TROLL the tale of a tail 1 Grimmer & Trym
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© Sagatoon © Spring Era Films © Global Genesis Group © Blue Bug Entertainment 
and © JBMonge Studio
My journey on 
Troll: the Tale of a Tail

Sagatoon (Norway) and Bluebug entertainment (Quebec) by Kristian Kamp 
A new story began for me as an Art Director and Character Designer at the early stage of a small project in pre-production under the direction of Peter Dodd and Kristian Kamp. That was a very small team, but very warm and friendly !

But, let me introduce first the project with the words of my good Friend Peter Dodd who was the first director on the first pitch during the pre-production of the movie in Canada.

I quote:
"Troll is a CGI feature film which is currently in production in Canada, due for release at the end of 2017.
For a couple of years Peter Dodd worked on developing this project and was attached to Direct the movie with Kristian Kamp, the project’s creator as Co-Director. In the end, sadly the timing simply didn’t work out and reluctantly peter dodd had to let it go. The movie is now being Directed by Kevin Munroe along with Kristian.
During the time I was attached to the project we did a lot of work and had a lot of fun, beginning in Norway and later going to Canada to work with Blue Bug Entertainment in Montreal and Toronto-based writers Suzanne Bolch and John May.
Designing the characters and generally being a force of creativity was Jean-Baptiste Monge (aka JB).
JB is one of the only artists I have worked with who is incredibly skilled using traditional techniques of painting and drawing and seems equally comfortable using 3D tools (Zbrush) in a fluid and creative way. I think the results speak for themselves.
All materials © Copyright Sagatoon Quebec & Global Genesis Group

Based on creatures from Scandinavian mythology and folklore, the Trolls had to retain the organic, textured feel of their origins as part of nature, yet avoid being monstrous (unless called for!) and work as expressive and relatable animated characters. Jean-Baptiste Monge would sketch options and loose directions very loosely before working in Zbrush to create designs in 3D (see below). PETER DODD " [End of quote]
So after this very concise and great introduction by Peter, let me tell you a little bit more about the process seen through the prism of my eyes. 
I started to work on Troll just after my first session of work on Ballerina (LEAP!). It was on October or November 2013 and it was really great time for me because the project was really closed to my favorite subject... Fantasy !
The team was really small: only 6 guys, Jean Aubert the producer, Kristian Kamp producer executive, creator and Co-Director, Peter Dodd the Director, Johnny Carlsen story artist, Bjarne Hansen environment artist, and me as Character Designer and I shared with Kristian and Peter the first Art direction. 
We were really like a 3-headed troll and it was really fun to live it.

I have made 3 sessions for this Troll project:
- 6 months with the original team. 
- then later, 6 new months with the add of Veronique Comeau in a new little team, for helping me with the modelling and the look-dev, under my supervision and my art direction for the 8 last main characters. 
- And finally, a little week in solo for the last session just before they went on production with a friend that I had introduced them in the role of Art director, Cedric Schmitt.
Now, it is time to dive deeply in the process of the CREATION
At this time, as I told you, I was in charge of the art direction of the character design under the supervision of the director Peter Dodd and Kristian Kamp the co-director and I was also actually the only guy on my team lol... !
It sounds weird, I know, kinda bit ridiculous to be in charge of a team were you are ... alone ^^! I do admit, I expected at least one person in minimum to help me with the creation tasks. 
But the 2 others guys (of the Norway Team) were always very busy with their own work: Johnny were in charge of the storyboarding and Bjarne was working on his own contract and was also trying to work on his spare time on the environment pre-researches! So indeed it was just me for the designs.
The picture below was the very first contact that I had with the pre-design and I realized at this very moment that we, well I, had a huge work to do, to turn this idea into something that worked for 3D animation! 
I have now, with more experience, a much better vision of the work that I could extract from these characters, because of all the things I learnt during this process and the next after this project. Again at this time, I was sitting at the same time on the chairs of 4 different guys: an art director, a character designer, a modeler and a look dev artist.
Crazy, right!
I had already worked with the same producer, Jean Aubert (he used to be on Leap! as well at the very beginning) and I knew what he was looking for 2D and 3D models and what he was waiting for about them. 
The deal was clear: to do something that worked for finding the investors. 
So we had to find a new direction by just keeping the essence of course. 
That’s why I never tried to follow the primary designs directly on their line and shift them directly into models: I just extracted the ideas from the Norwegian team to show and offer something more attractive.
So now we have a lot of work to do!!! 

