DWA Trolls

How to Build a Troll Village

Troll dolls, with their tall, colorful hair, have made their way to the big screen, starring in DreamWorks Animation’s latest feature film, Trolls. Audiences worldwide are being captivated by the unique world of Trolls. What the movie goer may not realize is that DreamWorks Animation depends on its more than fifteen year-long partnership with HPE to make this film more creative and sophisticated than ever before.

In one scene of the film, for example, 466 trolls are dancing in their village, and the environment of the village is just as important to the animation as the dancing trolls. Every single element of the scene – from the pods that the trolls live in, the tufts of fur on top of the pods, or how they each open up like petals to the trees and flowers – has to be geometrically modeled, textually surfaced, and then animated.

“And that’s not even including the trolls themselves,” said Kate Swanborg, Head of Technology Communications and Strategic Alliances at DreamWorks Animation. “The environment for Trolls was specifically production designed and art decorated, because the directors of the film wanted to create a magical, glorious world that harkened back to the hippie days of the 1970s,” she explained. The end result of creating the troll village and all of the characters was approximately 350 million digital files.

That’s right. Those lush images on the screen are pieces of data, generating tens of millions of digital components, all of which have to be computed over the lifetime of the film. Also, many of those components are used dozens or even hundreds of times throughout the course of a movie. All of that data must be stored – and made readily available when needed – somewhere. That’s where the partnership with HPE comes in.


DWA Trolls

“For Trolls, we utilized 70 million compute hours, all of which was done on HPE’s infrastructure – networking, storage, servers and software,” she said. “HPE ensures that our infrastructure is performing at a super computing level to ensure that our artists are always enabled to make as many iterations as they need to maximize their creativity.”  

One of the most fun aspects of the film is the trolls themselves. They all sport unique features. Poppy showcases two different hairstyles; Lady Glitter Sparkles has 237,375 strands of hair; The Bergens have vastly different characteristics than the Trolls. Each character began with a skeletal system and muscle deformation system that allows different parts of their body to be animated, but DreamWorks Animation took it a step further.

“We wanted the creative capability to animate the hair, allowing it to be an additional character connected to the character,” Swanborg said. Hair is difficult to animate well because of the number of strands involved. Additionally, audiences have certain expectations about how hair should move. In this movie, the hair is so vibrant and so alive; the audience is paying close attention to it.

Anticipating how important the trolls hair would be to the movie, DreamWorks Animation developed special software called Willow to handle the dynamics of the hair, as well as the glitter.

“Those artistic choices added to the complexity of each frame,” Swanborg said. “Each time we wanted to see the results of a frame, it meant asking the compute farm to provide us the results.” She added that DreamWorks Animation has become accustomed to attaining real-time feedback on changes, and that requires the right partner. Again, that’s why working with HPE has become so important to the animation process.

“HPE is so focused on crafting an infrastructure in this new world of hybrid IT that includes cloud, compute-on-demand and analytics. We can count on them to make sure that all of the components and strategies are working in concert with each other,” Swanborg stated. “That takes a lot of the burden off of DreamWorks Animation’s own world-class technology organization. HPE’s infrastructure is so orchestrated and tuned to our needs that it allows our engineers the time to craft our own software and architectures unique to each film.”

DWA Trolls


“Every industry is a digital manufacturer, in its own way,” said Susan Blocher, VP of Marketing, Data Center Infrastructure Group, HPE. Many industries create vast amounts of data – whether it be storing medical records for thousands of patients, recording seismic activity on the ocean floor, or making movie magic that we enjoy with our families in our local theaters.

“All of that data has to be turned into insight to be able to build a competitive business,” Blocher added. “It all comes down to the same concept DreamWorks Animation is doing. You’ve got to be able to translate the data into business value, protect and store that data, and move that data when and where you need it. HPE takes pride in building world-class modern infrastructures that allow our great customers, like DreamWorks Animation, to harness the power of their data while delighting their customers in the process.”

It seems like every DreamWorks Animation movie sets the animation bar a step higher than the previous feature film. What will they do next?

“That’s top-secret,” Swanborg laughed. But whatever that next level – it will clearly involve HPE’s infrastructure.

“What I see on the horizon for us are new ways to access artists around the world through cloud computing and to continue to better understand our data and our compute capabilities,” Swanborg said. “All of those pieces are enabling us to expand our capabilities outside of the walls of our campus. In a few years, we’ll see a DreamWorks Animation that is able to grow and be agile in ways that animation has never been able to do before. That’s because we are able to rely on the compute and infrastructure process, and that type of innovation from HPE is vital.”

Go see DreamWorks Animation Trolls, now in theaters. Listen as Susan Blocher and Kate Swanborg continue the technology discussion at HPE Discover 2016 London.