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Immersed in Movies: Don Hall and Chris Williams Talk ‘Tadashi is Here’ from ‘Big Hero 6’

Immersed in Movies: Don Hall and Chris Williams Talk 'Tadashi is Here' from 'Big Hero 6'

For the first time, Big Hero 6 directors Don Hall and Chris Williams discuss the crucial “Tadashi is Here” scene — one of Disney’s best in years — in which Hiro discovers the video of his late brother documenting his struggle to perfect Baymax. It marks a turning point in Hiro’s misguided attempt to reprogram Baymax into a killer, which runs counter to Tadashi’s vision of Baymax as a healer.

Bill Desowitz: Let’s break down this very important scene.
Don Hall: I’m glad you’re doing this particular piece because this scene is one of the ones I’m most proud of in my whole career. The emotion in the scene’s pretty raw, it’s pretty real. We knew we had a great scene there, but it took a lot of iterations to get it right. In fact, the first iteration of the scene actually was more about Hiro and Aunt Cass. It was really a cathartic moment for those two to come together and it was a beautiful scene, but it had nothing to do with the rest of the movie. And it existed in isolation from the core of the movie. The holy trinity of the movie is Hiro, Tadashi, and Baymax. And so we had to scrap it, start all over and rewrite it.
Chris Williams: But there was always a sense that there needed to be an emotionally cathartic scene that needed to be in that place.
DH: Story structure wise, it is the low moment of the movie. And we’ve taken Hiro, quite frankly, to an extremely dark place. He’s come to the realization that the person who’s responsible for his brother’s death is his mentor. And not only that, he’s completely remorseless. And that causes Hiro to seek vengeance so this scene had to start there and go in some sort of catharsis.
As far as Baymax goes, he’s really the driver of the scene. He asks questions of Hiro. And we did some research. We brought in a child psychologist and some of her colleagues who are social workers who deal specifically with loss in young people. And they kept saying what they do is ask questions. And continue to ask questions until the patient comes to a realization on their own. To me, we cracked that scene after we talked to those people because that’s essentially what Baymax is doing, especially when he asks: “Is terminating Professor Callaghan going to help you? Is it going to heal you?” Those are very pointed questions that are uncomfortable for Hiro. But he’s trying to strip away those layers of emotion and anger to get at the underlying problem.
BD: And Hiro says, “I don’t know.”
DH: And ultimately to us the theme of the movie is about loss and the realization that when people die they don’t really go away, they live on through the people that are left behind through their actions and in their heart and memory. And Baymax is trying to dig at that emotional truth. And part of the power of the scene comes from a setup very early in the movie where Baymax, for the first time, does say, “Tadashi is Here.” And he’s about to play the video when Hiro interrupts him and we move on. I think for the audience there’s this realization that there’s something unresolved there. And so when the scene rolls around, there’s an unconscious inevitability and that’s why it plays so strongly.

BD: The other thing about the scene is that it provides another side to Tadashi: we see his frustration in trying to perfect Baymax.
DH: It’s about Tadashi’s trial and error. Ultimately, we wanted to show a private moment that wasn’t intended to be seen by anybody. It really is just Baymax who is supposed to see this. What I love about the scene too is that it gave us the chance to add just a little bit of humor that helps break some of the dramatic tension. And actually makes it even more emotional because you see Tadashi in a goofy place. And Hiro gets to see that and a little smile comes across his face.
BD: It humanizes Tadashi because we’ve only seen him in control.
DH: Yes, and we’ve all been there and the story of that video is the making of this movie. Trial and error, trial and error. Banging our heads against it, tired, tired, tired. We weren’t going to give up. And Tadashi isn’t giving up: Baymax is destined for healing people.
BD: It’s the triumph of compassion over anger.

DH : From a story standpoint, a lot of strength for the scene comes from the reversal for our main character. He enters wanting to turn Tadashi’s robot into a killing machine. And at the end of the scene he realizes what a violation that is of Tadashi’s intentions and Tadashi’s memory. And he’s put into a different head space, which always makes for a good scene. But there’s a bittersweet moment for the audience. We’ve all lost people that we’re close to and we’d love to have just one more moment with that person. And even though it’s a recording of Tadashi, he’s saying some of the things that Hiro needs to hear at that moment and there’s a feeling of interaction with his brother.
CW: In a way, versions of the scene were almost too powerful because it left no room for Hiro to grow. We realized after a couple of screenings that we arc’d him too early. He left that scene completely healed, then the goodbye didn’t work. Our process is so great because we can test that out. Why is the goodbye not resonating? Why is when Baymax says goodbye to Hiro in the portal it’s not as emotional as it should be? We put our heads together and we realized it was because we arc’d him in the Tadashi video. That came pretty late.
DH: At the end of the movie that’s when Hiro takes in the idea that when you lose someone they can live on and he takes on the goodness of Tadashi.
CW: So in the video scene it gave Hiro some room to grow when he says he’s not like his brother. Actually, GoGo has an important moment as well in that scene as well when she comes in and hugs him and it lets him off the hook a little bit. It gives him a little forgiveness for his actions because GoGo, the hardest of the hard, isn’t feeling any resentment. There’s empathy from those characters because they understand what he’s going through.

BD: What was acting process like for the animators?
DH: Boy, they dug into that scene, I have to say, and really single out Nathan Engelhardt, who was our animation supervisor on Hiro. And he animated that profile close-up in addition to some shots that surround it.
CW: When Hiro declares that Tadashi is gone. 
DH: “He is not here!” To me, that’s one of the most subtle pieces of animated acting that I’ve ever seen. He videotaped himself doing the scene and what you see now is a direct 1:1 of what Nathan did. He really captured what’s going on there.
CW: Yeah, when Nathan showed us the videotape — and he really knew it was a pivotal moment — he was crying and doing that swallow and he was feeling the moment and obviously reaching into something in his own life, and I really admired him for going so deep.
DH: That’s why the build-up to that moment is so important with Baymax questioning. At the beginning of the scene, Baymax is bearing silent witness to Hiro’s outburst and then he asks questions and it gave us a chance cutting wise to build some momentum to an outburst — the fists pounding on his chest. I have to give Mark Smith, who storyboarded the scene, credit for a lot of that too. When you look at Mark’s storyboards, the layouts are almost 1:1.

CW: And once Baymax starts showing the video, we have a series of close-ups of Hiro, and the animators really had to be careful that they were registering the right thing because there’s a real evolution, going from the shock and the surprise of the video and then going through the bittersweet joy of seeing his brother again and the soft smile, and then into the regret and remorse for what he did. There’s so much emotion in those close-ups and I think it’s a testament to the animators in this building that the scene plays as well as it does. 
DH: For scenes like this, you really get into the minutiae and want to make every decision the right decision. In that wide profile two-shot of Baymax and Hiro, at one point we had Tadashi turning off the video. But John Lasseter at that point wanted it to just be about Hiro and Baymax, and asked us to have the video turn off in the shot before that. So we made that change. But those are the kinds of things that you agonize over and it’s all about the timing.
BD: The scene is a dramatic gem and it just happens to be animated. We could just as easily be talking about a live-action scene.
DH: And I’m really proud of that because people see the title, Big Hero 6, and might have a perception of what the movie is, but they never imagine that it has a scene with that kind of emotional power and subtlety and that’s why we’re especially proud of that scene.

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