This report is part of Rotoscopers’ coverage of the 2016 Annecy International Animated Film Festival. Check these links here for more news throughout the week, as well as this link here for live updates, videos, drawings, and more!
Creating new worlds in animation is nothing new. What is new (sort of) is the creation of fictional universes and stories in animation for toy properties. It’s a trend in animation that has really taken hold in recent time after The LEGO Movie‘s roaring success back in 2014. Regardless of whether you think it’s a cool idea or a creative slippery slope, the potential is certainly there if given enough attention and thought. One of those projects is hoping to do just that.
Just today at Annecy 2016, DreamWorks Animation presented its first look at its upcoming animated musical comedy Trolls. But whereas its previous festival appearance (Cannes 2016) was a star-studded affair with actors Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake stealing the show with their song “True Colors”, the stars of the film’s work-in-progress panel were the animators, specifically their detailed work showcased in the extended 17 minutes of finished footage shown throughout the 80-minute presentation, where production designer Kendal Cronkhite spoke at length about the interplay of theme and craft that went into bringing directors Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn’s vision of the Danish toy brand to life.
The major theme interweaved throughout the film’s story is “finding one’s true self and true happiness, which is all inside,” The DWA veteran elaborated to a packed house of mostly young and aspiring animators. That theme is therefore reflected in the design of the titular creatures. Poppy, the film’s heroine, has a very bright and appearance about her (straight-up red hair, blue headband with green flowers), which matches her personality traits (collecting scrapbooks, having sleepover parties, etc). On the flip side, the look and appearance of the Bergens are reflective of their cynical nature – pale ‘skin’, dark hair (also straight-up) and polyester clothing. This is the look for the character of Branch, who lives a lonely existence in a bunker to stave off attacks from other Bergens.
The 17 minute sequence – taken from the film’s second act – sees Poppy trying to persuade Branch to accompany her in her journey to rescue her 12 best friends, who were kidnapped by Bergens. He refuses, leaving Poppy to sing her anthem “Get Back Up Again” as she travels through a plethora of different fantasy environments. She has a tough journey (gummy/sugar candy geysers and macrame snakes get in her way), but she never loses her optimistic outlook. At the end of the sequence, Branch finally appears and reluctantly accompanies her to Bergen Town.
Getting into the meat and potatoes of the presentation, Cronkhite then showed the various stages of production via a progression reel. Using a sequence where Poppy sings a Simon & Garfunkel song (“The Sound of Silence”) to Branch, the reel broke said sequence down into four parts: storyboards with soundtrack, layouts of sets and characters, character animation, and the surface-light finish. All parts were played simultaneously, showing a direct example of how the work of the story artists translate to the final result.
But even then, all those designs have to come from somewhere. That’s where people like Cronkhite come in. The production designer typically gets on board early into production to hammer out the look of the film, the characters, and the environments. This requires working in tandem with the head of story, writers, directors, and editors.
For this particular film, Cronkhite’s goal was to translate the look of the toys into “a very fuzzy, fibre-art inspired world.” To do that, she went through the process of taking Thomas Damm’s original toy designs and braking them down, with help from DreamWorks Animation. Of the visual elements, they kept the straight-up hair and the “stubby, fat, rounded fat language of the troll.”
It was during this streamlining process that Cronkhite had what she described as a ‘lightbulb moment’: “if the whole Troll world could be wool. Because of their positive nature, diversity and their communal lifestyle, it made sense that their environment should reflect them,” she added. “Since we were going with a fiber-felted world, we decided to do the same with the characters.”
The 70’s was a vital inspiration for Cronkhite in the design process, as it was the era where Troll dolls became very popular. “We decided that the trolls would be our hippies of the ‘70s. They live in nature. They macrame. They’re probably vegetarians.” She said.
From there, DreamWorks hired Sayuri Sasaki Hemann, a fabric/fibre painter and artist, to take early development designs from French comic and children’s book illustrator Amelie Flechais to build a model world to use as a base for the rest of their production process.
If what I described above sounds trippy, you wouldn’t be wrong. What DreamWorks Animation appears to be going for with their film adaptation of Trolls is an animated musical set in a psychedelic fantasy world that feels like a modern update of Sid and Marty Croft’s H.R. Pufnstuf crossed with The Smurfs. It’s pretty weird, but to it’s credit, it doesn’t look like any other animated feature being released this year. DreamWorks Animation certainly seems to have a lot of faith in it, as Christophe Beck (of Frozen fame) is composing the soundtrack and Justin Timberlake is serving as executive producer on the music side in addition to writing four original songs (including the chart-topping single “Can’t Stop the Feeling”). We’ll see how this film version of the long-dormant toy brand resonates with the general audience when it hits theaters on November 4.
What do you think? Any thoughts on the Annecy report? Are you looking forward to Trolls?