*I attended this event on behalf of Disney/ABC/Marvel and all expenses were covered. Any opinions are 100% my own.
Big Hero 6 is now in theaters and soared to #1 at the Box Office over the weekend! I took you down the Red Carpet for the Premiere of Big Hero 6, I shared with you the things your kids will learn from Big Hero 6, but now, its time to go Behind the Robot! I got an Inside Look at Big Hero 6 while I was in LA last week. We toured the Disney Animation Studio and got the chance to interview the Big Hero 6 Directors Don Hall and Chris Williams!
What originally attracted me to Big Hero 6 was the title. You could tell that the creators loved Japanese pop culture, and that’s why they did the book. They wanted to take their love of anime, and all things Japanese, and infuse that with a Marvel superhero story. I love that and we could see amidst all of that, that there was an emotional story, about a 14-year old super genius who loses his big brother and his robot that becomes a surrogate big brother and heals him. – Director Don Hall
During the interview, we found out we were sitting in the very room that Big Hero 6 was pitched! How cool is that?!
“Don and I did a pitch in this room, on that wall, of Big Hero 6. It was real skeletal, like a broad-strokes summary of what it could be. You just have to show the potential for a fun story. Everyone was really taken with the idea of a kid who was going to lose his brother and who would be left with his brother’s robot, a surrogate big brother, to help him move on. That just struck a chord with everybody.” – Chris
I know how awesome I felt being among the stars of the movie at the Big Hero 6 Premiere but, can you imagine what it felt like for the filmmakers to be in the presence of the story’s creators as the film premieres…?
Duncan Rouleau and Steven Seagle came to the premiere last night, it was pretty cool. They really love the movie, and I felt like if the creators of the original comic book love this movie, then hopefully I think we did something right by them. It was great. – Don Hall
As movies are written, shot, and brought to life for the big screen, changes do happen. Scenes are cut, characters are changed, and the final product is handed over to us, the fans. Big Hero 6 is no different and fans wondered what the biggest change from the initial script to the final cut of the movie was…
Baymax became more central. We realized that when he is driving the story, and driving the plot, it really helps. He became a real interesting character in uniting the “boy and his robot” story and the superhero origin story. – Don Hall
The story wasn’t coming together, and it didn’t come together, until we put Baymax front and center. Really took that idea that he wants to heal Hiro and put it in the forefront and make it really proactive, as opposed to being reactive. Before, he was really reactive to Hiro and he just followed Hiro around. He was always a great character, but when you’d put him front and center and make him proactive, he’s the one engaging a lot. If you look at it, it’s a little sneaky, but he’s the one that’s really kinda pushing the story forward, and he’s the one that brings the friends in, and he’s the one that furthers the flight because it’s making Hiro feel good. You forget about the loss of his brother for a little bit. Once we did that, that’s when the story really kinda started. – Chris Williams
A very late addition to the movie was the scene on the wind turbine, after that first flight scene. That really kinetic scene where they’re flying through the city. Where it’s just the two of them sitting on the wind turbine above the clouds. We realized there was something missing and we added that scene. It really solidified the relationship, and we understood then how much they were invested. How much they loved each other. We became invested in their relationship. – Don Hall
Inside Disney Animation Studios, there was a space transformed into a mini San Fransokyo. Complete with a Sushi Bar, Japanese Vending Machine, and all sorts of decor to complete the ambiance. Super fun place and I even pulled up a chair and enjoyed my lunch there.
I would have to say that my favorite character from Big Hero 6 is Fred. He’s funny, laid-back, and always ready for an adventure. If you’ve seen Big Hero 6 in theaters, and stayed for the Easter Egg after the credits, then you can understand why I wanted to know if there would be another adventure for the Big Hero 6 or Fred himself!
