From the imagination of visionary filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, the DreamWorks animated series Trollhunters is the heroic tale of what happens when ordinary teenager Jim Lake Jr. (voiced by Anton Yelchin) stumbles upon a mystical amulet that unlocks an extraordinary secret civilization of trolls. While entirely unprepared to be the first human Trollhunter, in charge of protecting the good trolls from their powerful enemies, the 15-year-old is determined to save the world, with the help of both his human friends and some new troll allies. The voice cast also includes Kelsey Grammer, Ron Perlman, Charlie Saxton, James Purefoy, Steven Yeun, Jonathan Hyde and Fred Tatasciore, and you can read Dave’s review of the series right here.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, executive producer Rodrigo Blaas talked about how this collaboration with Guillermo del Toro came about, why Trollhunters evolved from a feature film to a TV series, the challenges of bringing this to life, the fun of getting to see a fantastical world through the eyes of regular kids, celebrating the performance of Anton Yelchin, having such a great cast of voices, and how his time at Pixar helped shape the way he works now.
Collider: Trollhunters was originally being developed as a feature film, before then becoming a TV series. How did you initially get involved with this and with Guillermo del Toro?
RODRIGO BLAAS: I used to work for Pixar, for quite a long time, and I took some time off to do my short film, called Alma. Guillermo saw it and really loved it, and we started talking and trying to collaborate together. This moment came where Guillermo wanted to do Trollhunters and he called me out of the blue and asked me to come with him to direct the movie, and that was five years ago. When he said that, I thought it would be a great opportunity to work with a visionary director like Guillermo, and we worked on making it as a feature for three years, but one of the things we found was that it was hard to compress all of that story into an hour and a half or a two-hour feature animation movie. So, when the opportunity came to do this TV series with Netflix, that really helped us expand the story and we could take more time with all of the character moments. It was really a blessing to turn this into a TV series and to have such a big canvas with which to tell so many different avenues of the story and characters.
What are the keys to bringing the imagination of Guillermo del Toro to life?
BLAAS: It’s challenging, but at the same time, it’s also a ride and a really rich experience. His stories are always rooted in something, like experiences he’s had or genuine moments with his kids. We talked a lot about the lore and the trolls and where they came from. All those little moments do a lot to expand the story, naturally. Thinking that there could be trolls living around town and under bridges can do a lot for a kid’s imagination. Being very close to home and grounded, and discovering that through a kid’s eyes, is a big plus.
When you explore such a fantastical world, is it just more fun to see totally regular kids try to navigate through all of that?
BLAAS: That was intentional. That was something we talked a lot about, in the beginning. We took inspiration from the Amblin movies of the ‘80s, like Goonies and E.T. In the stories we loved, the kids were genuinely going through the journey, having fun and being scared, and they were really a part of the story. We also wanted viewers to discover the world through the kids’ eyes, instead of having it be presented by an adult. We put a lot of effort into creating this fantastical world, which is hard to do on a TV show, and push the envelope that way, so that when you see the troll world underneath this town, you can really go there and see all of the little details and corners.
I especially loved the fact that Toby has to take a break from helping his best friend, Jim, save the world, so that he can get his teeth worked on because that’s such a funny human moment.
BLAAS: That’s something that Guillermo brought, early on, and he calls it “human mistakes.” In those type of performances, you bring a little bit of the mundane and a little bit of what life is into the character because it grounds them and makes you like them more. We have some other moments like that, too. Especially for TV where you have some more time, we planned out those little details because they’re beautiful character moments.
Getting an actor as talented as Anton Yelchin involved would elevate any project, but now this project is also a celebration of his talent and a remembrance of him. What does it mean to you to have him be a part of this project?
BLAAS: It’s quite a privilege and an honor to see where his performance lies and to honor him this way. When you start these projects, you have some expectations for what you’re going to do. For me, going through the process of this project and then having someone like Anton, and what happened with him, gave another meaning to the show. He elevates Jim, the main character, to a place of heartfelt honesty that makes you believe in this worlds that you’re seeing. So, the main thing with Anton was seeing him find the character, with those little nuances and moments. He was so generous during the voice recording and always wanted to push the envelope. Usually, you do two or three takes, and then you have it, but Anton always wanted to do more. We had a lot of fun making the show, and I feel like people will want to celebrate his artistry.