Rise of the Titans Producer on Film’s Epic Scale

[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans.]

The epic, movie-size conclusion to the 6-year Tales of Arcadia saga, Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans brings together the characters of Trollhunters, 3Below and Wizards for a final adventure as our favorite characters go up against the ancient Arcade Order, hellbent on destroying the Earth. Created by Guillermo del Toro, this movie is the grand-scale conclusion fans have been waiting for since we discovered that the world of Arcadia had more than just trolls in it, but an expansive universe full of magic and sci-fi.

Collider had the opportunity to talk to executive producer Marc Guggenheim about the journey to the film, how a full-on feature allows the production to go bigger than ever, and how they landed on that emotional ending.

When did conversations start about finishing this story with a movie?

That’s a great question. I don’t know exactly when the conversation started. I mean, for sure we knew that we were going to do a trilogy of shows starting in the second season of Trollhunters, so that was a good long time ago as it is. And over the years as we sort of worked our way through the three shows, we just had general conversations about how do we end the trilogy? How do we go out in high style? And certainly the first piece of that conversation was coming up with a story that would draw together all the characters from all three shows.

And we went back and forth about the best way to do that, the best format to do it in. There was a lot of conversation about, do we do an extended season of Wizards? That way we don’t have to worry about confusing the audience. If it’s a standalone, can we come up with a standalone story that would serve as a fitting ending, but at the same time, not require everyone to have watched all three shows?

Ultimately, obviously that’s the route we decided to take, but there was a lot of back and forth and a lot of conversations around it.

Were you concerned with making sure that fans could see that plan in the previous shows? How much of the story was planned beforehand?

I think there were little things that we sort of planted again knowing where we were ultimately headed and as that picture came more and more into focus I think those little hints became more and more specific. But that being said, the movie really is designed to do two things at once. It’s meant to obviously reward longtime fans. If you’ve seen every single episode of Trollhunters, 3Below and Wizards, there are a lot of little payoffs and moments and Easter eggs that I think are meant to reward that long-time viewing.

t the same time, we tried to make those moments subtle enough that if you haven’t seen the shows or if you haven’t seen all the shows and you wouldn’t be constantly being taken out of it. I always leave it to the audience to tell us how successful or unsuccessful we were in that endeavor, but that was the intention.

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Image via Netflix

Was there anything different in terms of production or even the writing when you were approaching this with a movie versus when you were approaching the TV shows?

Yeah, enormously so. First of all, in terms of the writing, when you’re thinking of an hour and a half long movie, it’s a different narrative form than thinking episodically. You really sort of have to shift into a three act structure and approach it from a different standpoint. I think it’s always dangerous when you break out a movie as essentially a super episode of television. I’ve seen that done and I don’t think it ever works particularly well. So as far as I’m concerned, you really do have to approach it like it’s its own animal.

From a production standpoint, we used the same artists, the same directors, the same vendors to produce the movie as we do to produce the shows. That being said, because it’s a feature film, there was a real desire to push the envelope as much as we could in terms of the effects, in terms of the scope. One thing you’ll notice is, unlike Wizards and 3Below and Trollhunters where we pretty much had a limited set of locations, we literally go all over the world here with this movie. So, that’s another huge difference going from a TV silo to a feature film silo.

RELATED: Exclusive ‘Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans’ Clip Reveals an Apocalyptic Threat

Speaking of that, how was it to finally get out of Arcadia and show other parts of the world? We visit that Trollmarket in China, for instance.

It was really exciting. We felt like we were playing on a bigger canvas and, probably the way it’s translated… And part of this was because it is the end of the trilogy and when you’re at the end of the story and you don’t have to quote-unquote protect for a series or a group of future series, you can do more things. One of the things we really wanted to do that was on our list from the very beginning was we basically wanted to expose our heroes to the world. If you watch all the shows, you’ll see that even though they’re always saving the world, they’re always saving the world in a way that doesn’t leave the rest of the world to know that the world was in danger or who our heroes were.

We blow the doors off of that very definitively in the opening moments of the movie. And that was very intentional. We really wanted to sort of start off with essentially a mission statement that this is not your typical episode of the Trollhunters, 3Below or Wizards. This is its own animal. And we’re not going to be following the same rules that we typically did in the previous three shows.

How do you find that balance between making the film stand on its own, but also feeling like a continuation of the shows?

Here, I always say the Marvel movies were very instructive. I think. Marvel does many things well, and I often say that Marvel has given us the answers to the test and one of the things they do well is they clearly have this interlocking, interwoven, cinematic universe, but they also know that not every audience member is going to see every single TV show and every single movie. So, part of it’s sort of following that lead and really I think just being diligent about like, is this moment going to pull someone who hasn’t watched the shows out the movie? That’s really what we’re always examining each moment in the movie. And also, like I said, we had written and animated a prologue that really was designed to be a primer to people who haven’t seen all the shows. That really just tells you that the basic information of what you need to know and I think it does its job well.

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Image via Netflix

I love what you guys did with the character of Steve, especially in the movie, how did you guys come up with what ultimately became his story?

I think, in many ways, Steve is the character who we’re most surprised by and most proud of because originally he was a one-off. Originally, he was just this bully who was shoving a kid in a locker. There really were no plans to use him beyond that. But then, Steven Yeun who voices Steve Palchuk was just so winning and, without really sort of any design or plan, we just… This happens a lot with both live-action and animation. When you do a series, you find yourself just writing towards the actors who are giving you something that is unexpected and fun.

