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November 2016

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TROLLS 35 POST NOVEMBER 2016 and digital matte paintings — projec- tions onto 3D geometry — whenever possible to reduce the rendering load. During one musical sequence, for example, Poppy travels through 27 different environments. "We had almost one environment per shot," Denis says. "It was very graphic. Each beat had a different color. It becomes more abstract as she leaves the troll village, and then gets totally abstract. Really colorful — but, with only one or two colors for a simple read." On the other hand, for a sequence set in the troll village, the artists have Poppy sing in several unique, fully lit, fully surfaced 3D sets. Throughout the film, music carries the narrative, with songs selected by the directors with help from music producer and Branch's voice, Justin Timberlake. "It was a musical from the incep- tion," Mitchell says. "If you're doing a film about happiness, you need singing and dancing." "Of course, the trolls would be full of song," Dohrn says, "colorful music to tap into immediate emo- tion. Plus, there's a great tradition of using music in animation. Our music is non-traditional, but our film has its roots in animated musicals." "We had to do it in a way that the musical numbers didn't stop the story," Mitchell says. "And keep the narrative going," Dohrn adds. SONG AND DANCE David Burgess headed a team of 32 animators who worked on the film — 20 in Glendale, CA, and 12 at DreamWorks Dedicated Unit (DDU) in India. Rather than assigning animators to particular characters, animators worked on all the characters in a sequence. DreamWorks' proprietary animation software Premo helped facilitate that. "Premo's sequence browser made it easier to cast animators with five or six shots in a row," Burgess says. "We called it working chunky style. The animators were responsible for everything in a chunk of shots. Premo made it possible to look at the teensy parts or at the chunk holistically and make sure the shots flowed together seamlessly. And, the realtime manip- ulation at high res is just so huge. No matter what you do, you can see how they will look and feel. You don't have to go to a low poly count mode. The high res is there and ready for you." Whatever the shot, though, the trolls were the most difficult char- acters to animate. "The Bergens were easier because they were more human and naturalistic," Burgess says. "The trolls were the biggest challenge because they were so small and pushed. They had stubby arms and legs and big heads. We had to cheat like crazy. And be- cause the movie is a musical, we had choreography." The crew brought in dancers who performed the choreography for ref- erence, but that wasn't as much help as the animators had hoped. "Some choreographers had made cool dance moves that our stubby little trolls just couldn't do," Burgess says. The felted environment also gave the animators a new world of chal- lenges. "Everything had texture and was fuzzy," Burgess says. "We had to make sure we could see the envi- ronment so the trolls wouldn't end up sunk to their knees. We tried to get high-res versions of stuff they'd directly interact with or shadow layers to see the depth of the fluff." It's amusing to think of animators worrying about trolls sinking to their knees in fuzz, but in fact, it's a perfect example of how far CG has come. "We couldn't have done this movie 10 years ago," says producer Gina Shay. "We didn't have the tools for the hair, for the fuzziness of the environment. We had to create a whole new system just for glitter." Many CG films attempt to bring the visual language of live-action films into the animated world. This film does not. "That's what was so exciting for me," Denis says. "We were trying something different. The light still responds to the world, and the world feels tangible, but there was room to design, to interpret, to try different ideas." Trolls is DreamWorks' first CG musical. There are dance routines with trolls doing impossible things with their hair. The characters travel through fabric-art worlds populated with strange creatures made of felt and glitter. There's danger. There's ir- reverent humor. "We wanted to create a signature world," Shay says. "We decided the trolls are the happiest, most joyful characters in the world, so we created a world just for them." "This movie comes out just before the [US] election," Mitchell says. "I think people don't want to see a mov- ie at that time about destroying the world. I think they want to feel good. This is a movie for people who want to be happy." Barbara Robertson (BarbaraRR@ is an award-winning writer and a contributing editor for Post's sister publication, CGW. A team of 32 animators in California and India worked on the film. Trolls represents DreamWorks' first CG musical.

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