Digital animation studio REALTIME was behind the dragon creatures in fantasy TV drama, The Watch, for BBC America.

The two dragons, one as large as a jumbo jet and the other small enough to fit in your pocket, made their on-screen debuts in January, in ‘The Watch’; a character-driven drama follows several of Terry Pratchett’s best-loved creations on a “riotous and emotional odyssey.”

For REALTIME, executive producer Jonathan Rawlinson said: “This was a unique project and the ultimate animated fantasy challenge. The smaller dragon, ‘Goodboy’, could fit in the palm of your hand. While the other colossal ‘Noble’ Dragon was a behemoth with enough firepower to destroy a city.

“We’d considered using real lizards. We thought we might combine elements like wings and fire in post-production. But, the camera tests using lizards weren’t what we’d hoped. CGI, however, gave us the perfect blend of creative licence and control.”

Richard Stokes, executive producer, BBC Studios, continued: “I  know this was a demanding brief. But the results demonstrate how well we worked together with REALTIME.

“We wanted the smaller Goodboy dragon to have real character and a charm on screen. We visualised a rescue puppy to help us understand the kind of emotional response we wanted Goodboy to elicit from viewers. He had broken wings and scars. His skin was modelled on an ‘armadillo lizard’ with armour-like ‘sections’. This was easier to animate than traditional lizard skin, so helped with the budget.”

“The huge Noble dragon was an even bigger challenge. We were determined that it wouldn’t look like any other dragon ever seen before. Our answer was to create the first-ever ‘smoke’ dragon – neither completely visible nor entirely opaque. The results are truly menacing.

“It was big and scary with the fearsome power to demolish a city; only without demolishing our CG budget!”

Initial skeletal versions of the dragons gave producers an early glimpse of how the dragons would move and react. Even though Noble dragon was made of smoke, a version was rendered with scales to help the REALTIME team better understand how it would move and react. Flight tests used a simple rig draped in smoke. Finally, fire was added before committing to the fully-rigged character.

Jonathan Rawlinson added: “We’ve adapted the way we work, as we must. Many of the fine-tuning discussions happened remotely over video calls. It didn’t stop us innovating a dragon that worked believably in both daylight and night.

“Whilst Noble conveyed sheer size and jeopardy, Goodboy transitioned from cute to deadly in minute detail. This was a great production to be part of. We hope viewers love the characters as much as we enjoyed creating them.”

The Watch is currently available to watch on BBC America.

Jon Creamer