Don Hall and Chris Williams Talk BIG HERO 6, the Ever-Evolving Development Process, Designing Baymax, Easter Eggs, Fred’s Song and More

     November 1, 2014

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From Walt Disney Animation Studios, Big Hero 6 follows robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) who, after a tragic event, turns to inflatable and huggable robot companion Baymax (Scott Adsit).  With a dangerous plot unfolding on the streets of San Fransokyo, Hiro transforms a group of like-minded friends – adrenaline junkie Go Go Tomago (Jamie Chung), precision freak Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), chemistry whiz Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) and fanboy Fred (T.J. Miller) – into high-teach heroes determined to solve the mystery and save the day.

At the film’s press day, co-directors Don Hall and Chris Williams spoke at a roundtable interview about what drew them to the Marvel comics property Big Hero 6, the freedom they had to really make it their own, the ever-evolving development process, what most helped them to find their story, what led them to this design for Baymax, whether the extended version of Fred’s song might ever be available, how Fall Out Boy ended up writing a song for the film, and all of the many Easter eggs.  Check out what they had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.

big-hero-6-posterQuestion:  So, why Big Hero 6?

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.

Why did you decide to not put Marvel in the title of the film?

HALL:  It just made sense because we were making it at Disney and producing it at Disney.  Early on, Marvel loved the idea that we were going to do something with one of their things, and they really loved that it was Big Hero 6.  We were taking something from their archives that’s relatively obscure, so they were really excited for us to do something with it.  But they were very encouraging of us to take it and make it our own.  They kept saying, “You don’t have to set it within the confides of the Marvel universe.  You don’t have to worry about that.”  So, that gave us license to make this our own.  It just felt like it was appropriate that it’s title Disney’s Big Hero 6 ‘cause it is our version of it.

WILLIAMS:  And Lasseter really likes the idea of building unique worlds you’ve never been to before.  For him, a big part of the experience for the audience is being told a great story.  Another big part of the experience is being taken to a world you’ve never been to and a world you’d like to go to.  So, the creation of San Fransokyo is a part of that.  We know that that’s not our earth, as we understand it.  We’re somewhere else.  There’s no confusion that maybe Thor or Captain America are going to show up.  There’s a real division there, and I think that’s good.  It allowed us to have total freedom with the story and with the characters.

big-hero-6-image-2Were there any major changes made to the story, over the development process? 

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.

big-hero-6-image-castAre there any technical reasons that it’s better to have the actors record their voices separately?

HALL:  It’s our production schedule.  In a perfect world, it would be awesome to get them all here together, but it just never seems to work out that way.

WILLIAMS: And we don’t build sets, obviously, so the actors are constantly forced to imagine their surroundings.  We zip from one scenario to another, and sometimes it’s easier to explain it to them so they can have it in their head, rather than trying to match the physicality with what’s actually happening in the scene because with animation, it could be anything.

How did you decide on this design for Baymax?

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.

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.

Will we ever hear the full-length version of Fred’s song?

CHRIS WILLIAMS:  There is a longer version that exists.

HALL:  Maybe it will be on the extended director’s cut.  It will only be extended as long as the song.

WILLIAMS:  That’s not a bad idea because it’s pretty funny, and it only gets weirder.  It goes on and on.

big-hero-6-fredHow did Fall Out Boy end up doing a song for the soundtrack?

WILLIAMS:  Fall Out Boy were awesome to work with, and they turned out to be perfect candidates.  They’re rockers and they’ve got tattoos, but if you look closely, they have Disney characters tattooed on them.  They’re big fans of animation, and when we found that out, we thought it was perfect.  Plus, one of them is a neighbor of mine.  But, they took it seriously.

HALL:  They’re also comic book guys, too.  When you want to drop some nerdy Marvel references, Patrick [Stump] can hang with you.  They’re big fans of what we do, and they were very excited.  We showed them clips from the film, and specifically storyboards for the montage that their song would go over, and they were super stoked.

WILLIAMS:  I was really impressed by how seriously they took it.  We needed to have a song with a lot of energy, but we also sat down and talked about the movie and some of the thematic ideas of the movie, and the whole idea of “Immortals” comes from the central thematic idea of the movie, which is that when you lose someone, they can live on through you and the choices that you make.  They’re really smart, professional guys who rock.

HALL:  I really love that song, too.

What sort of Easter eggs did you put in this film?

big-hero-6-filmmakers-1WILLIAMS:  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.

Big Hero 6 opens in theaters on November 7th.

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