With its retro-inspired, musical message of happiness and unification, “Trolls” suddenly serves as a post-election hangover remedy. And veteran production designer Kendal Cronkhite-Shaindlin (“Madagascar”) had plenty of hair, fuzz and felt to work with in weaving a psychedelic world divided between the joyous Trolls and hateful Bergens.
“We wanted to create a hand-made kind of world made of fiber art…carpeted floors, houses made of hair, even fire made of hair…and Kendal was essential to doing that and getting our teams [in sync],” said director Mike Mitchell.
“The Trolls live in a felted forest like hippies of the ’70s with bright colors and the Bergens are like the suburbanites that pollute and litter, eat fast food and wear all-polyester,” Cronkhite-Shaindlin told IndieWire.
One of the production designer’s first decisions was hiring Portland-based fiber artist Sayuri Sasaki Hemann to build a six-foot forest model so they could analyze its properties. And an early aha moment was basing the Troll hair on wool.
“We broke it all down,” said Cronkhite-Shaindlin. “How does fuzz respond to light? What choice would you make for grass? He would you craft a mushroom?” This provided textures and a palette to emulate in CG.
And since it takes a long time to render fiber and fur, DreamWorks went to work on a fuzzy surface for the characters along with a dynamic hair program called Willow. Meanwhile, Peter Max and “Yellow Submarine” factored into this as well, especially when the Trolls color Bergen town with a bright, warm sensation to erase the dull palette of avocado green, blue, orange and gold.
“Bridget [the kindhearted scullery maid played by Zooey Deschanel] is the only one that has pink because we wanted the audience to subconsciously realize that she has Troll within her,” Cronkhite-Shaindlin said. Likewise, the happiness embrace liberates Justin Timberlake’s Branch, the curmudgeonly, Bergen-like Troll, who lives in perpetual fear.
And, with the passing of the DreamWorks torch from Jeffrey Katzenberg to co-presidents Bonnie Arnold and Mireille Soria (under the new Comcast ownership), comes an integral female storytelling point of view.
“The idea of Bridget setting the Trolls free and Poppy [Anna Kendrick] coming back and saving her came, from what I understand, a little bit from them,” Cronkhite-Shaindlin said.