“Trolls Band Together,” the third chapter in the DreamWorks Animation franchise, gets psychedelic with the introduction of new worlds and characters, helped along by some trippy 2D animation from Titmouse. It’s a musical tribute to ’90s boy bands, fittingly enough, as Justin Timberlake‘s Branch reunites with his long-lost brothers (known as the family band BroZone): Floyd (Troye Sivan), John Dory (Eric André), Spruce (Daveed Diggs), and Clay (Kid Cudi).

But Floyd is kidnapped by pop-star siblings Velvet (Amy Schumer) and Veneer (Andrew Rannells) as part of their nefarious musical scheme. (As an added bonus, Timberlake even reunites with his former *NSYNC boy band members — Joey Fatone, Lance Bass, JC Chasez, and Chris Kirkpatrick — for the group’s first song in 20 years, “Better Place.”)

“With Justin and boy bands as part of the DNA of the Troll universe, it felt like a natural extension, and also, musically and visually, it’s more psychedelic,” director Walt Dohrn (“Trolls World Tour”) told IndieWire. “If you can see my room, I live in a kaleidoscopic, Technicolor, psychedelic world. I was so influenced by psychedelic animated films from ‘Fantasia’ to ‘Yellow Submarine.’ That’s just a huge part of my upbringing, especially as an animation fan. So, the Trolls’ world really gives you an opportunity to explore that aesthetic.”

As far as the new world building, there’s Vaycay Island, a beach resort where the sun never sets and the characters look like water-balloon puppets wrapped in terry cloth, and Mount Rageous, a place dominated by diamonds and inhabited by giant teenage lollipop-type characters, led by Velvet and Veneer. These characters are 3 feet tall, compared to the Trolls, who are 7 inches.

“Trolls Band Together“

“What’s cool about Vacay Island is that it’s a beach where it’s always sunset and the materials were built for the islanders,” production designer Ruben Perez Reynoso told IndieWire. “It had a ‘Miami Vice’ look with the retro sun and those stripes on it.”

The Vaycay islanders lean into very specific puppet textures and puppet making. “We wanted this beach atmosphere and this terry cloth towel thing kind of came up,” Dohrn added. “And we wanted a rhythm to their movements and started thinking about water balloons, and all of those things started coming into focus.”

In fact, Ben Wills, head of character animation, believes the Vaycay islanders are the most puppet-like characters in the entire Trolls universe. “Not just because of their texture but because we treated their head as if it was a little bit more solid,” he told IndieWire. “And even their mouths, which tend to only open and close with puppets, we were able to articulate them a little bit to make smile shapes. Wrapped in that terry cloth, we really wanted to give it a nice, organic, squash-and-stretch.”

Mount Rageous was conceived as shiny artifice, the opposite of the organic Troll Village, which is made of fiber, plants, and mushrooms. “We have glossy gems and a lot of hard edges there,” Reynoso said. “And then on top of that, the Mount Ragens are human scale. A Troll is this tiny mouse trying to make their way through a big city, and so Mount Rageous is a place where performers go when they’ve made it to the top. But we made it all out of teenagers wearing their pajamas and riding roller coasters.”

“Trolls Band Together”

For Velvet and Veneer (who perform to “Sweet Dreams”) and the rest of the characters, they went for a plastic humanoid look and stop-motion vibe and started playing with bendy dolls. “We were blending that with some 1930s rubber hose animation, which really excited us,” said Dohrn. “You can even see the influence in the faces along with some very ’90s pop diva attitudes. We worked a lot with character designer Craig Kellman, and the giant lollipop thing became part of the shape language.”

For Wills, it was an opportunity to introduce diamonds, plastic, and rubber. “On paper, I didn’t know how it was gonna match up,” he said. “It’s looser and has more squash-and-stretch, and their arms and legs are a little bit rounder, so it doesn’t seem like they’re as natural. But seeing the film, it really expands the world.”

Meanwhile, the psychedelic 2D animation became appropriate for a musical tribute to “The Hustle,” where Branch and Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and their pals go inside the radio for a “Hustle-Verse” experience. “It’s an homage to a lot of 2D styles, from R. Crumb to ‘Yellow Submarine’ and even ‘The Powerpuff Girls,” the director said. “We wanted to surprise the audience and go into that space, beyond space and time, but make it funny and musical. There was this underground comic book feel. John Magram boarded originally, then we worked with Craig Kellman and Ruben Perez Renoso to really hone in those designs, and then Titmouse came in and added their layer to it.”

“We didn’t know it was going to be 2D initially,” added Reynoso. “We were just designing for a different style. “But then we did these mini sequences with the idea that they’re time traveling — they’re going through these dimensions to speed up their time and get to Mount Rageous faster. And they were transforming each time they went through a different portal. At one point, they turn into instruments, at another they turn into baby anime versions of themselves, another was influenced by psychedelic posters, and another by toys where they’re oil droplets, and that inspired the final designs.”

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