We are in a place now where we just finished the movie 17 days ago. We’re pretty exhausted and we really did give everything we had to this thing. We weren’t thinking of it as the beginning of a franchise or anything like that, so we have no specific plans. It felt like a really great button and we weren’t thinking of it as a springboard the next thing. Y’know, having said that, we lived with these characters for years. They start to become very real to us and the idea of working with them again someday is not unappealing, but it’s not what is on our minds. – Chris
Big Hero 7. – Don Hall
It doesn’t go….it is a fun idea, though… Chris
While Big Hero 6 is an animated movie, it has a very cinematic look on screen. Between a portrayal of Tokyo and a portrayal of San Francisco blended together, along with an amazing skyline and background…..how did they make it all work so well?
It has a very cinematic look and that was by design. We really wanted to push that with this movie, so we had some rules that governed our art direction. Simple characters on a complex background. There is more detail in this movie than, I think, in the last three movies. That’s a credit to our production designer, Paul Felix, and our art director of environment, Scott Watanabe, who really shared the burden of how we integrate all of this, the Japanese stuff, into San Francisco. Not only that, how are we going to make it seem like a lived-in, real place, not a soundstage or a CG-ish kind of environment. They really shoulder the burden of that, and getting them all correct. Even in Japan, we were there a week ago, for the world premiere, and we got compliments from the Japanese. They loved the emotion of the movie, and they really embraced the movie. They kept saying this was one of the most authentic American portrayals of Japan, ever. And it’s not Japan. You know what I mean? They fully acknowledge that. They’re like, “We get it, we get it, this is a fantasy world, but it’s more real and more indicative of Tokyo and Japan than any other movie they’d seen recently,” so that was pretty cool. – Chris Williams
We’d love to take all of the credit for everything, but we have an incredible production designer, our art director. They really go to these places, they immerse themselves, they sketch, they take pictures, they really study. That’s how you get all of the details that add up so that it feels really complete. These guys go really deep, even the placement of the sun in the sky. The sun will always be in the right place in the sky, depending on the time of day in the scene. Depending on the geography of San Francisco. just the moisture in the air, and things that I wouldn’t have thought about, are what most of these guys are consumed by. – Don Hall
While at Disney Animation Studios, we got the chance to sit down with Jin Kim, the Character Design Supervisor for Big Hero 6. He walked us through the steps to draw Baymax and I already know I shouldn’t quit my day job to be an animator. Jin Kim is crazy good though and drew Baymax in just a few seconds.
I do have a pretty sweet Baymax to hang on my wall and can proudly say that I drew his lopsided inflatable body all by myself!
Before you can start the story, you have to create the world. So how does a movie based on a Marvel Comic come to life in world that isn’t really all that Marvel-esque when it comes to characters and places? How did San Fransokyo come to be?
“It happened very early because that’s the first thing we generally tackle. Before we ever go into story, it’s always the world. After we had a meeting with Marvel, it was our second meeting, I said “John picked Big Hero 6” and they were like, “Really?” We talked about it and they said, “You know what, you don’t have to worry about setting this in the Marvel Universe. Don’t worry about trying to integrate Captain America and Iron Man and all of that kind of stuff. Just take this and go. Make your own world.” That was very freeing and cool, but then it left a lot of questions. What is the world, then? The Marvel Universe really takes place in sort of the real world, it’s New York, essentially. I wanted to stay away from New York, and I really wanted to stay away from LA. No matter where we picked, it was going to integrate a Japanese stamp on it. San Francisco just felt cool because it’s very recognizable. It’s a contained city. It’s a beautiful city. There’s so many things that people recognize around the world, like the Golden Gate Bridge and cable cars and the topography. It felt like we could make a really grounded, relatable world, but still have the fantasy that we do in the caricature and in animation. – Chris Williams
Something that John Lassiter emphasizes a lot, is that, over the course of the years of production, the story is going to change a lot, but you’re kind of going to live with the world that you create. Before we created the story, we did a lot of research just to build the world and let the world inform the story. – Don Hall
We knew that there was going to be no superpowers in the movie. That was another stake in the ground. Nobody is magic. Nobody is irradiated by anything, any kind of ray, cosmic ray or gamma ray or spiders, or anything. It’s going to be real people, and their superpower is gonna be super technology. Both of those cities, Tokyo and San Francisco, are kind of hubs of technology. That kind of felt like another easy integration. – Chris Williams
When it comes to animation, the person chosen to voice the character has to bring that character to life on a screen. Some characters are written with an actor/actress in mind and other characters just happen to find the perfect voice for them. No matter how the voice is chosen, they usually lend a little of themselves to the character.
