“Trolls,” the sole animated film to receive a gala screening during last week’s Film Festival, won over both children and adults during its showing Monday, October 24. The film, set to be released in theaters nationwide this Friday, was followed by a panel discussion with director Mike Mitchell, co-director Walt Dohrn and production designer Kendal Cronkhite. The three creatives discussed their extensive careers in the animation industry while also sharing insight into the film’s design process.
Mitchell, whose directing credits include both live action (“Sky High”) and animated films (“Shrek Forever After”), said there was an equal division of labor between himself, Dohrn and Cronkhite throughout the film’s development. He also explained how he and Dohrn approached the recording sessions with actors Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake, who portray trolls Poppy and Branch.
“Usually in animation, the director is behind a sheet of glass in the recording studio area, and they press a button to say, ‘Let’s do that again,’” Mitchell said. “So, Walt and I just barge into the room with the actors.”
Dohrn not only co-directed “Trolls,” but he also lent his voice to a small but comedic character, Cloud Guy. While collaborating on the story’s pacing and narrative elements, Dohrn said he and Mitchell constantly kept the audience’s reaction in mind.
“Our bosses are really the audience,” Dohrn said. “While making this movie we talked a lot about Alfred Hitchcock, and he had a lot of respect for the audience. How do we make things clear for them? How do we make it funny for them?”
Cronkhite said she started her career in production design as the assistant art director for “The Nightmare Before Christmas” before becoming a highly regarded production designer at DreamWorks Animation. Her credits include production design for all three “Madagascar” films, though she said “Trolls” was her favorite project to date.
Cronkhite said she is very hands-on as a production designer, because she is often involved in a film from the start of its creative development.
“I love all kinds of art,” Cronkhite said. “I love all kinds of filmmaking. It’s exciting for me, and honestly to kind of push our technology. Here, you know the mythology of the trolls, so there’s a lot for me to start with that led to all the choices after.”
One of the creative concerns became a matter of how weird the story could get without entering absurdist territory, according to Mitchell.
“Like, can we put in cupcakes? Can we murder a clown? But we do consider it,” Mitchell said. “We also think of weird stuff, like are these Bergens too scary? They were terrifying, and I don’t want to make a horror film.”
“We spent like the next two and half years trying to maintain that weirdness,” Dohrn said.
For Cronkhite, “Trolls” is a reflection and celebration of her, Mitchell and Dohrn’s extensive creative careers.
“We are artists. We are all illustrators, but in the end it’s a movie, so to follow it through to that point is amazing,” Cronkhite said. “It becomes original. I think that’s what this film is. It has all of our upbringings over the years and influences all pushed together.”