Continuing the streak that began with Tangled, Disney Animation’s next feature is also their first animated adaptation of a Marvel property, Big Hero 6. Not long ago, I was invited to spend a day at the studio with the artists behind this new film. We met the producer, directors, designers and artists, many of whom also worked on Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph and Tangled. We saw storyboards, concept art and several extended sequences of the heroes in action and spoke with the animators who put it all together.
Big Hero 6 is adapted from a comic of the same title, which began as a spin-off from the X-Men. In the Disney version, ties to the Marvel Universe are severed; the story takes place in an alternate world in which Japanese and American culture are merged. The action is set in San Fransokyo, an ultra-modern city that combines the aesthetics of San Francisco and Tokyo, in a world just slightly more technologically advanced than our own. The story follows a teenage robotics genius named Hiro (Ryan Potter) who follows his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) to the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, where Hiro’s endlessly-adaptable microbots earn him admission. Tadashi, for his part, has invented Baymax (Scott Adsit), a “personal healthcare companion” robot designed to provide emergency medical treatment and compassion.
After a tragic accident destroys Hiro’s microbot research and takes Tadashi’s life, Hiro turns to Baymax for assistance in solving the mystery and finding those responsible; he enlists the assistance of a group of his fellow students, equipping them, himself and his inflatable robot friend with high-tech armor and weaponry to become the super-team Big Hero 6. Fearless adrenaline junkie Go Go Tomago (Jamie Chung) speeds around on mag-lev wheels, neat-freak Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.) adds plasma energy blades to his martial arts abilities, chemistry whiz Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) whips up chemical globes that create everything from explosions to blinding light, and sign-spinning goofball Fred (T.J. Miller) becomes a fire-breathing kaiju.
We sat down for a conversation with Directors Don Hall and Chris Williams and producer Roy Conli. Hall previously directed the 2011 version of Winnie the Pooh and served as head of story for The Princess and the Frog, while Williams directed Bolt and served on the story team for Mulan, Lilo & Stitch, The Emperor’s New Groove, Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen. Conli has been with Disney since 1993, and oversaw production on Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules and Tarzan at Disney’s animation studio in France. Returning to the US, he produced Treasure Planet. Most recently, he was the producer for the mega-hit Frozen. They told us about the robotics research they observed at Carnegie-Mellon University which greatly influenced the appearance and development of Baymax and other robots seen in the film; the weapons used by Hiro’s team are all extrapolated from cutting-edge research in plasma and magnetic technology.
Visual Development Artist Lorelay Bove, who previously designed the Sugar Rush world of Wreck-It Ralph, has created a fantastic world full of surprises, melding the Victorian homes of San Francisco with the neon and pagodas of Tokyo in stunning ways. Big Hero 6 is amazing to look at.
Along with Big Hero 6, we also got a preview screening of the short film that will accompany it in theaters. Feast tells the story of a dog and his man, as seen through the meals they eat together. Done in the style of a compilation of Vine or Snapchat videos, the story plays out in a rapid-fire stream of short clips in which we see the growing relationship between a Boston terrier named Winston and the guy who adopts him, as well as the relationship between the guy and a cute waitress at his favorite restaurant, all told in the context of dinner. It’s wonderful, charming and funny, sure to be loved by anyone who has ever fed a dog.
Big Hero 6 opens November 7.