Posted on Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014 by Germain Lussier
Big Hero 6 Behind the Scenes: The Story
At Disney, story is everything. And the people primarily responsible for this story are head of story Paul Briggs and screenwriter Robert L Baird. These are the men who spent a good five years creative a story for Big Hero 6, presenting that story, having it torn down and redoing it over and over again until you have what ends up on screen.
The pair liken the writing process to the collaborative nature of television where a group of people – the story department, the directors, producers etc. – sit in a room and throw out ideas. Once a story is complete, it gets storyboarded and a screening is held for Disney employees. This is years before the movie hits theaters. Briggs assured us that the first screening is a disaster every time and sometimes literally only one or two elements, let alone scenes/dialogue/etc., remain. So it’s back to the drawing board. One scene might have 20 different versions with only the slightest variations.
This process continues for the first four to five years of film’s production and maybe 9 or 10 screenings. Yes, that means Big Hero 6 has been in some kind of development for a long time. Of that first four to five years, two thirds of the production focuses on story. As elements of the story begin to take shape, and other films (Wreck It Ralph, Frozen, etc) finish their work, other departments jump on. Basically, the film is screened every few months for the first two and a half years. They don’t stop writing, honing and tweaking until a few months before the film hits theaters.
I spoke one on one with Briggs and Baird, and you can read that full exchange in the coming weeks.
Big Hero 6 Behind the Scenes: Animation
Next up on our tour, head of animation Zach Parrish, animation supervisors Nathan Englehardt and Michael Franceschi as well as lead 2D animation Mark Henn took us through the animation on the film. They’re responsible for overseeing 85 of the animators working on the movie and said they consider themselves to be the actors, stuntpeople and extras all rolled into one. That’s a hefty task on a film like this.
So just how big is Big Hero 6? It has the largest cast of characters ever in a Disney animated film. Where a usual film has 2-3 main characters with a handful of secondary characters, this film has 16 main characters. The six main characters in the normal outfits, the same six characters in their superhero outfits, Hiro’s aunt, brother, the villain and one more, all seen below.
Then the film takes place in a populated city, so the animators had use a software called Denizen to create other people. In Big Hero 6 there are 701 unique background characters created by the software, each with over 1000 animation cycles. That means there are hundreds of thousands of possible animation combinations used to populate each scene.
Big Hero 6 also has the most action sequences they’ve had in a Disney animation movie – seven total. Combine that with all the human emotion the film will hope to convey, and the film has been a gargantuan task for the animators.
Big Hero 6 Behind the Scenes: Visual Effects
I know what you’re thinking, why does an animated film need visual effects? Well, it’s quite simple. Animatiors focus only character animation. The effects team, which includes head of effects Michael Kaschalk, visual effects supervisor Kyle Odermatt and effects production supervisor Nathan Curtis, focus on the stuff around them. They describe it as anything elemental or magic. So if there’s fire or water, visual effects does that. An interactive environment, that’s visual effects. And if there’s a small robot called a microbot that can combines with millions of others to make huge strucutures, they do that too.
While the effects team on Big Hero 6 did lots of work in all areas, it was the microbots that took up most of their time. These tiny elements had to look sleek, have cooperative behavior like ants and combine in a way that makes both those things work in tandem. How do they hold together? How do they move? That was all on the visual effects team. In the end they settled on a simple, versatile design of a circle with two long triangles on the end that could move up down and all around to combine with others to form anything. At certain times in the film there are literally 20 million microbots in a single shot. So it’s a pretty big deal.
Among the other elements the effects team worked on are the super powers of each of the characters. The one in particular that caught my eye was the purse of a character named Honey Lemon. She’s a master chemist and her superpower is that she has a purse that, with the push of a few buttons, she can create a potion or gas for any situation. But how would that work in such a small space? That’s the kind of problem solving visual effects has to do.
Also of note, visual effect animation is growing in leaps and bounds. On Tangled, there were 13 effects animators. On Big Hero 6, there were 40.