At New York Comic Con 2018, AnimeSuperhero was able to sit in on the press roundtables following the panel for DreamWorks Tales of Arcadia: 3Below, the upcoming spin-off series from the hit series Trollhunters.
NOTE: These interviews contain spoilers for Trollhunters.
MARC GUGGENHEIM, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
QUESTION: What inspired the alien technology in this?
MARC GUGGENHEIM: Well, I think Rodrigo Blaas, Guillermo’s co-director, worked with an incredible team to develop the technology. Everything in 3Below has a purpose. I know it looks really fancy with all these cool lights and everything, but everything is very functional and I think that’s what makes it feel real and tactile. but that’s all Rodrigo and his team.
QUESTION: There’s definitely a certain logic that seems consistent.
MARC GUGGENHEIM: We talked a lot about the idea that on their home planet, they can manipulate energy in solid forms, so a lot of the technology is based around this notion of different kinds of force-fields and different kinds of energy projections. The weapons that our characters fight with are called “serrators,” and they can fireblast but they can also create shields. Coming up with a design language that was consistent and followed certain rule gave that sense of reality.
QUESTION: Are they futuristic aliens who see themselves above humans? They seemed like almost completely robotic, which was interesting.
MARC GUGGENHEIM: They’re a much more advanced society than ours, but part of the magic of this show is that as our aliens try to live as humans, they develop human characteristics. By starting them in this hyper-advanced place, it gave our characters somewhere to go. They don’t devolve, but they come to see that even though humanity is not as advanced as a culture and a society, we still have some things to offer.
QUESTION: I also noticed that Glenn Close tends to play characters that are very dark, a lot of the time, or very gray. Would you describe her character as the Mothership as “gray,” or more lighthearted than some of her other characters a bit?
MARC GUGGENHEIM: I think it’s a lot more lighthearted. It’s definitely not gray. In the first episode that we showed at the panel today, you saw Glenn Close’s character at her most robotic. Over the course of the series, she develops human emotions and human feelings, and as a result, her whole performance changes. And it’s this slow, very interesting evolution that only an actress like Glenn can actually calibrate. Where we end up…it’s not like Mother ever becomes a lighthearted joker, but we actually did give her a few one-liners. So like you said, Glenn’s oeuvre tends to be these dark, complex characters. This is probably the lightest character I think she’s played in her career. I’m trying to think of one that’s lighter than this one and it’s hard for me to come up with one.
QUESTION: I don’t know if you can tell us this, but in a lot of shows like this, when the ship is a character, it can usually take on or decides to take on a holographic form or a robotic form. Do we see her manifest herself as a more human creation?
MARC GUGGENHEIM: Yes and no. There’s a holographic icon that Mother represents, that you start to see in the second episode. And who knows? Maybe in subsequent episodes she might take on a more physical form.
QUESTION: I hear all these diferent accents in the show. Is that intentional, just to make it a universal futuristic universal world?
MARC GUGGENHEIM: Yeah. Well, I’ll tell you that Tatiana (Maslany) basically invented her own accent to play Aja, and Tatiana also plays Aja’s mother, Queen Corenda. She not only invented this accent for this role, but she modified it to be her parent as well. There’s a flashback scene where she’s doing a scene with herself. Only Tatiana could do that. It’s totally her speciality, if you will. We wanted really to represent the whole show is about inclusion. It’s an immigrant story, so we wanted to represent many different cultures. There’s also a lot of gender parity. Aja, her journey, going from a princess to a warrior is a huge part of the show, and we’re trying to just show kids that there’s a whole lot of variety and diversity in the world, and it’s not just on our planet. It’s on other planets as well.
QUESTION: I was thinking that the end of the episode started feeling a little like Third Rock from the Sun.
MARC GUGGENHEIM: Yeah! You know, 3Below definitely has a Third Rock from the Sun kind of feel to it. I think that notion of telling an immigrant story through aliens is kind of universal. It’s something you’ve seen before. Hopefully, we were very cognizant of the other kinds of shows and properties that had come before that had treaded in similar waters, and we’ve tried to inject all different kinds of originality into it to make it as different from those other shows and other properties as possible. You’ll have to watch the subsequent episodes and tell us if we’ve been successful in that.
RODRIGO BLAAS AND CHAD HAMMES, EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS
QUESTION: Do you guys see this show going beyond Netflix? Maybe live-action or anything?
