Brighter, Louder, Wilder!

Walt Dohrn and his team at Dream­Works push the mu­si­cal and visual en­ve­lope in their sec­ond visit to the Trolls’ uni­verse.

Animation Magazine - - CON­TENTS - By Tom McLean

Walt Dohrn and his team at Dream­Works push the mu­si­cal and visual en­ve­lope in their sec­ond visit to the Trolls uni­verse. By Tom McLean

Like any good pop con­fec­tion, Dream­Works An­i­ma­tion’s 2016 hit fea­ture Trolls told a sweet, warm and fuzzy heart­felt tale full of catchy pop tunes that left au­di­ences hun­gry for more. And more of pretty much ev­ery­thing that made the first movie a hit is ex­actly what di­rec­tor Walt Dohrn had in mind for the se­quel, Trolls World Tour, which ar­rives April 17 in theaters.

“It was al­ways like, okay, there’s gotta be more char­ac­ters, more new worlds, and — I think be­cause mu­sic was such a pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence in the first film — we said there’s gotta be more mu­sic,” says Dohrn, who co-di­rected the first CG-an­i­mated out­ing.

Trolls World Tour de­liv­ers all of that and more, telling a story in which the newly crowned Queen Poppy (Anna Ken­drick) dis­cov­ers that hers is one of six tribes of Trolls, and each is ded­i­cated to a dif­fer­ent genre of mu­sic: Pop, Coun­try, Techno, Clas­si­cal, Funk and Rock. That dis­cov­ery comes as Queen Barb (Rachel Bloom) launches a scheme for rock ’n’ roll to con­quer and rule over all other types of mu­sic, pro­pel­ling Poppy and Branch (Justin Tim­ber­lake) on a quest to unite all the gen­res in peace, while fig­ur­ing out their still-new re­la­tion­ship.

The movie in­tro­duces char­ac­ters to pop­u­late each land, bring­ing in as voices such mu­sic icons as Ozzy Os­bourne, An­der­son .Paak, Ge­orge Clin­ton, Mary J. Blige, Kelly Clark­son, Gwen Ste­fani, Gus­tavo Du­damel and the K-pop group Red Vel­vet. The film also fea­tures the voices of James Cor­den, Sam Rock­well and Ron Funches.

Grow­ing a nar­ra­tive and a world big enough to in­clude them all is a big task, one that be­gan dur­ing pro­duc­tion on the first movie and re­sulted in a rough first draft for the se­quel ready by the time the first Trolls was re­leased in Novem­ber 2016.

Ex­pand­ing Mu­si­cal Hori­zons

Pro­ducer Gina Shay says the project be­gan as a way to make sure the first movie was ca­pa­ble of telling more sto­ries if there was de­mand.“We wanted to make sure in mak­ing the first movie that it was a world that could be ex­panded,” she says. “We all thought how about we ex­pand the world and sub­vert the au­di­ence’s ex­pec­ta­tions by cre­at­ing this ex­pan­sion through mu­si­cal gen­res.”

The fo­cus on hard rock as the genre that

would in­cite the story came di­rectly from the stereo­type of hard rock­ers’ dis­missals as in­fe­rior of ev­ery­thing from pop to disco, says co-di­rec­tor David P. Smith. ”It’s where ev­ery­one’s gut goes when you think of hard rock,” says Smith.

Lead­ing the charge is Queen Barb, whose look and at­ti­tude was in­spired by such clas­sic rock­ers as Deb­bie Harry and Joan Jett and fleshed out be­yond the sur­face flash of a mu­sic video to give her an ex­tra di­men­sion. “We started ex­plor­ing the dif­fer­ent depths of what makes this char­ac­ter tick, es­pe­cially her ad­mi­ra­tion for her mu­sic and her com­mu­nity and her friend­ships and her fa­ther and things like that,” says Smith. Her fa­ther, King Thrash, is voiced by Os­bourne — es­sen­tially play­ing him­self — in one of the movie’s fun­nier cameos.

Ex­pand­ing the fab­ric-based visual tex­tures of Trolls lead to some in­ter­est­ing places as well, with pro­duc­tion de­signer Ken­dal Cronkhite ap­ply­ing the fab­ric con­cept to each of the dif­fer­ent worlds. The re­sults were as di­verse as the mu­si­cal gen­res them­selves, Dohrn says, cre­at­ing ev­ery­thing from the un­der­wa­ter techno tribe and a coun­try-in­spired quilted desert land­scape to a clas­sic leather, denim and studs look for the rock­ers.

Hit­ting the Right Notes

Key to the movie is the choice of mu­sic, which ended up be­ing a more even mix of Tim­ber­lake-pro­duced orig­i­nals and cov­ers of clas­sics from each mu­si­cal genre. Shay says some­times the right song for a mo­ment in the movie was easy to find, while oth­ers took a lot more work — all of it sub­ject to li­cens­ing avail­abil­ity and af­ford­abil­ity.