The first character that I did for Troll a Tale of a tail was Grimmer, the Villain of the story.
As Grimmer was a main Character on the pitch of the movie, I have been given 4 AMAZING weeks, full time, to develop him from the idea of the picture just below.
4 weeks! It is rare but for starting a project, it is really nice, and like this, I can really adapt my mood and line to the project and to find the perfect character.

It was really cool but also very frightening because I was alone facing to my director and co-directors. The timing in fact was really short, so during the first week I did boards after boards to find quickly a direction and we tried, with peter and Kristian, to figure out what would be the best way to manage this efficiently and to have the best back and forth without wasting time.

That was my first experience with a very small team and as I was alone completely in charge of the character creation and all the things that came with, I was a little bit nervous.
After few weeks, I took the decision to play more with Zbrush like a modeler character designer, to speed a bit the process and have directly a better understanding for the team. By doing this and skipping this stage, I guessed it would avoid the confusion between a 2D model and what was possible to do with in 3D. We needed to adapt a lot of things and be efficient!
That was a good thing, even if at the beginning it was a little bit confusing for the rest of the team because the Director and the Producers didn't have the habit to work like this: it was 3D and it was work in progress.

The fact was, we had no time to develop a lot, I had no modeler under my direction to help me (and I am not a technical modeler with the crazy speed that come with). And of course, unfortunately for us, we had no the budget yet to search a lot in different directions, even for one more person. 
So, we moved on with this and, after all, it was a good thing even if sometimes in the rush I minimized the interest of the 2D from the Director. I do admit that at this moment I was discovering the true power of the 3D for character design and it was like a new toy for me... So I played a lot with !!

The following concept boards are the selections that I have made for the very first week, we didn't start completely from scratch but it was almost like it was...

Here is the my first character, meet:

The Villain of the story. 40 years old

My little briefing was:

Grimmer is a self-centred, greedy and comically childish tyrant who didn’t earn his power, but took the throne by criminal, devious means.
He rules with oppression and lies, enslaving the trolls of Ervod to satisfy his whims, but to him it’s just common sense.
A dangerously unpredictable mummy’s boy, Grimmer has severe issues with his never-ever-satisfied and demanding mother, Mother Sheriff.

for: the inept boy King trying to look
like he knows what he’s doing)
CARTMAN: (for: the spoilt brat mummys-boy)

Entitled and envious, a born bully, BUT insecure in his own abilities

Motivation: To prove himself to Mummy.

He is the grown-up son but has never really accomplished anything but has a huge sense of arrogance and entitlement, and is therefore hysterical/unreasonable at times like a child. He wants to be respected and celebrated just because he’s him, not because he earned it.

Grimmer’s logic:
He has get what he wants immediately, or preferably before.
When he doesn’t get it, he screams like an angry child.
When screaming doesn’t work he figures it’s perfectly OK to play dirty.

Grimmer is unreasonably sensitive and holds grudges over small things for years. “You only gave me two potatoes at dinner two years ago”

As a tyrant he expects glory WAY beyond what’s reasonable – being wafted with leaves, eating pine cone canapés with moss pate, everyone must hail him etc. etc.

Voice: Sometimes like an unreasonable whining teen who feels that the world is, like, really unfair, like. Sometimes King-like but with misunderstood expressions, in effect he is “playing” king.

Sense of humour: “Schadenfreude”, and pointing the finger at others.
The best thing is if someone else hurts themselves – Grimmer can laugh for an hour, literally.