CHAD HAMMES: We can’t really talk about some of the stuff that we know is going to happen, unfortunately, but it’s not only on Netflix. What happens is that they sell the distribution after the fact, so there are other stations around the world that play it. They just don’t play it at the same time. They’re usually a season or two behind. But…I don’t know. I think that the idea of having the trilogy is really interesting because each story has its own purpose, but they all sort of pull together the same sorts of things. 3Below is about home, and your heart and your friends. How you perceive the world is through the people who are around you. Whereas Trollhunters was the Hero’s Journey, which then became multiple heroes because there are several Trollhunters by the time we finished Trollhunters. There’s also one more coming but I can’t talk about it, but they all sort of fill a slot, an intention.
RODRIGO BLAAS: And to that point, creating a meaningful story is a very hard job. It needs 100% of your focus in trying to get that right, so we kind of take it one step at a time. We put a lot of effort to make Trollhunters feel like it grew up with the audience, and you could follow the characters and you felt them transforming. The way that we work on these projects are really putting everything we can on the project that we have.
And the funny thing about Trollhunters is that it had many lives before it became an animated television show. It was a live-action TV series first, then it was a book, it was a feature for a bit, then it turned out at the end to be the TV series we did. That’s the beautiful thing about these worlds that Guillermo creates, is that they’re very malleable. And because the mythology is so deep, you can actually start exploring different characters and different storytelling because we’re not trying to skim the surface in terms of characters. We’re always thinking of those as live entities that can live in this world and we can actually follow their story. We always talk about one of the great opportunities of making a TV show is that now in Trollhunters, we can now tell the story not only of Jim, but also of Toby and we can spend an episode just looking at that character and exploring him. That’s the beautiful thing about the series.
QUESTION: So with Netflix, one of the cool things about them is they don’t censor as much creatively, and they also don’t give you a box to work in.
CHAD HAMMES: Right. That’s correct.
RODRIGO BLAAS: Absolutely. It didn’t start that way. I think Netflix has evolved through the years, and the great opportunity for Trollhunters they said “you have 52 episodes to work with.” Usually, you do a pilot, then you do a season, then you get renewed…so you really cannot think about the whole story, or it’s harder to get that thread. With this one, because we already had that order, we could really just plan and plot the whole thing, until we were in the middle of it and they said, “We’re really liking all that stuff that you’re creating, why don’t we go into these two other series?” And that gave us the time ahead to start planting little Easter eggs and crossovers and connection, even timeline connections. You’ll see how complex it is when you see the passage of 3Below. So that’s the beauty of that canvas.
CHAD HAMMES: Yeah, the privilege of knowing how big your story can be right from the beginning is you can really write the arcs for each character, so you’re spending time with each one of these characters and develop them over time. I think that’s one of the great things about Netflix and the binge watching aspect of it. You write the narratives so that you want to keep watching. And that’s a different sort of way of thinking when you’re making a story.
QUESTION: You were also mentioning that you were working on them both at the same time. I imagine writing that can be tricky because you can have the characters in your mind, but as you develop the characters over time, you can think differently about them. So it’s more of a challenge to do this at once to get these big arcs going.
CHAD HAMMES: Especially when you have them overlapping. When we were making Trollhunters, we were making 3Below at the same time because in animation it takes so long. You don’t get a break between series or seasons. They all kind of have to overlap. And that’s challenging for us as creators because one story is telling this sort of statement, and another series is trying to do something else, and when you’re sort of trying to do them both simultaneously, you really have to keep your head straight.
QUESTION: You can’t do revisionism either, like six months later you go, “Oh, wait, let me change that…”
RODRIGO BLAAS: Well, the thing is with storytelling is a great medium but it’s also a trap. You’re shredding your rules as you’re creating your narrative, so when you get to, “How am I going to introduce these other characters?”, you have to respect that other narrative you created. The great thing is that we have a very aware crew that is always connecting dots and seeing if those logics don’t work. They’re almost like a comic con audience. They really know when things are not connecting and they’ll let you know.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO, CREATOR, AND DIEGO LUNA, ACTOR
QUESTION: I think there’s a strong sense in your work that feels like you do dark fairy tales for adults with kids in them.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO: What I find is I am attracted to impossible combinations. You can take a very simple premise and I’m attracted to making it visually complex, or take a very complex premise and approaching it almost like a fairy tale, or take a very simple premise and put it in a time that is very difficult for that premise to flourish. I’m attracted to combining things that normally don’t go together. I like the umami of it all, finding different things that go together. And it’s not easy. People see Pan’s Labyrinth and they think, “OK, that’s the guy.” Then I do something like Hellboy. “Oh, that’s the guy.” And then I do this or Pacific Rim, “Oh, that’s the guy.” To me, the fun is that the range of things that I’m interested in can only be spoken either by you visiting my house, which has all the range of toys and books and art and all that, or by waiting until I croak and finally all the things I wanted to do are done.
