Troll in the Dungeon
Harry sniffed and a foul stench reached his nostrils, a mixture of old socks and the kind of public toilet no one seems to clean.
And then they heard it – a low grunting and the shuffling footfalls of gigantic feet. Ron pointed: at the end of a passage to the left, something huge was moving towards them. They shrank into the shadows and watched as it emerged into a patch of moonlight. It was a horrible sight. Twelve feet tall, its skin was a dull, granite grey, its great lumpy body like a boulder with its small bald head perched on top like a coconut. It had short legs thick as tree trunks with flat, horny feet. The smell coming from it was incredible. It was holding a huge wooden club, which dragged along the floor because its arms were so long. The troll stopped next to a doorway and peered inside. It waggled its long ears, making up its tiny mind, then slouched slowly into the room.
– J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Design work on the Mountain Troll for Philosopher’s Stone was initiated by Robert Bliss and Paul Catling. “Stuart Craig’s designers were well cast to the film,” said visual effects supervisor Rob Legato. “They were great at coming up with dark and fantastic creatures. The Troll was both of these. We wanted him to be ferocious, but we also wanted him to convey a somewhat dopey look with his eyes, so you hate him and don’t hate him at the same time.”
Bliss and Catlin’s illustrations were translated into maquettes by Nick Dudman’s creature effects team. White resin castings were used to be digitally scanned, and a fully painted model was built for reference.
Due to its stature and proportions, the Troll had to be brought to the screen as a digital creation, which was combined with a series of practical insert models: a pneumatic rig devised by John Richardson swung the Troll’s club. Nick Dudman’s team also built a pair of silicone ‘Troll trousers’ representing its legs, worn by former rugby player Martin Bayfield during filming.
A full-size Troll animatronic representing the creature after it has been knocked unconscious was instead built by Jim Henson’s Character Shop. Shop supervisor Jamie Courtier explained: “we scaled up the maquette and sculpted our twelve-foot-tall Troll in clay. The sculpting was led by Jan Whittaker and Steve Jolley. Our Troll was only seen laying down, but we sculpted him upright so he could be shot standing if Chris Columbus wanted.” The Troll’s skin was moulded in silicone. “The natural displacement of the silicone made the flesh sag naturally either way,” Courtier continues. “Kenny Wilson led molding to make the silicone skin. Graham High and Marie Fraser then fabricated an internal structure and gave him a state-of-the-art animatronic head, built by Adrian Parish and Dan Burnett, which connected to the Henson Performance Control System. This gave the Troll face and finger movement, which Chris requested, so he could twitch and show signs of life that would scare you into thinking he might wake up.”
The Henson Troll was used as reference by the Sony Imageworks team to bring the digital version of the character to life. The visual effects sequences were overseen by CG supervisor David Smith. “As soon as Henson’s had an eyeball or a piece of skin,” said visual effects supervisor Jim Berney, “they’d send it to us for our modelers and shader-writers to play with. Luckily, we did not have to match theirs spot-on, so we built a tremendous amount of detail into our digital version, with wrinkles and polyps and big, thorny warts.”
With medical photographs used as reference, Smith endowed the Troll’s skin with a layer of carbuncles and grime, adding dirt to wrinkles and warts in order for light to interact with subdermal layers. Hair was also added in certain spots of the body. “We added little spotty tufts up on top of his head,” Smith said, “gave him ear hair, armpit hair and a treasure trail going down his belly. No one really knew what he would be wearing. At one point he was going to have a vest, which developed into this complex patchwork with big stitching; but he ended up with a simple loincloth, so Todd Pilger but together a nice simulation to make the belly giggle.”
The Troll was animated by Todd Wilderman and a team of five animators. “The Troll was a walking bulldozer,” said Eric Armstrong, part of the crew. “Knocking down a wall was like knocking over dominoes to him. We imagined he was like a four-year-old. Everything is very basic in the way a child that age reacts — either they’re very happy, or they’re very sad — and that’s just how the Troll was, simple but extreme.”
For the scenes involving Harry interacting with the Troll, a practical approach with a green screen shape used by Radcliffe was first devised, but ultimately discarded in favour of a fully digital version.
For more pictures of the Troll, visit the Monster Gallery.