From the creators of Shrek comes DreamWorks Animation’s TROLLS, a smart, funny and irreverent comedy about the search for happiness, and just how far some will go to get it. The film transports audiences to a colorful, wondrous world populated by the overly optimistic Trolls, who have a constant dance in their step and a song on their lips, and the comically pessimistic Bergens, who are only happy when they have Trolls in their stomachs. After the Bergens invade Troll Village, Poppy (Anna Kendrick), the happiest Troll ever born, and the overly-cautious, curmudgeonly Branch (Justin Timberlake) set off on a journey to rescue her friends. Their mission is full of adventure and mishaps, as this mismatched duo try to tolerate each other long enough to get the job done.
Utilizing music to further the film's narrative, the TROLLS soundtrack is produced by Justin Timberlake, who serves as the film’s executive music producer, and features four original songs, including songs by Justin Timberlake Gwen Stefani, Anna Kendrick and Ariana Grande, in addition to a number of classic hits from the 1960s through the 1980s, rearranged and sung by members of the cast.
TROLLS features a stellar cast, including Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Russell Brand, Zooey Deschanel, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, James Corden, Kunal Nayyar, Ron Funches, Icona Pop, Quvenzhané Wallis, with John Cleese and Gwen Stefani.
The film also showcases a unique world inspired by fibers, flocked materials, fur, glitter and bright colors. Audiences will be totally enveloped in this tactile and inviting universe—the filmmakers call it “fuzzy immersion”—which is unlike any experienced before on film.
Then, there’s the hair—bright, candy-colored coifs grown to gravity-defying heights, the hallmark and crowning glory of Trolls everywhere.
FIND YOUR HAPPY PLACE
TROLLS can be enjoyed by youngsters as a unique world rich with unforgettable characters, music, humor, adventure and color; as well as by adults, for whom the film’s overarching theme of the search for happiness will resonate long after the end credits have rolled.
Indeed, the Trolls’ all-singing, all-dancing, all-hugging world is all about happiness, which infuses every frame of the film. TROLLS explores how we treat others and, more importantly, how we treat ourselves. Its emotion-charged message is that happiness comes from within, and can be a powerful and infectious force when it’s spread.
That’s a potent and relevant idea, especially in today’s world, which has largely given way to negativity, fear and imbalance. The story of TROLLS suggests that each of us can bring change through positive thinking and actions, while highlighting the importance of doing the right thing, even—or especially—when facing formidable challenges.
Happiness was foremost in the minds of TROLLS director Mike Mitchell and co-director Walt Dohrn, even during the earliest stages of story discussions with screenwriters/co-producers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger and producer Gina Shay.
The two filmmakers had worked together on DreamWorks Animation’s blockbuster Shrek franchise, and their familiarity with the beloved ogres of that world led them to their distant cousins, the Trolls.
Their research into Troll lore, which sprang from Scandinavian mythology, revealed that Trolls came in myriad shapes and sizes, from monstrous giants to tiny creatures who granted wishes. As DreamWorks had done with Shrek, Mitchell and Dohrn decided to adapt the Trolls mythology to create a new universe and set of characters.
The filmmakers note that they did embrace one aspect of previous Trolls history. “We were fascinated by how these creatures were originally scary-ugly and evolved over time into being cute-ugly,” says Mitchell. “In the 1970s they became a symbol for happiness.”
Adds Dohrn: “Their simplicity and imperfections were relatable and made people feel good.”
As they continued their explorations of all things Troll, Mitchell and Dohrn zeroed in on the motifs of happiness and optimism, and their imaginations ignited.
“Those ideas compelled us, as did the opportunity to create a story and mythology from scratch,” says Dohrn. “We decided it was time to start spreading some joy again. Mike and I had a blank slate, from which we could create anything with these characters, their story and their environments. With happiness as a guidepost, we wanted to create a film with a mix of fun, adventure, heart, music, color and textures.”