QUESTION: So you have this way of designing and producing fairy tales that have to do with the gray. They live in a very real area. Can you talk to us a little about the design of the fairy tale that we’re going to see in 3Below?
GUILLERMO DEL TORO: To me, the fairy tale element in 3Below is the transformation. That’s why I quoted Doraemon, the Japanese series, because it’s a very fairy tale like logic in that series. It’s this cat that has this bag, and anything that he needs, he pulls out of the bag. Whatever is needed. And when I was a kid, same with Alfonso, we were inundated by anime. There was a series called Señorita Cometa, and it was full of this invention. I think that the spirit of a fairy tale is not the setting. It’s the breath in which the tale is told, which I’ve said in the past is a little like “and then…and then…” If you think about Star Wars, it is a fairy tale told in a fairy tale context. There’s a good wizard and a bad wizard, a princess, a young farmer hero, and a bunch of monsters. Which is fantastic. I think that 3Below has a little bit of that. The main idea for me is what happens to people in exile, or immigration, is that they have to restart. What I said on stage at the panel, you could find a brain surgeon working as a taxi driver. I thought it would be great to bring that into here and show that transformation as something that is good for the character. When you go from being a kid to an adolescent to an adult, there’s a magical thing where you don’t fit in what you look like any more.
DIEGO LUNA: I’m glad that this story makes you think about it from not just from a perspective of something that we need to change, but something we need to accept, you know? The characters celebrate who they’re going to become, because he really needs to be a Latino. And in fact, being a Latino saves his life on this planet. I think we do have a big issue in front of us, and if we keep seeing it the way we’re seeing it, we’re never going to solve it. Because we make this happen. We allow this to happen already, and we’re part of it somehow. So we have to really invent the way we interact between each other and the way we see each other in comparison to the other. So I think it’s a very lovely way to approach an issue that my kid is not going to have. In fact, Guillermo was trying to explain to my 10-year-old what the joke of the series is about (that the aliens are put into forms that nobody looks at – ed), and he didn’t get it. He was born in California, his best friend is the daughter of his nanny, he speaks both languages, he crosses the border…he still has yet to find out there’s another reality. There’s other kids going through another reality, but he’s going to see it from a different perspective. From the perspective of someone who understands or believes the story that this interaction can happen naturally, and in a …how do you say…in a love-driven world, you know? And that’s where the solution is going to come from, I think. I don’t know if I made myself clear.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO: And if I may, I speak about one of the things that I’ve observed in a documentary called Five Came Back, about filmmakers in America that we did a couple of years ago. Sometimes, the love of the immigrant for the country, in storytelling, mythifies the country in a beautiful way. Like Frank Capra’s view of America became what we accept America is. Families talking together, sharing a meal, screaming at each other with great love…that’s probably not exactly how an Anglo-Saxon family was behaving at that moment. But because it was filtered through the experience of Capra, It’s a Wonderful World…what is great is that we see the world of Arcadia through the eyes of these guys that are just survived, and everything is wonderful.
QUESTION: There’s this word “normalizing,” which can be awful but can also be used a positive way. What someone said about you, Diego, being in Rogue One someone took her dad to see the movie. Your role is his heroic role, but her dad was like, “He’s not the assistant! He’s using his accent” and she was explaining “This is just the way it is now.”
DIEGO LUNA: And the lovely thing about that letter you were talking about is the way she wrote about the experience of her father from a perspective she didn’t understand because they saw the same film. The father was saying, “Is that guy going to be the GOOD GUY? And he speaks like I do?” And she was just watching a movie with a guy from Y Tu Mama Tambien. It was very different, because for her, I was always there, you know? Whereas for her father, it was like, “Holy crap, the thing is changing and I’m going to witness it.” And that I think is the hope of things actually changing.