Family/History: Grimmer and Mother’s family have always been the 2nd rate family to Grom and Guld’s perfect family. Even though Grom and Grimmer share the same grandfather, Grimmer got the ambition, but none of the class.

Grimmer has false confidence: He throws himself into a risky situation with lots of bravado but at the last moment he often steps back and calls for his guards to do his dirty-work for him, while he takes the credit.
Maybe a recurring line to his guards every time things get too difficult: “You take it from here”

Ruling the land, he tries to appear strong, taking big decisions. But it’s like a kid playing king with orders that make no sense.

In a perfect word, Grimmer wishes that he would have been Grom, Grom would have been him, and the world would hate Grom.

When he is in power: Going back to the days where he wasn’t a “somebody”.
Serving Grom and the Troll people would be the ultimate indignity.
Losing face (even though he didn’t genuinely have it in the first place)

Need & desire:
A great need to be accepted (especially by his Mother)
A desire to push everyone else down to feel bigger himself.

Inner motto:
“The world owes me a living”
“Nobody understands me”
That was really cool to start the work with this big ugly guy because he was a rich character with funny details and behaviour, I could already saw him! That was really exciting on the briefing.
With a hot brain full of anxiousness, I started my 1st day with few boards of drawings... but as always, fortunately for me, the fun came very quickly and my stress vanished. Not just because the team was GREAT, Grimmer was like a delicious jam for a character designer. Full of promises! And eventually the other boards of sketches and suggestions became almost obvious.
Just below you can see samples of "back and forth" with the comments of the directors, (mostly written by Peter but Kristian was never far). We worked really well like this, and we tried to share a maximum of back and forth and good communication in a minimum of time. That was awesome! This is really the asset of small small team, with very few intermediary and hierarchy, so the info are quick transmitted and quick replied and done. This project was just my 2nd experience with a team in an office. Usually I have the habit to work as a freelancer at my own studio, so, for me it was in the same time really cool and a little bit confusing because when you are working with a team in an office, you need to make a lot of "pauses" to exchange, to communicate, to explain this or that, be social! Haha I really don't have this habit at home, I just work work work and talk to no one until another briefing. 
But I always say change is good for the brain and creativity!
I made also silhouettes, because I know directors like silhouettes... ;-)
After just 1 week and half, we already had with Peter and Kristian a first constructive and commune direction.
I remember a very livened up discussion about the size of the feet: I wanted to keep them small and on their side, they wanted to have big ones. It was a simple detail but that could change a lot of things for the animation. They were 2 and I was alone so ^^...
... It was time to go-ahead!

Here are simple and quick zbrush models to find in 3D what will be the face of Grimmer. That was a quick session and I don't recall very well if I had finished the 2nd week or wether I had started the 3rd
Time was passing like a crazy train at this period!
It is at this moment that I tried for the very first time to push my 3D in the same time that I worked on the concept drawing to offer a better and quick understanding for the director and, above all, for the producers. Something that would be very close of what they could see in a great CG animated movie, but – and I'm talking about me - maybe not with a great understanding of the budget that we had: hair and simulation are so greedy in term of money...

Anyway, that was not my first experiences with Zbrush, but these second and third week were the most intense for me. I was totally alone to do ALL the creation. Normally, in regular team, the crea is split to different artists with their own specialty. So here, that was really a first for me.
I just regretted to had not at my side a tech guy, for working hair, skin, clothes and to clean basemesh. That would have been really a great asset for the studio who had to develop the characters for the animation after, but I am not sure that the producer understood completely the importance of that at this time.

I guessed in small production I would not face this obvious fact but eventually this fact is indeed real whatever the size of a production: there is always the same mistake and misunderstanding between artists like me and producers: they just see things in term of budget and money efficiency but not in term of technical efficacy.
The communication artist vs producer is definitely always limited because we don't speak the same language, that's a fact!