“We wanted to make sure that we were be­ing as di­verse as pos­si­ble within each genre,” says Shay. “And we just cast the most au­then­tic peo­ple who could sing in that style, who also have com­edy chops and act­ing chops.

And when we cast for Trolls we do cast peo­ple who feel like they carry the core method­ol­ogy or the core be­lief sys­tem of Trolls, which is pos­i­tiv­ity, em­pow­er­ment.”

Some lyrics to pop­u­lar songs were changed to fit the nar­ra­tive, such as Cyndi Lau­per’s iconic “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” Lau­per’s “True Col­ors” was used in a key mo­ment in the first film and helped de­fine the fran­chise’s mu­si­cal iden­tity, so Dohrn says they wanted to in­clude another of her songs in Trolls World Tour. The al­tered lyrics were tried out in­ter­nally, with a rough demo put to­gether be­fore the stu­dio reached out to Lau­per for her in­put and ap­proval.

An­i­mat­ing the new char­ac­ters that pop­u­late these worlds — as well as the re­turn­ing char­ac­ters — was headed up by an­i­ma­tion su­per­vi­sor Car­los Puer­to­las. A huge fan of the first movie, Puer­to­las is a new­comer to work­ing on the fran­chise and says that gave him a new per­spec­tive on the project. “In this movie, we’re ex­plor­ing so many dif­fer­ent worlds that we de­cided to kind of dou­ble down on that idea and try to make each world feel a lit­tle dif­fer­ent and have their own way of mov­ing and have a lit­tle bit of a dif­fer­ent kind of style of an­i­ma­tion,” he says.

One way in which Puer­to­las says they changed things up was to as­sign an­i­ma­tion su­per­vi­sors to each world in the movie to help de­fine each one. For ex­am­ple, in the Rock Troll world, the per­for­mances tried to in­cor­po­rate the un­pre­dictable be­hav­ior associated with rock stars, along with cam­era work with a more hand­held qual­ity.

An­i­ma­tors were given a work­load of about 14 to 15 shots, with each be­ing given a mo­ment to shine. “You had your own mo­ment to come up with your own idea and kind of be the owner of that mo­ment,” Puer­to­las says.

Clas­sic In­spi­ra­tions

Dohrn says the film’s char­ac­ter an­i­ma­tion takes in­spi­ra­tion from stop-mo­tion and the move­ments of Jim Hen­son’s Mup­pets. He cites as in­flu­ences the UPA style and the work of Ward Kim­ball do­ing things like hold­ing poses. “We also thought this kind of styl­ized move­ment can live side by side with some­thing more sub­tle when it needs to,” he says.“Hav­ing more real move­ment next to a styl­ized move­ment, it’s like it’s all one lan­guage. It stays true to the char­ac­ter.”

Chore­og­ra­phers also were part of the mix, cre­at­ing dance moves the an­i­ma­tors could use in the many mu­si­cal se­quences. With the char­ac­ters hav­ing car­toon pro­por­tions like huge hands or an over­size head, there was a lot of adapt­ing the moves to char­ac­ters and mo­ments when they work. ”[An­i­ma­tors] would use that as ref­er­ence in some ar­eas where it could work, and on other ar­eas it was more of an in­spi­ra­tion,” Puer­to­las says.

On the tech­ni­cal end, Trolls World Tour used the stu­dio’s new pro­pri­etary ren­derer Moon­ray, which was not yet avail­able on the first film. And mo­tion blur was re­moved in many shots to give the movie a stop-mo­tion feel­ing.

And if Trolls World Tour is a hit, Dohrn says he’d love to re­turn once again to their bright, mu­si­cal world. “I feel so close to these char­ac­ters af­ter six years, that they start to have a life of their own,” he says. ”And I en­joy that.” ◆

Uni­ver­sal/Dream­Works’ Trolls World Tour be­gins per­form­ing in theaters on April 10.

‘We also thought this kind of styl­ized [stop-mo­tion-in­spired] move­ment can live side by side with some­thing more sub­tle when it needs to. Hav­ing more real move­ment next to a styl­ized move­ment, it’s like it’s all one lan­guage.’ — Di­rec­tor Walt Dohrn

Jam­ming to Dif­fer­ent Drums: Poppy (Anna Ken­drick) and Branch (Justin Tim­ber­lake) dis­cover they’re part of a vast net­work of mu­sic-lov­ing Trolls spread out across six lands de­voted to dif­fer­ent gen­res of mu­sic in the high-en­ergy se­quel.

Iron Maiden: Tough-as­nails hard-rock songstress Queen Barb (Rachel Bloom) is the en­emy of pop, coun­try, techno, funk and clas­si­cal mu­sic.

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