We had had written versions of these characters, but, inevitably, especially when you get such amazing actors like Damon and TJ and Genesis and Jamie, they start to shift a little bit. They bring so much of themselves to it and then we integrate that into the whole mix. We looked at it just like we always do, and we have a great casting department. They bring us choices and auditions and we kept holding out until we found the right people. – Chris Williams
We wanted to get to know these characters really intimately, so that we would know how they would behave. Not just in the scenarios of the movie, but in any situation. Until we’d cast, we could create a sketch, and get pretty close, but once you cast, then you can really crystallize and really get to know the character. That’s crucial stuff. We usually get about two or three screenings in before we have a good sense of where the story is going, before we cast.
The futuristic technology in Big Hero 6 has a major role in the film. From the robotics of Baymax to the mind controlled micro-bots, there was a lot of research that went into the science of Big Hero 6.
If you watch the credits, you’ll see, “Thank you, science.” We do all extensive research and there were scores of roboticists that I talked to and consulted on the movie. That research trip, that gave us Baymax, but then there was a guy I met on that research trip, Dr. Tom Wagner, who was from I, Robot. He became a kind of consultant on the film early on. We ran not just the robot stuff, but technology through him, too, “We want Wasabi to have plasma blades. Can that happen?” Some of it, we’d use, and some of it we pulled back just for design reasons. Everything in the movie is researched and grounded, because we tried to keep it as real as possible. Even the telekinesis, which we thought we were really bending the rules there, but come to find out that people are actually working on that. – Chris Williams
It’s a hard thing to do, make a movie where you’re trying to deal with the latest cutting-edge technology. One of the challenges is, the actual stuff is moving so quickly, we have to make sure we get our movie out ahead of it. I think we managed it. – Don Hall
Like Siri. Three and a half years ago I went out on a robotics tour, that’s where I met Chris Atkinson, who was doing soft robotics, and that led to Baymax. One of the things that they kept stressing is, human-robot interaction, or, human-A.I. interaction, is difficult, because human speech patterns and the slang we use. Then three months later, Apple came out with a version of the iPhone app, Siri. For all intents and purposes, it works really well. I can talk to Siri, and she can understand me. It just goes to show you how quickly these things are advancing. Micro-bots are right around the corner. – Chris Williams
What is the message behind Big Hero 6?
We were thinking of Baymax as more of a character than as a robot, and ultimately his role in the emotional story. Primarily, we were thinking of this as a story about loss, and the idea that Baymax would be a surrogate big brother, helping Hiro with his loss of his brother. The idea we kept going back to is that Hiro would have a cathartic moment in the movie once he’d accepted the idea, or come to realize that, in a sense, his brother is living on. When you lose somebody, they can live on through the choices that you make. That really is the thing that we kept going back to: what is this movie ultimately saying? What is the main thematic idea? It is that. It’s the way they can live on through you. – Don Hall
The theme of loss is really our main theme, but there was a lot of stuff that kinda went into the soup. Early on, as I was doing my research, it became very apparent that Western and Eastern cultures view technology differently. This came to a head with Chris Atkinson, who was the soft roboticist. He went on and on about how frustrated he is as a roboticist, that Western movies always portray the robots as villains. “It’s technology run amok, right? When is somebody is gonna put a robot up on screen that I’ve never seen before, and when is that robot gonna be the hero of the movie?” What got them to be roboticists were anime. It was always anime and you could tell the ages of the roboticists by which robot he was into, going all of the way back to Astro Boy or Gundam or Evangelion. Then there’s an Eastern philosophy where technology will give us a brighter tomorrow. A lot of times in the West, it’s going to be our downfall. Ultimately, it has nothing to do with the technology. It’s about who wields that technology. – Chris Williams