Peter and Kristian were really friendly and that helped me a lot. Sometimes we were not on the same page, and I was not ok with the choice they took, but they were really open for discussions and after all it was my job to create things for them not the contrary ;-) !!
This project really made me learned a lot professionally and I have created strong bounds with very good friends.
We kept this character and we tried to put him in a more stand-up position after the first comments of Peter. I need to admit well, that I imagined at this time these trolls more like half-animals.
Below you can see a sample of board that Peter, the director, shared with me to narrow the direction of the design, mainly for the face but also for the behaviour.
And the last week(the 4th) of this first assignement we started to work on the colour.
I can tell you that it was really an adventure on Grimmer, short but very intense!
And it appeared clearly at the first proposition that I made to Peter, (picture just below) that we were not on the same page … at all! - I'll explain in the next paragraph ;-)

The fact is: Peter really disliked my colour.

To be completly honnest, I loved my blue version, and still do even now...
I think, even at this time I was so sure, that he has a great potential like this.
I assure you that this moment was for me a great time of trouble and disappointment...
And I was so sure to have something really COOL and SO GOOD ^^, something that 100% fitted with the desire of my Director of course...

Well, sometimes it is OK and sometimes NOT! Sometimes you see the same thing and sometimes you imagine a complete different one...

Peter and me, we didn't share the same vision of Fantasy and magic.
This is a complete world for me, my roots, the fields where I grew up and where I am still evolving.
But for Peter and for the producer Jean, well, Magic and Fantasy seemed to be a stereotype thing with maybe something a little bit frightening because out of control.
(I was like, WHAT! HOW is it possible?!! No way!)
So I found out harshly that I worked on a movie with trolls, a true dream for me
(sparkles in my eyes)
… but with people who were not excited by this sort of things and who didn't believe in magic.
(tears in my eyes and trembling chin...)
And that was just impossible for me, at this very moment, to understand this, because clearly fantasy and magic is the foundation of my entire my world and being.

I took their comments very badly, and I will be 100% honest – that was a really dramatic moment for me.
Me saying: “I really want to try this because Grimmer is a Troll and not a simple human and Blablabla” (all the things that a guy can tell when he is sure of his direction...)
But the producer and the 2 directors - and I was very astonished at this time by the reaction of Kristian, because he was and still is Norwegian, and Peter was and still is after all Danish!! They stayed stuck on their position.

I have worked for my own books and stories on the Faery subject for a very long time, so I have my manner to think about Fantasy and, yeah, maybe sometimes I am a little bit stubborn on this, ok.
But they just closed the door of the discussion so quickly, that I really felt it like a slap on my face and amour-propre.

This time I was upset.
Peter wanted to have something in the direction that you can see in the next picture below, and I didn't want to do this. I am not very sure, that at this time they were fully aware that they really took me down ... After all, I have worked for Fantasy for more than 20 years, I have experience and knowledge!!
Normally I put a distance between me and the studio work but on this project, because of its nature, it was really hard for me to create this emotional distance.

So, after this agitated discussion, I made my French dude and replied loud. I explained my point and vision to Peter with sharp words to prove them all that, what they wanted was not strong enough.
Of course I am today really sorry for this to have added fuel to the fire.

We all kept our nose to the grindstone and tried to handle crazy amount of work, so finally that was almost normal that we had this first clash.
And actually these clashes can be positives as they are all turned toward the project, they can be very constructive.

Fortunately, for me and for Peter, we were both very good guys, and it didn't take long to come back on good relation.

But honestly I have learned something after this : even on a small team you need to discuss a lot, and don't put too much of your emotional side when you work for a company because the work that you do, it is not yours. They are your clients' and it is not your project ;-).
That was a very good lesson to learn even for a guy with +20 years experience in Fantasy.