In many ways, says producer Gina Shay, another of Mitchell and Dohrn’s Shrek franchise alumna, TROLLS hearkens back to the 1970s, a time “when there was this feeling of freedom; disco, pop and dance music was everywhere; and everybody seemed to be roller skating. We wanted the Trolls to reflect that joy in their society. They’re also very peaceful.”
The Trolls even have a special kind of watch that reminds them to hug every hour on the hour. No matter what they’re doing, when the watch blooms, it’s “hug time.” Notes Mitchell: “Part of being happy is connecting with others, and what better way to show that than with a hug.”
“On the other hand, the Trolls’ neighbors, the Bergens, are neither enlightened nor peaceful,” Shay notes. “So the Trolls must try to apply that ‘70s feeling to the Bergens and teach them that happiness comes from within, and that you can find it in many different ways.” That’s no easy task because the Bergens lack harmony and joy and can find happiness only through outward, more harmful means. Their bliss is less in their control, and less satisfying when it’s achieved.
THE ADVENTURE BEGINS
With that through line of happiness in place, Mitchell and Dohrn began mapping out the story, enlisting the help of the screenwriting team of Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, who had been the architects of another animated film universe, having written the three Kung Fu Panda blockbusters for DreamWorks Animation. Berger calls the new assignment “a real creative change of pace, and so much fun.” Aibel adds that “the biggest gift to us as writers on TROLLS is its very premise. We started with the world’s most optimistic character and the world’s most pessimistic, and then launched them on a road trip.”
TROLLS opens, of course, on an upbeat note, depicting how the Trolls live to sing, dance and hug; dance, hug and sing…well, you get it.
After an action-packed backstory that depicts Troll King Peppy’s (Jeffrey Tambor) heroic rescue of his people, who had been captured by the Bergens, and the setting up of a new Trolls home in the forest, we meet Peppy’s now grown daughter, Poppy, who leads a celebration because…they really love to celebrate!
Unfortunately, Poppy and the Trolls’ non-stop revelry attracts the attention of the Bergens, and the Trolls’ twenty year period of freedom from their unhappy neighbors comes to an end when the ever-scheming Bergen, Chef (Christine Baranski), nabs Poppy’s friends and whisks them away to Bergen Town.
With nowhere else to turn, Poppy seeks the help of the only Troll who knows how to find Bergen Town—the always prepared, overly cautious and decidedly unhappy Branch (Justin Timberlake). Branch is the only Troll who doesn’t sing or dance, and he never, ever, hugs.
To rescue Poppy’s friends from a less-than-happy fate, she and Branch must journey to the dangerous world of the Bergens. Along the way, Poppy and Branch hit every imaginable obstacle. At a critical juncture, the power of positive thinking seems to fail Poppy, who despairs and loses her resolve. Negativity, like happiness, is contagious, so when Poppy falters, so do her friends. It falls on the least likely member of the group to bring happiness back to the Trolls.
HAIR’S THE THING
Hair is a defining aspect of the Trolls and their universe, and bringing its nearly supernatural powers to life fell to a specially created “Hair Task Force,” made up of hundreds of artists and technicians working only on hair effects, ensuring that this magical thing was always looking—and acting—fabulous.
TROLLS is the first DreamWorks Animation film to use Willow, the company’s proprietary long hair simulation tool. Willow is unique in that it is both efficient and stable in how it solves lots of “bad hair day” problems, such as bending, friction, elasticity, and collisions of hundreds of thousands of hairs on a character’s head.
It enabled the production’s talented artists to style, simulate, and preview Troll hair all in one application, giving them interactive artistic control that brought the hair to life as a character. Previous to Willow, artists from multiple departments needed to use a variety of tools to achieve the style, performance and look of hair.
That technology was utilized to its maximum capacity because the Trolls build everything out of hair; they get around on zip lines built from it and exercise on macramé-d trampolines made of…you guessed it…hair. Even their fire and water look like hair. “It’s such a fully realized world that you don’t even question the fact that fire is made of hair,” notes Timberlake. “Hair is the Trolls’ superpower!”
