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Immersed in Movies: Going Deeper into ‘Big Hero 6’ with Directors Don Hall and Chris Williams

Immersed in Movies: Going Deeper into 'Big Hero 6' with Directors Don Hall and Chris Williams

Disney is all about simultaneously looking forward and back during the John Lasseter era, and Big Hero 6 (Nov. 7), interestingly enough, represents the studio’s Guardians of the Galaxy. It dares to be different by mashing up animation with a lesser-known Marvel comic, and, at the same time, deals with loss and creating a team of misfit superheroes. Baymax, the huggable, inflatable robot, like Groot, is the larger than life, conscience of the movie, with a message about compassion. The animation continues to improve and expand, inventing the hybrid San Fransokyo world, and incorporating thrilling action/adventure and cool VFX, aided by the new Hyperion global illumination renderer.

Bill Desowitz: You continue a great evolution begun with Tangled, incorporating hand-drawn and CG into a new Disney hybrid and embracing new kinds of stories.
Don Hall: Yeah, I think people are going to be surprised after Frozen that this isn’t just another Disney fairy tale. And the idea of taking on all kinds of different genres is really important to the health of the studio.
BD: They talk about looking from different angles to solve problems and that’s very appropriate.
DH: Yeah, it’s a great message for what we’re doing.
BD: A Marvel/Disney mash-up. What about this strange coincidence with Guardians of the Galaxy, which also deals with the loss of a loved one and has similarities between Groot and Baymax?
DH: Couldn’t have predicted that. When I first pitched this to John, it was just a rumor that they were making this. I love Guardians. It’s a lot of fun but again our task was very simple.
Chris Williams: What do you mean simple? There was nothing simple at all.
DH: Let me scratch that.There is nothing simple on the movie except for Baymax’s design. The idea of mashing up Marvel and Disney was such a pivotal thing at the beginning of the film. I was a Disney fan and a Marvel fan, and so was everybody. You walk around this building and you’re gonna see comic books and action figures in everybody’s office and so I knew those are not separate audiences — there’s a lot of overlap there.

BD: And this is going to be great for young teens who are going to relate to Hiro. This is a movie for them.
CW: Not realizing that half of Guardians of the Galaxy was animated. But they don’t see it the same way.
DH: We try to make movies for everybody but that’s a tough thing so hopefully we’e made something that’s cool.
CW: And the thing that I love about the movie — and I’ve been on it for a year-and-a-half — is that it comes from Don’s particular passion for the idea of a movie inspired by Marvel and Big Hero 6 specifically. It wasn’t some big plot that came from the potential of some brain cross-over. And when John saw Don’s passion for this, it got him excited too. And when Don pitched just the emotional potential for the film, everyone signed on. 
DH: And I remember the first meeting with John, which was in the parking lot. He’s walking to his car and he says, “I hear you want to do something with Marvel. You’ve got five minutes.” And here we are. We were joking about it with John the other night, and he was shaking his head because everything starts that way. As Chris said, it doesn’t start from any corporate mandate.
BD: It’s more personal for you. You incorporating Winnie the Pooh, feeling like an outsider, compassion.
DH: Yeah, I like Baymax. There’s a sweetness and a guileless quality, innocence, purity that I find so attractive. So I like playing those characters. It’s personal to John but it outside of what you normally expect from Disney. But in lots of ways it shares the DNA with the past. We talk about that a lot. Our movies are constantly compared to the movies from the past.
CW: Our own movies.
DH: Our own movies. And we follow the evolution — we don’t run from it.
BD: That’s the difference during this Lasseter era. You’re looking backward and forward at the same time.
CW: It’s like playing for the Yankees. You grew up as a Yankee fan but there’s great Yankee teams and you want to play for the best.
BD: The hardest part of this must’ve been balancing the intimate story of Hiro and Baymax with the larger superhero origin story. Did you have to pare the superhero characters down? Are you saving it for a sequel?
CW: We’re constantly adjusting. Yeah, there were probably versions of the story where they were feature a little bit more, but ultimately you had to pick a horse, and ultimately it’s the Hiro/Baymax story. But they still had to fit in that. It wasn’t really until the concept that Baymax brings them into act two as the emotional support that they were married to that spine. Before that, we were trying to figure out how to integrate them into the story.
DH: There were a lot of conversations about how to take the boy and his robot story and then the superhero origin story as part of one story and not two separate tracks. A lot of reworking but the specific challenge of this movie was that you have two distinct genres coming together. The Eastern/Western aesthetic, the Marvel/Disney aspect of it, the immediate aspect of this emotional story dealing with loss, and this broad, playful comedy, and you’re creating a mash-up world, so bringing all of these disparate elements together and finding a tone that would accommodate them was hard.

BD: This is the third Disney movie in a row where you have a mystery villain.
DH: That was another plate that we had to spin. And so that added to the complexity of crafting the story. Ultimately the villain story had to reflect the hero story, so whoever the villain was going to be…
BD: …had to be the dark side of Hiro.
CW: It had to be the cautionary tale of what could happen when you let that loss take you down that dark road. And so that was always central to the story. Just to keep the audience involved, we had to lay some red herrings and to do the brain work to make that work.
BD: What was the most satisfying moment in the movie for each of you?
DH: For me the flying sequence was always my favorite and I was never really sure why and then it dawned on me late in the game as I watched it unfinished, and it does represent my eight-year-old self dreaming in Iowa of working at Disney. Not only that but being able to combine my love of comic books and animation together, so there’s an aspirational quality to that sequence that always gets me emotionally when I watch it. 
CW: For me, it’s the scene that comes right after that when they’re on the wind turbine, partially because it so validates our process because it came very late and was one of the last scenes that we added. And it changed quite a bit. But because we iterate and iterate and constantly change our assumptions, but now that it’s in there, it solidifies the relationship between Hiro and Baymax. They really care about each other and we’re emotionally invested in that scene. But it never would’ve happened if we didn’t approach our storytelling the way we do.
BD: After you’ve both taken a well-deserved break, are you looking forward to a sequel?
DH: Whether or not there will be a sequel, we do fall in love with these characters by the end — they’re very real to you. So this is period is kind of bittersweet, in a way, where they’e been living in our building with us for so long and now they’re going to be part of other peoples’ lives.
BD: And there’s more Marvel to be mined.
DH: We shall see.

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