Trollhunters: “Guillermo del Toro is incredible to work with”

Exec producer Marc Guggenheim talks us through Trollhunters

Naturally, we will always be on board with anything that has Guillermo del Toro’s name attached to it, but the prospect of seeing him assist in adapting his own book, Trollhunters (which he co-wrote with Daniel Kraus).

When you pair in a cast that includes Anton Yelchin (in one of his last roles), Kelsey Grammer, Ron Perlman and Steven Yeun, and experienced heads like executive producer Marc Guggenheim (Arrow, Legends Of Tomorrow), and you have something to look forward to indeed.

We were lucky enough to catch up with Guggenheim to talk about Trollhunters, which will soon be heading to Netflix…


For those of us who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about Trollhunters?
Basically, Trollhunters is an all-ages adventure show that’s animated from the mind of Guillermo del Toro… Guillermo was involved in the creation of the project back to the original novel that he co-wrote.

What the show does – and what the novel did – is introduce the audience to this underground world of trolls, as well as goblins, gruesomes and gnomes and the Trollhunter, who is supposed to be the troll responsible for maintaining the balance between good trolls and bad trolls. The reason I say ‘supposed to be’ is in our first episode, the trollhunter amulet chooses a trollhunter that is the first human ever to carry the mantle, and that’s Jim Lake Jr, who is basically an everyday kid. He’s in high school, he’s being raised by a single mother. In many ways, he’s raising her.

He’s got a best friend, he’s got a girl he’s got a crush on. He’s got all the ordinary things that kids in high school have to deal with, but he also has this additional burden of being the first human trollhunter.


How was Guillermo del Toro to work with? Was it exciting to work with someone famed for having such a vivid imagination, as has been made clear by his previous works?
The first thing you notice when you work with Guillermo is that he’s such a gentleman. He is just the warmest, most gracious human being – just a wonderful, wonderful person. What you come to realise when you work with him is there’s a reason why he’s Guillermo del Toro; he really has the goods.

Whenever I work with him – a meeting, lunch, it doesn’t matter how small the conversation is – I end up walking away having learned something, either about the business or craft or storytelling. I liken working with Guillermo to going to film school. He has so much innate talent and knowledge, and a willingness to share both, it’s incredibly rewarding to work with him.

What’s really exciting about this project is Guillermo’s voice has tended to be not age-appropriate: Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak, Blade II – these are not kid-appropriate projects, and what’s so great about Trollhunters is it really is for all ages; it’s not just for kids, there’s a lot adults will find interesting, funny and compelling, but there’s a whole generation of people who haven’t been exposed to Guillermo’s vision, and I think you see the character designs and you instantly know ‘This is a Guillermo del Toro project’, and it happens to be appropriate for all ages.trollhunters


Similarly, you have a fantastic voice cast. Did you have a wish list of people for the show?
Ron Pelrman obviously Guillermo has worked with for decades, so it was always a given that we would ask him to participate. When we were talking about the casting of Blinky, Guillermo said, “I keep picturing someone like Kelsey Grammer in my head.” Rather than getting someone like Kelsey Grammer, we went out and got Kelsey Grammer!

There were other casting choices that were really just about getting wonderful actors, Anton Yelchin is obviously Jim Lake, and brought so much warmth, energy and humanity to the role. Steven Yeun I think is one of the big surprises of the cast because we all know Steve from The Walking Dead, and he is a wonderfully kind, sweet person, and here he is playing a jerk, a high-school bully. It’s been a wonderful experience watching Anton and Steve develop their characters so different from their personalities. Charlie Saxton – who’s a name that a lot of people don’t know, but eventually will know – practically steals the show as Toby.

So it’s a wonderful mix of super well-known voices that were always on our wish list, came and were attracted to the project, and brand new voices who were very, very talented and really embodied their characters.


Visually, what sort of look were you going for?
Basically two different looks to sell two different worlds: you’ve got Arcadia, which is everytown USA, and we were really going for a timeless quality. One of the reasons for that was one of our touchstones were Amblin films of the Eighties. I think even though they were rooted in the Eighties, they had a timeless quality to them, and the town of Arcadia feels like 2016/2017, but at the same time it also wouldn’t be out of place design-wise in the Eighties or Seventies or Fifties. So Arcadia is very warm and timeless.

Underneath Arcadia is the second world of our show, which is Trollmarket. Trollmarket is completely different; everything is constructed from rocks and crystals. One thing that Guillermo talks about is that there’s a lot of motivated light in Trollmarket – in other words, things will be lit, but not necessarily from a light source, or the light source won’t be immediately apparent. What that does is first of all, it fools your eye into seeing that you’re in a magical place, because subconsciously you recognise that there’s nothing generating this light, so it makes the whole world feel very magical.

The other thing it does is really brightens things up, and makes incredibly colourful what could otherwise be a very drab, dark underground lair. So the ambition of Trollmarket I think is really remarkable, and the two worlds feel very different, as they should, because the show’s about many things, but one of the things is the bridging between these two worlds.trollhunters-4


What were the biggest challenges in adapting the source material?
I would say certainly the biggest challenges were all on the production side. This show started out a movie – originally it was a feature, and the biggest challenge of the feature was how do you cram all of Guillermo’s ideas and this deep mythology into an hour and a half? Fortunately, when Netflix offered to make the series, that problem went away, we suddenly had the real estate for all of the things that we needed to do.

But the show always kept – I think in a very good way – its roots as a feature film. It looks like a movie. I think we were really pushing the envelope in what you can do and what an audience can expect from an animated series, as opposed to an animated film. That’s obviously very challenging: it required the work of five different animation studios, cutting-edge special effects technology, cutting-edge particle dynamics, really a remarkable combination of technology and artists to pull off something that no one else has ever pulled off before.


You’re better known for cable shows and films – how were Netflix to work with, and how did it differ from other shows?
Really night and day, to be honest with you. Netflix were always supportive of basically doing things in a very atypical way.

Unlike a lot of animated shows, this is serialised, each episode has a beginning, middle and end, but there are subplots, character development. I think in most animated shows, the characters in episode 100 are the same characters in terms of their personalities than they were in episode one.

Netflix was always very encouraging and supportive of our desire to really tell a long-tale story where the characters would grow and evolve and change. When you have three of your protagonists being kids, there was a real craving on our part to watch those kids do what kids do, which is grow up and develop and learn from their experiences, and not be the same people that they were in the pilot. Quite frankly I can’t think of a single thing that we proposed or pitched on the show that Netflix wasn’t supportive of.


Trollhunters will be available to stream worldwide on Netflix from 23 December 2016. For all the latest TV news, pick up the new issue of SciFiNow.