“Troll hair takes on a life of its own,” adds Kendrick. “Trolls can hide stuff in it, fight with it and even use it as a staircase. There’s limitless potential resting right there on their heads. It makes me wonder why I even bother taking care of my own hair when it’s not doing anything like that for me. It’s not helping me fight giant spiders.”
Says Timberlake: “Branch uses his hair as whip; let’s see Indiana Jones try that!”
All that hair-raising derring-do didn’t come easily: the Hair Task Force created a total of 1.8 million strands, with Poppy taking 84,000, Branch almost 50,000—and Lady Glittersparkles (aka Bridget) taking the furry crown, using 237,375 strands, with help from Poppy and her pals, of course.
ALL THAT GLITTERS…
What’s a party without glitter? Early on, the filmmakers knew they wanted to use glitter as an effect to increase the joyful nature of the Trolls. They foresaw utilizing glitter clouds and sprays throughout the film—and even as textures on characters. “Glitter is important to a Troll,” notes Dohrn. “It’s a big part of their world and—sometimes—how they express their jubilance.”
TROLLS is the first film to use glitter to this extent. But until the film was well underway, quality glitter didn’t come easily. Even the most advanced computers had a difficult time dealing with glitter, which needs to move, blow around and reflect light in different
directions. The filmmakers discovered that glitter flakes looked great when the Trolls were stationary, but when they moved or danced—and Trolls do love to dance—the effect fell apart.
“Who knew that something like glitter could be so complex?” says Mitchell.
Once again, high tech innovation saved the day—and the Trolls’ glittery world. The DreamWorks tech team developed a GlitterFlakes shader, enabling the artists to easily control the motion, shape and reflectiveness of glitter flakes. A 3D noise cloud of spheres gives the glitter flakes a look of natural random distribution—just as it looks in the real world. The artists could dial up or down the 3D noise cloud to keep the glitter movement looking random, while also making it possible to “direct” it.
Because the Trolls sometimes need to glitter their hair, the crack DreamWorks “Hair Team” adjusted its Hair Systems to also have a reference pose space, to enable glittery flakes to sparkle with dancing hair.
The filmmakers like to call the area that housed the GlitterFlakes Shader the “Glitter Labs,” manned by scientists who, Mitchell jokes, “study glitter and throw it around a lot.”
As if creating new tools for hair and glitter weren’t enough, the tech wizards at DreamWorks developed a proprietary Digital Gardening Tool Kit for TIBER, which facilitated real-time, interactive art direction, which in turn allowed the designers to “plant” the incredibly detailed Troll Village.
Specifically, the Digital Gardening Tool enabled interactive art direction for the various plants, mushrooms and houses that populate Troll Village. It is gardening made easy—and gorgeous.
TROLLS also gives a lot of digital love to the art of scrapbooking because that’s how Trolls record their history. Whenever the film takes us into Poppy’s mind, it looks like a scrapbook, and you see much of her world through that kind of album. Another special team focused on that critical task.
Okay, so it’s nice to be happy. Happy is good. But why make a movie about it? Mitchell returns to the idea that “there are a lot of unfortunate things occurring in today’s world, so why not go to the movies and see something that looks and feels like a party, and have a good time?”
Dohrn adds a similarly upbeat perspective: “It’s nice to make a film that spreads optimism and at the same time asks some important questions about it, and how it originates.”
For Shay, the film is all about fun and surprises. “TROLLS has an abundance of irreverent humor, which is completely unexpected, as well as a lot of heart,” she says. “It also immerses you in a world you’ve never experienced before.”
For its two lead actors, the theme of joyfulness is a key reason they joined the project—and it provided an unforgettable memory once they wrapped. “TROLLS makes me smile and laugh,” says Timberlake. “I love its non-cynical humor. Happiness connects us, and funny enough, the character I play, Branch, is trying so hard to avoid it. In the end, of course, he really can’t.”
“When I watch the movie I wish its universe was real,” Kendrick says. “And that I could visit it.”
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