The first leg of Guillermo del Toro's Tales of Arcadia Trilogy for Netflix, Trollhunters, lasted three seasons and won six Daytime Emmys. In its last season, two peculiar exchange students named Krel (Diego Luna) and Aja (Tatiana Maslany) showed up at Arcadia and would later be revealed to be aliens from another planet.
Now it's time to continue their journey in the second leg of the trilogy, called 3Below, which debuts on Netflix on December 21. It tells a timely story of immigration, prejudice and fitting in, featuring a new visual aesthetic from one of our most interesting storytellers of our day. On the run from bounty hunters, Krel and Aja are the children of a royal family who escaped their planet as an evil dictator was executing a hostile takeover. With their bodyguard Commander Varvatos Vex (Nick Offerman) at their side, they crash land on Earth in Arcadia and attempt to blend in. Hopefully, they figure out a way back home and restore order on their planet.
Dreamworks Animation has brought us another first-rate production with an all-star voice cast that includes Hayley Atwell, Glenn Close, Uzo Aduba, Elon Aboutboul, Nick Frost, Cheryl Hines, Danny Trejo… and some surprise alums from Trollhunters.
3Below offers a different taste of Arcadia: it's funnier than Trollhunters, and even though it's about aliens it's very much about human behavior and culture. SYFY WIRE spoke with executive producer/director Marc Guggenheim about this quirky new installment of the Tales of Arcadia Trilogy.
What's it like to simultaneously rebrand / launch a new series within a world you've already created?
I have a philosophy about spinoffs that I think Guillermo shares, which is that a spinoff ideally exists in the same world as the mothership show, in this case Trollhunters, but still feels like its own show. If you don't, you run the risk it feeling like a Xerox copy that lost a generation from the original show. Even though it shares a lot of supporting cast members, the goal is you could watch 3Below without ever having seen Trollhunters.
So some of those differences are?
It was very important to Guillermo from the beginning that we push the humor more than we originally did in Trollhunters, and the social relevance. 3Below is not a political show, but it was very important to Guillermo that we tell a story about immigration and prejudice. Because of long lead time of animation, the issue of immigration and prejudice was less in the headlines when we started the project, that It currently is now. We didn't anticipate just how in the zeitgeist our subject matter would end up being. The result is a show that very much belongs in the Arcadia world, it exists very comfortably alongside Trollhunters in terms of heart, humor and visual spectacle but it's its own animal.
How much did Guillermo contribute to the visual look of the show?
A lot. We employed the same procedure that we did with Trollhunters. Guillermo touches and signs off on every designs. Not just characters, but environments down to props. He is heavily involved in the visual development of all the shows. When I say he touches the designs, I literally mean he takes a pen and draws on the design. He'd say, 'this needs to be bigger, smaller, I was thinking that this would have horns. He's very, very specific. He knows exactly what he wants and sees it with great clarity in his head.
Guillermo will take us through what changes he'd like to see made with the designs, called line reviews, and they're some of our most fun (creative) sessions. It's probably the most direct way you get a chance to see inside how his mind works and how specific his eye is. It could be a huge conceptual change, conceptual suggestion, or something so small that you wouldn't think would matter but it actually has a huge impact on the look of the series.
There is a tone unique to 3Below. What helped you find that sweet spot?
As a writer, you never really ever find a sweet spot. That's something that always eludes you but I will say that 3Below was a lot harder in terms of Trollhunters because we had a novel, screenplay and years of visual development that we could rely upon. With 3Below, we really were starting purely from scratch. That was tricky and we had to go from 0 to 100 mph in a blink. It required us to think fast and outside the box and be very proactive in terms of what's the craziest ideas. We didn't have to be as precious, there wasn't existing source material that we had to be beholden to or that we had to honor. I think the project was elevated as a result.
We do get to see the old gang, though, don't we?
Part of the fun of a spinoff is that after you've done the hard work of establishing the show on its own merit, then you have the chance to cross over with the mothership and that's a whole other fun. Toby makes an appearance in Episode 2 and gets a lot of screen time. Jim and Claire come into the middle of Season 1. Once you've gotten to know Aja Krel and Vex, then it's fun to see them interact with the protagonists of Trollhunters. We went back and forth, with myself, Ashley (A.C.) Bradley and Guillermo, when do we bring in Jim and Claire and under what circumstances?
Could you share the thought behind where that episode is placed?
We have this time loop episode and that came about when Guillermo was craving to see Jim and Claire earlier. Because the first season of 3Below overlaps with the third season of Trollhunters, we were locked into the story that we told in Trollhunters which clearly establishes when Aja and Krel meet Jim and Claire. We didn't want to violate that, but we didn't want to see them earlier into what the established timeline would have permitted.
Ashley came up with the brilliant time loop episode which allowed us to have our cake and eat it too. It introduced our characters to each other earlier than established canon but not violate anything we had done before. It's a true crossover episode in every sense of the word. You have these characters from these two shows interact that's fun, humorous honors Trollhunters and plays with the new toys that 3Below has established. I was really happy with that episode. It was a lot of fun.
Music plays a big part of 3Below. Crystal Method created the theme song (see above) but other parts of the sound design too, right?
In Trollhunters we had to create an area, we had to create Troll Market. With 3Below, we had to create an entire world. A big part of that world was the sound design. The score functions here, not just as a score, but really as another environment. Something that tells you that you're not just on Arikidion 5, that when you're back on Earth, you're amongst Arikidion tech.
Between the Crystal Method sound which is very futuristic and synth-y, that works hand and glove, with Jeff Danna's score, which is that epic sci-fi John Williams-esque score that everyone associates with this kind of material. It wound up being another character in the show. Because of Crystal Method and Jeff's collaboration, I was thinking a lot more about music on 3Below than I ever did on Trollhunters. That's a real asset and what helps sets it apart from Trollhunters.
What specifically can viewers identify with Aja and Krel's struggle?
Because these are teenagers and are wrestling with adolescence, even if you're not an immigrant, one thing that is universal — and in some cases intergalactic — is the feeling being left out and different. That's something kids of all ages grapple with. What's so inspirational about 3Below is we're telling a story of two kids, but not about them assimilating, they never lose of their heritage or sense of identity that derives where they come from. It's about making new friends, learning new culture and embracing it — adopting a new home without losing sight of their original home. That's something we can all do, whether it's now, or looking back on moments on our lives where we felt that way.
3Below: Tales of Arcadia Season 1 hits Netflix on December 21.