Guillermo del Toro Talks 'Trollhunters' and Career Choices in Annecy

Guillermo Del Toro - H 2016
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Guillermo Del Toro - H 2016

The Mexican filmmaker and producer previewed his new DreamWorks Animation series and was joined onstage by Jeffrey Katzenberg, who received a career tribute.

Making his first-ever appearance at the Annecy International Animation Festival, where he was on hand for a masterclass and to screen footage from his upcoming DreamWorks series, Trollhunters, Guillermo del Toro spoke candidly to a packed house about his life and work, dropping plenty of wisdom — and a fair amount of F-bombs — along the way.

Surely one of the most attended events at the fest, which brings thousands of animation fans and industry execs to the French Alps each June, the talk started off with the audience cheering wildly and tossing paper planes onstage (apparently an Annecy tradition). Del Toro then began by remarking that at film festivals, he sometimes gets calls at 2 a.m. in his hotel room from girls who think that he’s the other Del Toro (Benicio). “I tell them: ‘Don’t f—ing come. You’ll be disappointed,’” he joked.

He then delved into a lengthy discussion about his career origins in Mexico, where he started off shooting stop-motion animation movies on a Super-8 camera, eventually graduating to special-effects makeup artist, where he trained under the legendary Dick Smith (The Exorcist, Taxi Driver). “I learned how to break down effects into cinematic elements,” del Toro explained, adding how much makeup, wardrobe and set design all contribute to his method of storytelling: “The visuals of a movie are screenwriting. They can say a lot before any dialogue is ever spoken.”

After years in makeup effects, del Toro was able to drum up enough favors to make his gory feature debut, Cronos (1993), which premiered to critical acclaim and launched him onto the international scene. Since then it’s been off to the races, with the director shifting between savvy blockbusters (Pacific Rim, the Hellboy films) and artsy creature-features (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone), all of them marked by his mastery of atmosphere, breathtaking visuals and vintage practical effects.

“It’s about the very delicate balance between real life and imagination,” is how del Toro described his approach, explaining that he doesn’t make movies for critics or box-office numbers, but to please himself and connect with members of the audience. “The rest is masturbation,” he said, while remarking how his experience in Hollywood taught him how to say “no” and turn down projects he’s not in love with and willing to die for. “Why?” he said, “Because you cannot f— without a boner.”

Del Toro was then joined by a surprise guest: DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, who has been collaborating with the director for over a decade (del Toro consulted on DreamWorks hits like Kung Fu Panda 2 and Megamind) and who came onstage to preview scenes from Trollhunters. The animated series is based on the book co-authored by del Toro and will be released on Netflix later this year. Its voice cast includes Anton Yelchin, Kelsey Grammer and del Toro regular Ron Perlman.

The Annecy crowd responded enthusiastically to the action-packed footage, about a high school kid who stumbles upon a magical amulet that turns him into powerful trollhunter, taking on monsters that live just beneath the surface of his average American suburb. “Saving the world after gym class,” is how del Toro says he pitched the series to Katzenberg, who remarked that the Mexican filmmaker has brought a certain level of darkness to DreamWorks Animation over the years, where “he increased the murder rate by 100 percent” and suggested that key characters be killed off.

Katzenberg then received an impromptu video tribute with clips from movies he presided over both at DreamWorks and Disney, after which Annecy Artistic Director Marcel Jean handed him the first ever lifetime pass to the festival. The masterclass concluded with a standing ovation and del Toro telling the audience: “See you at the bar.”