For DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls World Tour, the Walt Dohrn-directed follow-up to 2016’s Trolls, the filmmaking team embraced the challenge of creating not one but six colorful and completely original Trolls landscapes. They aspired to expand the world of the original film, especially in the lyrical and sonic landscape, so they created an entire map of lands based on musical genres. “We didn’t want to follow the same template,” says producer Gina Shay.
Each landscape was devoted to a different kind of music: techno, hard rock, classical, country, funk, and pop. Below, key members of the team talk Cartoon Brew through the visual references used to create the different worlds, touching on some of the creative and technical challenges that arose along the way.
An underwater macramé dance club world with lasers and merfolk, the astonishing subterranean empire of the Techno Trolls was inspired by nothing less than nautical ropes. When production designer Kendal Cronkhite Shaindlin asked, “What if it’s a coral reef that’s made fully out of rope and knotted twine?”, the team knew it had its look. For Cronkhite Shaindlin, the natural progression was toward macramé, which is basically knot-making with rope. She wove in some fiber optics (for the techno aspect), as well as lasers in a heart-shaped coral reef.
For visual effects supervisor Matt Baer, the opening Techno sequence posed the incredibly challenging task of pulling all departments together to make a cohesive light-show-and-dance party. “We wanted the weave of the fabrics to become pixels for our light show,” he says. “This required a specific UV layout in our environments to allow for the fx department to generate sequences of patterns to run through every fiber. On top of this, we choreographed both the color and energy of the crowds to reach a crescendo — while keeping our eyes focused on the most important story beats.”
Each new Trolls World was built around the way in which fabric was treated in that domain. The prominent touchstones for the Hard Rock Trolls are denim, leather, fishnet, and silk. “For these Trolls, head of effects Steve Wood and his team took satin fabric, cut it up, and blew a fan through it to see how it would look,” says co-producer Kelly Cooney Cilella. “The lava that flows from a volcano is satin fabric. It was so great to watch each department take that mentality of a handmade world and come up with what they would do with it.”
The effects team conducted a number of live-action shoots where they took fabric and moved it around the table, allowing the filmmakers to examine what it would look like as Trolls interacted with it. No world was more luxurious and decadent than the classical Symphonyville. All gold and gilded thread, this land of flying musical cherubs was completed by rococo-brocade fabric, along with satin-cord-trimmed Machu Picchu-like mountains with caves shaped liked orchestral instruments.
Because this world was largely inspired by the Baroque and Romantic periods, and classical music can often evoke a heavenly elevated feeling, the creative team looked for ways to combine textures, fashions, and art from those eras into their designs. “We took all these relatively serious influences — like classical art and powdered wigs — and combined them, which led to an unexpected, yet welcome, silliness for the final designs,” says art director Timothy Lamb.
For the Country Music Trolls living in the heartland town of Lonesome Flats, everything is handmade, with quilted fabrics, burlap, denim, and gingham everywhere. The river is made from gossamer fabric and the cliffs are rendered as stacks of blankets on top of one another, leaving the audience’s imagination to run wild. “The idea of a quilted landscape and town came from the history of the frontier and how frontier women repurposed everything they had, so old clothing got patched into blankets,” says production designer Kendal Cronkhite Shaindlin.
When it came to the visual elements for the Funk Trolls and the design for Vibe City, the team was inspired by the vibrancy, color, and visual language of 1970s LPs, weaving a great deal of gold, silver, and purple into the imagery. “The environment for Vibe City came into scouting — we did early pre-production and planning on all sets before going into previz — after the sequence was boarded,” says head of layout Todd Jansen. “The set was amazing and added to the storytelling.”
Visual effects supervisor Matt Baer, who worked closely with Cronkhite Shaindlin throughout production, notes that their mission was finding the point where the creative and technological aspects meet. “Kendal and I ultimately found the right approach and workflow,” he says. “One sequence had a scene completely covered in glitter, while another required a 2d-esque animation style rendered with an airbrush look.”
Actress Anna Kendrick, who voices the character of Queen Poppy, was duly impressed by the scope of Trolls World Tour. “In the first film, the animation was mind-blowing and felt so tactile,” Kendrick says. “In this one, the filmmakers push the visuals and animation, not only in the new character designs but in all of the amazing worlds they created; every little detail feels so real. If I watched this as a kid I would think, ‘I want to go there.’ You want it to be real because it’s so magical, and the animators have made it feel so lifelike.”