DreamWorks Trolls Exclusive: Meet Production Designer Kendal Cronkhite

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The countdown continues! As we get closer to the release of DreamWorks Trolls, the anticipation is REAL and our mind is spinning. How did these cute characters come to be? What’s it like to work on an animated movie? How did they draw their hair just right? So, naturally, when we had the chance to chat with DreamWorks’ Production Designer Kendal Cronkhite, we just had to get the inside scoop! From character inspiration to art directing at every stage on the final screen, check out the day in a life of this pro below…

final_092816_lwh_trolls_animator_interview-img002 Where did you draw inspiration for the look of the characters?

final_092816_lwh_trolls_animator_interview-img003 Inspiration for the look of the characters came first from the Thomas Dam Troll Doll. They were such an iconic part of my childhood, it was important on this project to honor them in all their “ugly-cute” glory! Their huge colorful hair, small 6″ tall bodies, rounded stubby shapes and bellies were all part of what we built into our DreamWorks Trolls characters. The first doll Thomas Dam ever created was for his young daughter. He carved it out of wood, added lambs wool hair, and wool felt clothing. That was the beginning of our thinking about “hand-made” and led to the decision to felt our characters and adorn them with woolen hair. It inspired us to create a completely felted, fuzzy world for our characters and sets.

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 Can you give us some inside info about the production and design process? How it all begins? 

final_092816_lwh_trolls_animator_interview-img003  The production designer comes onto a project very early in the process, when the script is in its early stages of development. Using the script as our guide, the directors, producers and I have many conversations about how to visually tell the story. In the case of DreamWorks Trolls, the character design came first, which led to ideas for the look of the world the characters inhabit. An art department is hired to sketch out all the ideas for sets, props, dramatic lighting scenarios, character designs, etc. Once the look is locked in, it’s fed to all the departments in our production pipeline that really make it in 3D CG for the film, from art to camera, modeling, surfacing, special effects, animation, and lighting. Every stage along the way is art directed so that the final image on the screen tells the story in the best visual way possible.

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 When did you realize you wanted to become a production designer or work in animation?

final_092816_lwh_trolls_animator_interview-img003 I worked as an editorial illustrator before I got into animation. My art style was a little dark and kind of punk rock, which, of course, was a perfect fit for a film they were developing in San Francisco at the time, Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas. I was a huge Tim Burton fan, so I jumped at the chance to get out of my comfort zone and try my hand at production illustration on that project. It changed everything. The animation process satisfied all my artistic desires. I could draw and paint like I’ve always had, but also built models, did scenic work on set, designed lights, painted character puppets and props, and designed credit sequences. I was hooked and I’ve never looked back since. I became an assistant art director on that show, art director after that, and eventually became a Production Designer on Madagascar. It all started 25 years ago.

final_092816_lwh_trolls_animator_interview-img002 What’s a typical day like for you? What part of your job do you like the most?

final_092816_lwh_trolls_animator_interview-img003 My days are full of collaborations. My biggest joy is working daily with these incredibly talented artists and filmmakers at DreamWorks, challenging ourselves at every turn to make something more beautiful for the screen than we did the day before.

final_092816_lwh_trolls_animator_interview-img002 Any words of wisdom for those wanting to get into the field?

final_092816_lwh_trolls_animator_interview-img003 Be an individual and believe in your vision. Look at all forms of art constantly. Enjoy collaboration and challenge yourself daily. Love movies and storytelling.

final_092816_lwh_trolls_animator_interview-img002 Technology is constantly changing. What do you think is next for the world of animation?

final_092816_lwh_trolls_animator_interview-img003 We are still very much at the beginning of what we can do with computer graphics and storytelling. It’s just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more to explore! We have CG films, special effects, art, games… and virtual reality is here!

Can’t get enough of DreamWorks Trolls? Click here for more happenings and to shop our exclusive collection!

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