p. 57 p. 58 p. 59 p. 60 p. 61

Vermithrax Perjorative is the star of the recent Hal Barwood/Matthew Robbins fantasy, Dragonslayer. David Bunnett's original storyboard panels depicted Vermithrax (whose full name, loosely translated, means, "The Worm of Thrace Which Makes Things Worse") had to be a real fire-breathing, flying dragon with all the power and majesty of legendary dragons.

The special effects team at George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic had to make use of a variety of vastly different techniques to capture each attribute of the beast's character. For the film, Vermithrax is a creature of many forms and parts — from full-size pieces weighing many tons to be operated on the live-action set, to precision miniature puppets for the motion-control stages at ILM. The Dragonslayer storyboards are filled with dragons that fly, dragons that walk, dragons that breathe fire, dragons to be ridden and stabbed and dragons that express anger, hatred and sadness.

Dennis Muren, Supervisor of Miniature and Optical Effects for Dragonslayer, explains how a very fine mixture of techniques — including hand puppets, full-size props and new animation technique — were all blended into the creation of one very impressive dragon. Roughly one-fourth of Dragonslayer's $16 million budget went into the special effects to bring the mythological creature to life.

The full-size effects with fire, smoke and water involved a large dragon head, a section of tail, a leg and wing that were constructed under the supervision of Danny Lee at Walt Disney Productions. The 16-foot head and neck assembly was designed with fully articulated eyes and jaws; Brian Johnson, Supervisor of Special Mechanical Effects, rigged the beast to shoot a 30-foot jet of flame from its mouth. "It was unreliable, but when it worked, not only was it absolutely terrifying, it was truly magical — a storybook come to life in front of your eyes," exclaims producer Barwood.

The full-size dragon weighed in at over two tons and had to be suspended from the end of a 70-foot industrial crane. "It was extremely effective for the master shots and at mid-distance," Johnson says, "but not for the small incremental moves." Both Johnson and Barwood turned to ILM to create the 160 composite dragon shots that would account for only 15 minutes of screen time, but on which the real success of the dragon as a character — and Dragonslayer as a film — would hang. Producer Barwood knew from the start that the dragon had to be believable. "That's the key to fantasy — to make it real, to go beyond symbolism and allegory to actuality," states Barwood.
[…]