs, and moved the forepaws to the ends of its now-massive wings.
At one point in How To Train Your Dragon 2, the skies were nearly black with dragons, all wheeling and darting like gigantic reptilian warplanes.
On the ground, two dragons the size of whales slammed into each other amid hundreds of warring Vikings.
When asked what that 30-second sequence might have looked like if they had tried to film it, for example, four years ago, the animators at DreamWorks Animation said that it wouldn't have even made it to the storyboards.
The increased computing power of Premo, an animation tool designed at DreamWorks, allowed them to manipulate ever more complicated beasts, and to devise intricate scenes that would have been inconceivable earlier.
"If you had two characters on at the same time, you'd have to turn one off, just so the whole thing wouldn't slow down," said Thomas Grummt, the lead character animator for Cloudjumper, one of the film's star dragons.
In HBO's Game Of Thrones, the brood of Daenerys Targaryen - also known as the Mother of Dragons - have grown from hatchlings small enough to perch on a shoulder to bat-winged predators the size of a small bus.
"As the dragons get bigger, the models get more elaborate," said Joe Bauer, the show's lead visual effects supervisor.
"And with more functions, the animators have more things to manipulate."
When figuring out how HBO's dragons would fly, there were questions of tonnage, lift-to-drag ratios and air displacement to wrestle with.
Animators at Pixomondo used digital wind-tunnel simulations to visualise how they would look in the air, and consulted footage of birds of prey for style pointers.
"Most often, we're duplicating an eagle or an owl," Mr Bauer said.