Finally we found a deal, a compromise for something between Grey and a mix of this pink flesh color.
As said above, The fourth week was dedicated to the coloor and the textures, so I moved on with a mix of zbrush coloration and work on photoshop for compositing, just enough for what we needed at this moment. 
I just regret that we had no time to play with the silhouette of Grimmer before to let it go to Squeeze studio (the studio hired to produce the pitch)
After this I did several versions of the colours and clothes for Grimmer, I didn't add more elements because of the budget.
I did also a couple of boards for expressions but it is not my specialty, I am not a story artist.
And I prepared also mood boards for the team at Squeeze studio based in Quebec City in charge of the texturing.
Peter and Kristian joined Jean the producer to meet them at their studio but I never understood why Jean didn't ask me to go with them. Budget, place, or other reasons that I can't imagine, but for me that was a mistake. For sure, I would have been a good asset at the side of Peter to explain clearly to Squeeze what we were trying to do and what was the expectations, I could have helped and guided to build the proper 3D model. Sometimes Producers have their reasons that they are the only ones to understand!
So after four weeks of hard job I let Grimmer go to Squeeze studio, the studio that was in charge of the animation of the pitch and of all the texturing of it. I didn't realize yet at this time that my job was not a complete job of an Art Director, but more the job of a Character Designer, Modeler, Look Dev but without interactions with the other teams in charge of the character after, and for me, on this particular movie, it was a pity. 

The first month was over, the work was just starting and after all it was so exciting to be a part of this adventure!
Young Boy ! 12 years old

Here was the briefing of this new character:

Trym is a playful, proud and somewhat stubborn troll boy who dreams of becoming a good king one day just like his father, King Grom.

Hiccup (in a world of crazy rules, he explores other options)
Mowgli (at one with nature)

Incurably curious and adventurous, BUT lacks confidence

Our hero, son of Grom and Guld. A likeable, playful tearaway but lacking in confidence.

Trym is contrary: it’s a weakness. This is a good contrast to Freia, whose "know-it-all" nature makes her want to tell him things all the time.

After his dad is gone, Trym is cooperative only with his Mum. She is the one person who CAN tell him what to do. At the end of the story he is changed, less like that and able to engage with the others more.

Being an only child. Not spoilt, but he doesn’t really know how to put himself in others’ shoes.

Trym is proud and stubborn. He's very quick on the "trigger” if anyone confronts him, especially if anyone says anything about his Mother or Father.
Being stoic and determined is his survival mechanism: “Nothing’s gonna get to me” (whether that’s true or not)

Trym doesn’t really care much how he looks, he’s not vain.

Trym learned about nature from his Dad, Grom. He’s wild and confident in nature, isn't afraid to get dirty and he loves scrambling around with animals. Nature is his amusement park. In nature he is "streetwise" and on his own turf – but in Ervod he is clumsy and insecure and doesn’t trust the other Trolls.

He's used to entertaining himself so he’s very independent. Trigger happy and energetic, so he says and does things before thinking it through.

Voice: Even though he’s good with words and smart, around other trolls he’s awkward. So he says the wrong thing because he is not comfortable and has always been bullied/shunned. Things never come out right: foot-in-mouth.
Trym should have a charming quirky way that he use words.

History: Unjustly accused of causing all their problems by the other Trolls.
I started to dig this new character with something more animal-like.
And I made proposals very loose, but I soon went on Zbrush because I had a precise idea for Trym and this time, it was clear that Peter and me after a discussion, could be on the same page. We wanted to try something that, we thought, could be really fresh and fun like in a stop-motion movie, that we both enjoy!
And after a couple of days I proposed to Peter something like this.
Peter was very interested by the direction that I took, and very curious to see what we could achieve with. So I continued to work on this idea with his suggestions and very quickly we maDe something like this below: a kind of mix of the very loose faces that I had drown on my last loose boards 
I tried also to add an eye patch around one eye like a Jack Russel dog. I thought it was a good idea to identify clearly the character and to give him a touch of craziness and cheekiness.
The reaction of Jean, the main producer when he saw for the very first time the researches that I had made for Trym, was like a total rejection, almost epidermic. I remembered that we had together Peter, Jean and me a very turbulent and passionate discussion about this little guy ^^.
We tried with Pete to convince Jean, that was Troll after all... !!
You know, producers ^^, they have not the same manner to think !!! 
We decided with Peter to change the position of the teeth and of the chin. And I returned for a very short time at my 2D drawing boards for new tries, and I did this below. I saw directly in the eyes of Jean a little glimpse of satisfaction and a start of smile on his face
That was an approval
So I passed directly to the sculpt.
In my opinion, staying to shy in the development of a character and also to close to a human character for a little Troll hero is a pity. But the producer clearly let us understand that he wanted something really more human and before all really CUTE for the movie, because the investors thought like this. 