QUESTION: And tied into languages, also, the accent and being able to keep all the nuances of languages of different people, you’re showing that immigration is not about assimilation. It’s about…you said “transformations” into making the culture…not diverse, but changing it. Change can be good and it can flourish.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO: The greatest trick ideologically to weaken any group, be it a country, a small group or a world, is to fragment it. To say, “You are not the same as them, and this is my reason for that.” And it’s always a word. There’s always a word that separates us. But in reality, it’s an illusion. And I don’t say this as “kumbaya,” and idealistic. I say it as a fact. The fiction is not that we are one. The fiction is that we are separate. And this is what happens: when you polarize the discourse and you say “these are the reasons why you should not understand each other” and you accept it, whatever the reasons — whether it’s religious or gender, political — you are falling into a trap into which there is no exit. The beauty of this series, this little humanistic fairy tale, is that we’re all in this together. No one leaves this ball of mud. No one. We’re all here. From space, everybody there is the same person.
QUESTION: Do you think as creators and artists that connecting with your audience and being relatable to your audience is important?
GUILLERMO DEL TORO: You mean like the characters? Yes. 100%. Here’s the thing….I’ve got to believe that the world is made of imperfect people, right? We discuss it many times as if it shouldn’t be. It is. It’s never going to change. We’re always going to have moments of great blackness and moments of great whiteness in our choices. And to connect with the kids is to tell them “It’s OK. Today, you were not the good guy. Tomorrow, you can be.” I think that’s far more liberating for everyone, and it’s a huge point of connection. Definitely not, ”If you ever do this, you can’t connect again.” The series…I don’t want to spoil it, but one of my favorite characters is Steve, the bully from Trollhunters, who becomes such a great character in this series. And becomes so multi-dimensional, and that is such a great journey to tell the kids. “Everybody has more than one side.” And that’s where the connection is.
DIEGO LUNA: And the moral standard of good and bad, good and evil…I never saw that as an audience until I had kids. It is so heavy, such a heavy weight on the shoulders of an audience, you know? When the character ALWAYS does the right thing, and he’s incapable of actually hurting anyone. It’s like, we are the exact opposite. And that’s the greatness of it. If you can find out when you’re hurting someone, and that makes you change, that makes you, in fact, a hero in the stories that I want my kids to watch. But it’s not just because of them, it’s because of me. I remember my mom and I think about my father as real people, you know? And I think that’s changing fast. Really fast in the content for kids, which is amazing because if you go back to the films I grew up with, there was none of that.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO: That’s why one of the crucial things on Trollhunters for me was the moment when Jim makes the decision to become a troll. And he doesn’t consult with his mom, he doesn’t consult with Claire, he just says, “Here I go,” and there’s no return. It’s a moment when people say he was selfish or he was whatever, but he had to do it. And to show also the kids that this decision was counter-intuitive in a way.
DIEGO LUNA: And I think something is changing which is we’re talking about projects that are driven by the perspective of a director. I think that is a big difference, you know? Because then you have that integrity behind the decisions. When you’re thinking from a producer’s point of view or the owners of companies point of view, they’re thinking numbers, but when you’re thinking about character stories, then you have that strength which also at the end shows in the numbers. And I think we are living in a freer moment in our industry, where someone like Guillermo and the team can be doing a project like this…
GUILLERMO DEL TORO: And that was a very conscious decision. I said that in one of the early meetings with Netflix. I said, “This is not the normal structure. You have a show-runner, but you have this strange position I have where I can run the show-runners.” And I can influence those decisions very strongly because it needs to have the integrity of a single view. We may change from one series to the other, and I’m going to oversee the whole thing. And it has to be of a piece with everything I believe in, and it was…it was going to be this first kids series that would need, and we didn’t do it, “Previously on Trollhunters…” (laughs) Because we were going to go through so many different changes. It’s not an adventure of the week. And there were some really long arcs that are beautifully tracked from episodes 1, 2, and 3. And in that, it has a unique place for me in my heart, when I see as I said the gold standards like Gravity Falls, and I watch the first season again and I go, “They were already planting this that they paid off in the last episode.” It was beautiful. So if you can do that model in animation, that’s great.
Trollhunters is streaming now on Netflix; Season 1 of 3Below will premiere on Netflix on Friday, December 21, 2018.