INTERVIEW: Gina Shay, Producer of “Trolls” – Animation Scoop

INTERVIEW: Gina Shay, Producer of “Trolls”

Producer Gina Shay fell in love with animation not long after she graduated from Pratt Institute, moved to LA and worked on Ralph Bakshi’s Cool World as a PA. Since then, she amassed production credits on features with DreamWorks, Disney, Nickelodeon and others.

“For a while, I thought I might take the artist route,” she recalls. “but I also loved storytelling and with my art background, I decided to produce and never left animation.”

Both skills came in especially handy in producing Trolls, a project demanding a strong visual and storytelling sense that had to be conceived from the ground up. “All we really had to work with initially was the image of the dolls.” Gina says. “We tried to take as much essence as we could from the dolls and to honor the intention of [doll creator Thomas Dam]. Then we took them a step further to be differentiated yet complementary to one other.

Producer Gina Shay with Trolls Executive Music Producer Justin Timberlake and co-director Mike Mitchell.

“We did a lot of research on what fans collected, and worked into the design. [Production Designer] Kendal Cronkhite used the wooly hair as an idea to create a world for them, as if it’s a ’70s craft thing. We all have those memories of our troll dolls on the shag carpet and going to the skating rink or listening to disco with them!”

The thing that becomes most evident in watching Trolls is the full-throttle use of color and light. Even some of the most whimsical fantasy films of recent years–live action and animation–leaned toward muted palettes and heightened realism.

“We just completely went the other way,” says Gina. “There are so many movies that are so ultra-realistic, you can see the pores on the faces and the skin textures. We wanted to create what we call “fuzzy immersion,” the feeling of being warm and fuzzy in this world–just like you felt when you were playing with your toys on the carpet as a kid. Even the villainous Bergen characters are quite silly.”

Once such a happy, peppy direction is chosen, however, the trick is in keeping things grounded enough so the happy doesn’t become sappy. “That was a challenge,” Gina admits, “How do you write the character of Poppy, who is very happy but still have people relate? I feel like we grounded her, in large part because Anna Kendrick brought so much realism to her.

“Poppy is flawed and naïve, yet she has so much power. She trusts in her positive attitude, knows who she is. We first cast Anna knowing she would bring her special dose of vinegar to a character who was super-positive. It wasn’t the kind of character she usually plays, and when she read the script she said, “I relate more to the character of Branch, this angry guy.” We pushed her out of her comfort zone and wanted to do the same with our male lead.”

That would be Justin Timberlake, who wasn’t initially sure that the cynical character of Branch was right for him. “Justin is one of the nicest and most positive people I know in pop music, maybe the world,” Gina says. “He at first questioned whether or not he should be so aggressive, but as we started recording with him, he completely understood the arc of his character. He even pushed it more. Both leads were completely pushed out of their comfort zone. It was magical, the chemistry of those two. Timberlake also served as the Executive Music Producer and co-wrote the Oscar nominated “Can’t Stop the Feeling” with Max Martin and Shellback.

Trolls’ look and attitude comes right on the crest of an upbeat, stylized turn in filmmaking that is striking a chord with audiences looking for respite from the real world. “I think it was really important for us to create a bright little escape for people, a happy colorful place. We wanted everyone to leave the theater feeling great joy and optimism.”

(Trolls is available now on Digital HD and on Blu-ray™ and DVD on February 7 from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.)

Greg Ehrbar

Greg Ehrbar

Greg Ehrbar is a freelance writer/producer for television, advertising, books, theme parks and stage. Greg has worked on content for such studios as Disney, Warner and Universal, with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. His numerous books include Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney (with Tim Hollis). Visit for more.
Greg Ehrbar
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