Posted on Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014 by Germain Lussier
The best Disney animated films suck you into their world. You lock in and follow the characters on a journey without ever thinking of what went into it. That’s the magic not only of Disney, but film in general.
What sets animation apart is the absolutely insane detail and years of work that go into each film. Near decades can pass in which stories are written, ripped apart and written again. Tens of thousands of miles are travelled to research the tiniest visual elements. Millions and millions of animated frames, passed between departments, all come together until you have something like Big Hero 6.
Earlier this summer, a group of journalists was invited to Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, CA to learn about the impressive process that went into their latest film. Big Hero 6 is based on, but not linked to, a Marvel comic book of the same name. That makes it the first Disney animated Marvel movie. While the comic and film share very little in common two things they do share are the focus on action and emotion.
In Big Hero 6, a young boy and a soft robot team up with a group of friends to become a superhero team. Over the course of several hours, we were taken around the studio to watch footage, learn about the design of the film, the writing process, animation and much more. Below, we’ll take you on that tour with us – complete with lots of photos – so you can learn all about what Disney has in store come November 7. And, most importantly, how much work went into it.
Big Hero 6 Behind the Scenes: Introduction and Footage
As the day began, the directors of Big Hero 6, Don Hall and Chris Williams, took everyone through the story to set up some footage. The star of the film is a young boy named Hiro, a genius who graduated high school at 13. He’s an inventor but unsure what he wants to do with his life. Does he follow his brother Tadashi into college? Or does he bum around building fighter robots? That decision becomes pretty clear when Hiro debuts his latest invention, Microbots, at a science fair. The invention – a small robot that can be combined with millions of identical ones into anything your mind desires – wows the crowd and energizes Hiro. But something terrible happens, setting up a very different story.
Soon Hiro meets Baymax, a health robot invented by Tadashi and his college friends. Baymax senses Hiro is hurt and everything he does with him after – investigate the terrible event, eventually becoming a superhero – are to help Hiro get better. Everything is in service of Hiro’s mental health and well-being, and that’s one of the biggest through lines in the film.
To set up the day, Disney screened footage of the science fair, footage of the terrible disaster, the aftermath – which includes the introduction of Baymax (which you can see some of here) – Baymax and Hiro investigating the whereabouts of Hiro’s Microbots and finally the first time Hiro and Baymax take flight over the city of San Fransokyo, a beautiful blend of San Francisco and Tokyo that simultaneously looks like both cities and neither. All of the footage revealed this is a movie much more interested in characters and relationships than big action sequences. The interactions between Baymax and Hiro are everything, which meant getting their looks right was essential.
Big Hero 6 Behind the Scenes: Production Design
Those looks were made by the design team, which included Production designer Paul Felix, character design supervisor Jin Kim, visual development artist Lorelay Bove and lead character designer Shiyoon Kim. This team was tasked with not only designing the look at feel of San Fransokyo, but all of the characters as well.
For San Fransokyo, the team went to two places in particular – you guessed it – Tokyo and San Francisco. They tried to hone in on and combine what made each city so unique. In Toyko it was the advertising, signs and architecture. In San Francisco, it was the layout and lighting. Buildings in each city were also ported over to the film so it would feel like a combination of both cities.
While Hiro and the rest of the human characters were obvioulsy important, they’re still humans. Each person’s design, and subsequent superhero costume, was created to reflect their different influences and attitudes. The real challenge was Baymax and inspiration for his design was found in two places: Japan and Carnagie Melon University.
In Japan, designers were inspired by the look of the above bells, which combined two dots with one line. A simple, but evocative facial experssion that would eventually become Baymax. As for his body, they learned about “soft robotics” at Carnagie Melon University and that’s what gave them the confidence to make a robot that’s versatile and pleasing to the eye, as well as lovable and huggable. Here are some images of “soft robotics.”