Directors Don Hall and Chris Williams Talk Setting up a Diverse World, Storyboarding Enough Scenes to Make 10 Films, and More at the BIG HERO 6 Early Press Day

     September 3, 2014


To promote the upcoming November 7th release of the Walt Disney Animation Studios feature Big Hero 6, the studio invited members of the press out to see portions of the animated action-adventure comedy and to participate in presentations and demos to show what it takes to put a film like this together, from all aspects of the production.  The story follows robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter) who, after a tragic event, turns to robot companion Baymax (voiced by 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 (voiced by Jamie Chung), precision freak Wasabi (voiced by Damon Wayans Jr.), chemistry whiz Honey Lemon (voiced by Genesis Rodriguez) and fanboy Fred (voiced by T.J. Miller) – into high-teach heroes determined to solve the mystery and save the day.  For more on the film, watch the trailer.

During the early press day to preview what audiences can expect when the film inspired by the Marvel comics of the same name opens, co-directors Don Hall (Winnie the Pooh) and Chris Williams (Bolt) spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about how strongly people are responding to the characters before the film has even been released, the importance of this story being set in a diverse world with such diverse characters, the advantages of sharing directing duties on an animated feature, developing a complex mash-up story, how hard it is to have so many characters with so many costume changes, how they compromise if they disagree on the details, that they’ve storyboarded enough scenes to make 10 movies, and that the animators made gag versions of some of the shots, that they’re hoping will end up on the Blu-ray/DVD.  Check out what they had to say after the jump.

big-hero-6-poster-baymax-hi-resWhat’s it like to be working on a movie that hasn’t even come out yet, but people were already cosplaying at Comic-Con?

CHRIS WILLIAMS:  It’s super gratifying.

DON HALL:  It’s really cool.  We’ve been going to Comic-Con forever and just love it.  We feel very connected to that community, and we’re a part of that community of super fans.  But I never thought I would see the day where characters that I had worked on and helped to create, people would be dressing up as them, before the movie was even released. 

WILLIAMS:  I met a couple of them when I was down there, and it was really gratifying to see.  We’ve been working on this movie for years, so when it actually starts to get out there and people are interacting with these characters in a tangible way, it’s almost emotional to see that.  It was really cool.

Do you think that’s because this is such a diverse group of characters that people are already relating to them and are excited about them?

HALL:  That’s possible.  It’s hard to say, really.  There’s a lot of interest in, “What is this mash-up going to be?  What is it going to look like, Disney being inspired by a Marvel comic?”  So, it was very important, early on, to make sure that we had a diverse cast.  I just want it to reflect the world.  We live in L.A., which is a very diverse city, but if you go to cities like London or New York, you realize that it is a diverse world.  Because we’re trying to appeal to everybody and our movies are made for everybody, it should reflect that, as well. 

WILLIAMS:  Some of it is attributed to the fact that, over the past five or six movies, we’ve built up a lot of good will with the audience and they expect good things from us and we want to deliver.  That trust and that sense of connection between Disney animation and the audience is something that is very important to us.

big-hero-6-filmmakers.What are the advantages that come from sharing directing duties on a film like this?

HALL:  It’s a massive undertaking and we’re tired.  It’s been a marathon, but we knew what we were biting off.  We knew it was going to be a complex story.  It wasn’t one thing or another.  It was a mash-up of different things.  There is a kid and a robot story.  There is a superhero origin story.  So, we knew that it had a high level of complexity, very early on.  Even the choice we made, to make the world as rich and detailed and full of stuff, we knew would be a complex undertaking.  We always knew that this was going to raise our bar pretty high.  So, it’s actually nice to have two heads at the top, to separate the workload and to bounce ideas off of each other.  You can make sure that quality is maintained.  We’ve built up a level of quality on these film, and you want to make sure that this one is going to hit that bar, and move that bar a little bit.

WILLIAMS:  There are a lots of things in this movie that are specific challenges with CG.  Just creating a world like this, you don’t get anything for free.  You have to imagine all of it.  We have lots of characters with lots of costume changes, and those are all things that are specifically hard in CG.  But, there’s a culture here where we love a challenge and embrace a challenge.  Everybody expects a lot of themselves, and each department expects a lot of itself.  We want to achieve great things, and unless we do that, we feel like we’ve failed.  We definitely want to push ourselves, and this movie gave us an opportunity to push ourselves.

HALL:  Early on, there was a lot of forward thinking by a lot of the production guys, in anticipating some of the challenges.  They were very pro-active in how to set the movie up for success, as far as making sure that when the production crunch hit, we were prepared for it, as far as designing the characters and making sure that we had adequate costume changes.  Once you get into production, there is no time to be fiddling with designs.  Everything has to be well thought-out, and I’ve gotta give those guys credit.  I was busy crafting the story.  We were working out all of the story stuff while they were being mindful of where the production crunch would hit and being prepared for it, and boy, that pays dividends now.  It will look effortless when it hits the big screen, but I assure you that there was a lot of effort. 

WILLIAMS:  Everything has to be worked out.  You’re like, “What do plasma blades on Wasabi’s super suit look like?”  You’ve gotta figure it out, from a design standpoint and a technology standpoint.  Every little thing was a new challenge.

big-hero-6-filmmakers-2What would you say was the biggest argument or disagreement that you had, in this process?

WILLIAMS:  I don’t know.  It doesn’t ever really seem to work that way, where I think X and he thinks Y.  There’s usually some common ground.  If one person thinks one thing, vehemently, and the other person thinks the opposite, vehemently, if you’re really in a collaborative environment, you can talk it out.  Either one person will convince the other, or there is a third idea, just waiting to be found.  It usually works out that way.  It’s not very often, in a place like this, that two people stay at loggerheads for very long.

HALL:  Not with any of the big things, but there may be small detail things where one person may have a strong opinion about it, and the other one is like, “Okay, I don’t have that strong opinion.  I could go this way, or I could go that way.”  There are so many choices that are made during the course of a day, let alone a movie, where you really could fall either way.  If there’s something that he feels super strong about, and I don’t feel as strongly about it, we’ll go with what he wants.

WILLIAMS: When you start working in the story department, you pitch and you’re possessive of your idea and you’re sure that you’re right.  And one of the things that you start to learn is that oftentimes you’re not right.  Even things you feel strongly about, you’ll look back and go, “I was wrong about that one,” or “Someone else had a slightly better take on that.”  You dig in your heels less, and you start to listen more.  It’s still important to have a strong point of view and have an opinion, but always be listening and don’t be dismissive of other people’s points of view because there is something there.

big-hero-6-baymaxWill there be a lot of deleted scenes, or are there deleted storylines, that we could see on the Blu-ray/DVD?

HALL:  Who knows what’s going to be on the DVD or Blu-ray.  We haven’t even begun to think about that.  But, there are deleted scenes up the wazoo, in storyboard form. 

WILLIAMS:  We’ve had lots of screenings, as every movie does, and if you’re talking about storyboarded scenes that were deleted, we’ve probably storyboarded 10 movies.  There is plenty of that, for sure.

HALL:  One thing that the animators have been doing, just to blow off steam, is that they’ll set us up in dailies and tell us that they’ve got two different versions of a shot.  And then, they’ll show the shot and it’s a gag version of the shot.  For some reason, I always fall for it.  I really do think that they’ll show me an alternate scene, and it’s a gag version.  I would love for those to end up being viewed by people because they’re really funny.  We’ll see.  We’ve got plenty of material.

Big Hero 6 opens in theaters on November 7th.  For more on the film, check out the Facebook page.

Directors Don Hall and Chris Williams Big Hero 6 Interview

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