That was definitely the case with Steve. We just kept writing more and more and more to him. I wish I could say that there was this grand scheme, this grand plan, to evolve Steve from just the two dimensional bully to a three dimensional character, but that’s basically what happened. It really was all off of Steve Yeun’s performance and us just wanting to see more and more of him. But I love the fact that he basically goes from a cameo to a main player over the course of three shows and now this movie.

Can you talk about what the movie-sized production meant in terms of the visuals? I noticed a big upgrade in the lighting and composition.

I think one of the things that’s terrific about having the canvas as a feature is it did allow us to go to a more sophisticated place with the lighting and the effects. And in my mind, that’s what helps level up animation. I think the technology is such that you can have these characters, you can have these environments and they’ll look pretty good, but it’s only once you add the subsurface scattering and the atmosphere and the light interaction and particulate effects, all these little extra treks that you get, it’s really like just adding more paints to your palette. And we were able to really take advantage of that.

I think part of it also is knowing where to spend that time and where to spend that money. We always say there’s not enough time and there’s not enough money to put all those bells and whistles into every single frame, so we always try to figure out what moments really need this and where will it do the most good. It’s an interesting and somewhat complicated process. And Chad Hammes, our producer, is really great about knowing exactly where we should be putting our best efforts and, you do it correctly, it has the effect of making the entire movie feel really big.

Image via Netflix

You mentioned the Marvel influence. What were the sources of inspiration when it came to the movie?

It’s funny, I think Guillermo, one of the things that makes him brilliant is that he’s a lover of film and he’s a lover of animation, and he has a lot of influences and he has a lot of things that inspire him. Then, we get into the mix and we’ve got our personal preferences and everything. We talked a lot about Attack on Titan, the anime. Obviously, I think it’s pretty clear in some sequences that all the things that influenced Pacific Rim are inside here. And we also talked a lot in the writer’s room about not just our visual impressions, but our favorite TV shows and movies, which stuck the landing in a satisfying way. That was very important to us as well. So, we looked a lot at final episodes of TV shows and concluding movies in trilogies, for example. Everything really becomes grist for the mill. And I think the influences, we wear them on our sleeve. I think they’re pretty obvious as you watch the movie.

The movie has a darker tone than we’ve seen in any of the shows, while remaining as funny and lighthearted as ever. Was there anything different in how you approached the movie in that regard?

We always said… And this really came from Guillermo at the very beginning. We always said that we wanted the shows and this trilogy to grow with the audience. So I think if you go back and you rewatch Trollhunters, that appeals to the youngest audience. 3Below, things start to get a little more sophisticated, the humor starts to get a little more clever. That trend continues with Wizards. And with the movie, we wanted it to, not necessarily to be darker, but to just be a little more emotionally deeper. And I always say, for me, humor makes the drama more dramatic and drama makes the humor funnier.

We didn’t bend over backwards to phrase sort of slap sticky moments. That’s not really the type of humor that the Tales of Arcadia trilogy traffics in. It’s more like finding the humor in these human moments. I don’t want to spoil sort of what happened with Steve in the movie, but that’s, in a sense, a very prime example of how do we take a very humanistic storyline and have a lot of fun with it, and find a lot of, sometimes, even very broad humor.

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Image via Netflix

How did you decide on what ultimately became the ending of the film?

We talked a lot about every single aspect of the movie. In fact, I think if you sort of went back and you looked at our notes for the movie when we started, they would bear very little resemblance to the finished product. We really went down every avenue and we looked at the story from just about every angle and way in and way out, and certainly the ending and got the most discussion. It was tricky because, on the one hand, you want to end the series. That’s the whole point of the movie. On the other hand, it’s like, what are these kids going to do? Are they going to go off to college? That seems like a let down. That’s a little anticlimactic, so that was the struggle and the balance.

When we hit upon the time reboot idea, the biggest issue there… There was a lot of pluses. It checked off the box of allowing us to reset the universe. It avoids certain tropes like seeing them go off to college. But at the same time, none of us wanted the audience to feel cheated. We didn’t want to send the message, “Hey, listen, the last three shows, you wasted your time watching.” So the solution there for us, obviously, was all of this really did happen and Jim remembers it. Our main character remembers everything that happened. And I think if we didn’t have that element, I think it would feel like a cop-out. That was obviously something we wanted to avoid. So, I think it’s an unexpected ending. We’re not trying to court controversy with it, but for sure if there’s any aspect of the movie I’m most anxious about in terms of people’s reaction, it’s the ending.

One last sort of fun question, where was Gnome Chompsky during all of this?

Oh, great question. That’s an awesome question. Believe it or not, Gnome Chompsky was sort of in and out of the movie. Rodrigo Blaas, who voices Gnome Chompsky, he left. I always liked to say Gnome Chompsky went to France because that’s where Rodrigo moved to to do a different project. One of things we struggled with a bit, and this was true throughout the entire production process, was we had these tertiary characters, like Luug, like Gnome Chompsky, like NotEnrique, who we would have loved to either seen at all or seen more of. They kind of fell into the category of making people who weren’t familiar with the shows feel disoriented, but I like to think that Gnome Chompsky was hanging out in France and having a grand old time of it.


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