So I kept my wishes and dreams for my own production (one day, I'll do mine^^), and went further with the sculpt. 
I did this below! The effect was immediate on all the team even for the Norwegian. We held something there. But it seemed to polish for the director, so I needed to make some little arrangement and adjustment on the face to make something more energetic and little bit brash or daredevil !
In the same time, I had made a doodles, some quick shapes on my board for the next character. I just kept one of them. As you see this little doodle beneath is really rough, but it had something in this loose shape, something very raw, simple and fun for a two-headed troll! I had taken the habit in this period to do a lot of little doodles like this during my trip to the office, in the metro the morning, and I used them a lot for my work after. It helped me to wake up my brain cells much better than a coffee!

This two-headed Troll needed to have two personalities, one was over confidente and one was clumsy and had a total lack of confidence. Directly, I know! I had in my friends someone like this and I let the idea grow on the shelves of my mind.
...and I continued on Trym: this one was too hairy for Peter but it was really more energetic so I moved on.
Kristian the co-director and co-producer by interim, took often a part on our discussions and it was really fun and motivating to share with him.
I made a little color in Zbrush for the face and for the body, and as they wanted to keep a flesh color I didn't lose time on other proposals even if I thought that Trym would be very nice in blue ;-). And of course I worked on the clothes a little bit, but they wanted to have something modern-like, so naturally I proposed jeans.
I shaved Trym a lit bit, and with this one below, I had the green light to finish the character in colour.
We were in the middle of the third week, I had finished the sculpt for the complete body of Trym, it was a pretty good rhythm and timing and it allowed me time to think about the next character. Actually if we had time, it was because I passed often my WE to work on the project at home too, searching for ideas, lights, textures, shapes and even on the script one time. About that part I prefer not to write a long feedback, but when someone invites you to work on the script of a project that you are working on but at an other position, be sure that all the team is aware and does agree with this too. Because if not, it will bring just troubles and confusion even if you have good ideas. We had re-written a little draft with my wife Margo of the complete script of TROLL, between my 2 sessions of work in this project and that brought just for us a great deception, and a perfect misunderstanding with the producer at this time. So we let it go. But it is another story...!
But let's come back to the art! I pushed the colour on the face of Trym, added thin sideburns on the side of the cheekbones like for a squirrel, and added a touch of light on the hair.
And after a discussion with Pete and Kristian I finished the colour for the complete Character. I received with a big pleasure the approval of the producer, and of all the Team of Sagatoon in Norway and that offered me a lot of new energy!

We had finally find the little guy within the four week. Of course, unfortunately for us and for the Character, we were not in a Disney production that allows many weeks of researches and studies before getting the final design, so, we moved on the next buddy. We had no time to turn around and play with, just few weeks, this was clearly a challenge and all the little team was very aware about that reality.
I finished the week with a quick board of expressions but I have really no background in animation schools so, be fair, it was not crazy model sheets, but I like to think it was helpful for the animation team at Squeeze Studio!!
I tried to do it also in 3D, for a better understanding, but without a proper rig, it can be quite difficult...
TROLL the tale of a tail 1 Grimmer & Trym

TROLL the tale of a tail 1 Grimmer & Trym

CG animation movie : Troll- a tale of a tail


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