The biggest movie of the year won’t be sparkly vampires or kids playing rather hungry games. It’ll be Big Hero 6 from Disney that will hopefully set the box office on fire in much the same way that Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen did. Well, according to me at least. And what a journey it has been so far.
Speaking to Collider, directors Don Hall and Chris Williams explained how their film made it to the top of the pitch list. According to co-director Don Hall, it was a combination of comic book love, lists and a concept with a kickass name attached to it.
DON HALL: Our process is that you never pitch one idea, you pitch three. So, after the conversation John [Lasseter] and I had about my love of comic books, Disney animation, and wanting to find a Marvel thing to bring over here, we just looked around for stuff and made lists. I had never read Big Hero 6. I saw the title and thought, “That’s a cool title.”
I looked at it further and saw that it was about a Japanese superhero team and got more intrigued. I read the comic books and got even more intrigued. I felt like it was appropriate because it had a tone to it that was light. It’s not light, like it’s for kids, but they were fun. You could tell the creators had fun creating it. The whole thing was a love letter to Japanese pop culture, and the characters were appealing. That was the early inspiration for putting it on the list to pitch to John. We also saw that there could be a very emotional story there, between a 14-year-old super genius who suffered a loss and a robot that could help heal him.
So, it was amongst a few other properties that I pitched to John and the other directors, and they rallied around it.
If you had to put a face on Big Hero 6, it would be the squishy rotund image of Baymax. Part robot helper, part hero, the inflatable bot took quite a bit of design and development before his final look was ready for the film.
HALL: There was a desire to create an appealing, huggable robot. If you look at some of our first iterations, he was metallic. He was huggable, in the sense that he was round, but he was still a robot. Really, everything came out of the research trip to Carnegie Mellon. Even his persona and personality came out of the idea of soft robotics, and the idea that he would be a nurse robot because that’s the practical application of soft robotics. And we like those kind of naive, innocent characters who see the world very clearly from their perspective, but it’s still a naive perspective.
CHRIS WILLIAMS: You see those characters in some of the best Disney movies, like Dumbo and Bambi. There’s an innocence and a guileless quality, and just a pure, good quality that they have. I love those kind of characters, and it’s really fun to pair those kind of characters with other characters and see what happens.
Big Hero 6 also had a tough story to crack. Hall and Williams explained that while they had a wealth of comic book source material to work from, the story itself was shaped and re-developed over several years.
HALL: It was a difficult one to crack, from a story perspective. We knew we had an abundance of wealth, but that comes with the challenge of making it all play together, thematically and cohesively in 90 minutes, which is relatively short. We don’t have a two-hour movie to do subplots. We had to make choices, and that was a lot of the challenge. The stake in the ground was that this was going to be a movie about a 14-year-old super genius who loses his older brother, and we were going to deal with it head-on and not pull punches.
And the brother’s robot was going to be an agent of healing for this kid. He was going to take him on a journey of dealing with this loss, and specifically the idea that acceptance comes when you realize that those who pass on, live on through you. That was the spine. The difficulty is that we also had a superhero origin story, so how do you make those things play together? And it really wasn’t until we hit on an idea that made Baymax more active, in shaping the idea of bringing the support group into the story. They’re brought in as an emotional support group before they’re ever brought in as superheros. Hiro got the idea after Baymax brought them in via the idea that he wanted to treat the loss. To me, that was a defining moment. Once we made Baymax a little more proactive, especially in Act 2, the story started to congeal a little bit.
WILLIAMS: Our process is very iterative. We make version after version after version of the movie, over the course of years. That allows us to try things and experiment, get lots of things right and lots of things wrong, and make change. We’ve really given ourselves over to the idea of story being changed, and this very fluid story environment. As you go, lots of scenes and lots of ideas get checked. There was a point, earlier on, where there was more emphasis on following the villain and his plot.
That ultimately didn’t really serve the emotional storyline, which is the main story between Hiro and Baymax and the team. We constantly change things. It takes getting lots of things wrong to find the right version of every scene.
And much like previous Disney movies, expect a couple of Easter eggs to pop up during the course of the film. No wait, that’s a lie. Expect A LOT of Easter eggs, say Williams and Hall.
WILLIAMS: There are a lot of references.
HALL: Wreck-It Ralph is all over. Frozen is all over. I think our favorite one is the statue of Hans from Frozen. There are a lot. There are Marvel ones in there, especially in Fred’s room.
WILLIAMS: At a certain point, Don and I had to tell the crew, “Okay, that’s enough. There are too many Easter eggs in this movie.” We had to extract a couple because it was getting crazy. The crew is fans of Disney history, and of comic books and Marvel, so they were real eager to place a lot of things in there. We had to put a moratorium on it, at some point.
Last Updated: November 3, 2014