All at once there was a scraping noise and the egg split open. The baby dragon flopped on to the table. It wasn’t exactly pretty; Harry thought it looked like a crumpled, black umbrella. Its spiny wings were huge compared to its skinny jet body and it had a long snout with wide nostrils, stubs of horns and bulging, orange eyes.
It sneezed. A couple of sparks flew out of its snout.
‘Isn’t he beautiful?’ Hagrid murmured. He reached out a hand to stroke the dragon’s head. It snapped at his fingers, showing pointed fangs.
‘Bless him, look, he knows his mummy!’ said Hagrid.
-J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
In designing Norbert for the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Paul Catling tried to steer close to the description of the creature, particularly emphasizing the proportions of its head, legs and wings compared to its body, and the size of its eyes in regards to the head; Catling focused in giving the character “awkward gawkiness.” As the creature is a baby, the filmmakers resolved that the eponymous ‘ridgeback’ wouldn’t be developed yet. Creative licenses included the colour scheme, more varied than the simple black of the novel version. After a final design was selected, Catling sculpted it into a maquette, which was used as reference for the digital model. Richard Hollander and his team at Rhythms & Hues modeled the creature digitally from scratch. Wrinkly skin and muscle simulations were devised by Mark Rodahl and Will Telford.
Norbert was endowed with subtle iridescence on his back and other details. “He had a bony little rib cage,” Hollander said, “and some nice iridescence on his back, little chicken feet, wet and leathery bat wings, a body like a lizard. We gave him double lids on his eyes, a set of horns on the back of his head, a little pointy tongue, a nice tail that he could swish, and a very bendy neck.”
On set, John Richardson puppeteered a large prop egg by directing air jets from underneath the table. In the hatching shot, the egg is replaced by a digital counterpart, which cracks open with a small gaseous explosion. Hollander commented: “you first see one arm burst out of the egg shell, then he climbs out, bery wobbly, staggers, slips on a piece of eggshell, begins to sniffle, then sneezes, producing a fireball that singes Hagrid’s beard. Chris Columbus wanted us to play the scene like when a little kid pees and people think it’s cute. Norbert is very sweet and innocent, even though he’s a dragon, and Hagrid just loves him.”
The animation process was supervised by Craig Talmy, and performed in Voodoo. Houdini and Vmantra were used by Pauline Ts’o to light and render the dragon; the elements were then composed in Icey by Harry Lam.
For more pictures of Norbert, visit the Monster Gallery.