Guillermo del Toro, DreamWorks Ani strike deal

EXCLUSIVE: Director to consult on films; 'Trollhunters' set up

Guillermo del Toro has fallen under the spell of animation and is setting up "Trollhunters," a feature project he will write and direct at DreamWorks Animation.

After visiting DWA's campus in Glendale, Calif., on a weekly basis for most of the summer, del Toro also has decided to make DWA his animation home: He will serve as a consultant and exec producer on several projects already in development, including "Kung Fu Panda 2," "Puss in Boots" and one yet-to-be-revealed project. His fingerprints will even be on DWA's next feature, "Megamind," which hits theaters Nov. 5.

In an exclusive interview with The Hollywood Reporter, del Toro said animation has caught his eye because he believes that during the next 10 years, the entertainment landscape will shift into a transmedia world -- a confluence of movies, TV, books, video and online -- and artists will need to be educated in all aspects of media.

"Transmedia," he said, "will not just be a buzz word."

The filmmaker also is convinced that animation has evolved into a medium that can attract moviegoers of all ages, including older audiences. "And I want to know it from the inside," he said. He views his role as an adviser on animated features as part of his education.

"Trollhunters," a working title, is based on a young-adult book del Toro submitted to publisher Hyperion about two weeks ago. He originally came up with the idea around the time he sold "The Strain," the vampire book trilogy he is writing with Chuck Hogan, and he has been working on it since.

"I wanted very much to develop a story that could be written for kids but dealt with a genre that was scary," he said. "It essentially combines fairy tales with modern times and is about how difficult it is to be kid. Normally, kids are idealized in animated films. But the growing pains, married with the notion that there is a world right next to us that is completely plagued by creatures of ancient lore, it's thematically fitting with the rest of my stuff."

Due to the evolutionary process of animated filmmaking, the script will be written and rewritten over a period of time, including during production. Del Toro has already started writing "Trollhunters" and plans on finishing it before he shoots "At the Mountains of Madness."

In the meantime, though, del Toro will be busy at DWA.

Guillermo Navarro, del Toro's frequent director of photography, pushed the director toward the animation house, where Navarro served as a cinematography consultant on the "Madagascar" movies. (Del Toro and Navarro aren't the only live-action filmmakers spending time at DWA; the studio also enlisted Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins to advise on the lighting in "How to Train Your Dragon.")

Del Toro said he was especially struck by what the studio accomplished with "Dragon." "They took risks with that movie with pathos and imagination and structure. It made me pay attention," he said.

Del Toro said he met with DWA CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg six months ago and they immediately clicked, so much so that del Toro agreed to work on "Megamind" before any dealmaking began. He has been helping DWA with the editing and structure of the movie, hoping to give it a brisker rhythm.

"What is fun to see is that the editing process in live action is not useful in animation," he said, laughing.

This summer, he often brought along his 14-year-old daughter to DWA in order to get a sense of how the company works. He just secured his own office there.

Del Toro believes he is joining DWA just as the company's "cultural footprint is growing," especially with movies such as "Kung Fu Panda" and "Dragon."

"Those movies went in interesting directions, and I think we will try to steer the projects that I'm involved in into those kinds of directions without making the company lose its identity," he said.

Already, he's come to realize that aspects such as layout and staging are different in animation, and so is screenplay development. "Sometimes in the live-action world, it takes weeks to get a response," del Toro said. "With (DWA), it takes a maximum a day."

The biggest difference he's seen is that in animation, "each of the steps you refine and refine and refine until its final form. It's much more malleable than a live-action movie."

Del Toro isn't abandoning live action, of course. He is beginning his fourth week of design work with Lightstorm Entertainment on his directorial project "At the Mountains of Madness." He is having a summit with Universal in three weeks at which he and his team will present a budget, art and maquettes to the studio's execs, and "cross your fingers, we hope to get a greenlight."

Meanwhile, he is in development on the "Haunted Mansion" movie at Disney and plans to produce a Universal project titled "Midnight Delivery" (most of his slate is set up at Universal). Is he starting to spread himself too thin?

"People say, 'How does he do it?' Well, I don't work on them at the same time," del Toro said. " 'Midnight Delivery,' I wrote 11 years ago. The fact that they are happening now is flattering and great, but it doesn't mean I'm writing seven screenplays at one time."

Del Toro is repped by WME and Exile Entertainment.