With Disney’s Big Hero 6 now playing in theaters, we sat down with directors Chris Williams and Don Hall to talk about creating the studio’s most technically-advanced film yet, and how they chose to adapt the Marvel Comics property in a way that honored the source material and gave audiences something fresh and fun to watch.
WARNING – MILD SPOILERS FOLLOW!
SCREEN RANT: Tremendous movie, you guys, great piece of filmmaking. Were either of you familiar — were you rummaging around in the Marvel vault and just pulled the comic out? How did this happen?
Don: (laughs) Why yes, we were. You know, it all stemmed from just a childhood love of Disney animation and Marvel comics and what a dream come true to be able to combine those things into a film. And I pitched that to John Lasseter and he loved that idea and I started researching, you know, through the Marvel archives, just properties that I thought would be cool to bring over here and found Big Hero 6.
People might not be familiar with it because it’s not what people think of now when they think of Marvel…
But it’s got a lot of those values. You think of the Avengers, it’s all about teamwork — it’s kind of that same thing in a way.
Don: Yeah, for sure, and you know, the Big Hero 6 comic book was kind of a love letter to Japanese pop culture and it was all about teamwork, and we were very inspired by that. But then very early on, once we talked to Marvel, they really encouraged us to make this our own, to build our own world and not be worried about setting it within the confines of the Marvel Universe. So that’s what led to San Fransokyo — this idea that we could create our own world to put these characters in. And we loved the idea of mash-ups — this is a Disney/Marvel mash-up. We wanted the city to be a mash-up of Eastern and Western culture and that’s what led to mashing up San Francisco and Tokyo.
Chris: And yeah, we did want our action scenes to be thrilling and we wanted it to be really funny, but to your point, it had to be really substantive at the same time emotionally. It had to be engaging emotionally, and that’s something that I think people expect from Disney animated movies, going back to Bambi and Dumbo and some of the greatest ones that have ever been made.
Are all the characters from the comic book, or did you invent some of your own?
Don: The original six, the six characters from the team are based on the Marvel characters of the same name, yeah. And then of course we embellished from there.
Did any of the characters scream out for certain actors in terms of the voices?
Chris: Well, it did seem like when we found the actors, they were the one. It was impossible to imagine anyone else playing those roles. They so inhabited those characters, and it seemed like they became very invested in those characters as well. And they were very patient with us in our recording process — we kept, we’d make adjustments to scenes, we’d make improvements to the overall structure of the film, and they were asked to record and re-record scenes, and I think they cared so deeply about the characters and the movie that they were always willing participants.
Don: Yeah, and really willing and game to just play with us, you know. We would do what was on script, and then we would always encourage them to, you know, to ad-lib and make it their own. And oftentimes, a lot of their sort of fresh, inspired, kind of improv takes were some of the funniest stuff.
A lot of animated films are co-directed, but the public may not realize how that works. How do the duties fall?
Chris: Well, a lot of times it’s necessary just because of how collaborative this art form is. You do have hundreds of people working together — 500 at its peak, I think, on this crew — working for years on one thing, and so oftentimes you just need more than one body. You need to be more than one place at a time. In our case, we both come from a story background. We’ve both been storyboard artists here at Disney for almost 20 years, so we spend a lot of time together in the story room.
Don: Yeah, and Chris was storyboarding on the movie as we began to enter production, where it became very evident that there was no way I was going to be able to be in two places at once. So I asked him to direct with me because a) he knew the movie so well, having been on it, and b) you know, we’ve worked and known each other for 20 years, so I felt like it was going to be a very smooth transition, which it was.
Chris: We tried to stick together as long as possible. There was a point in the schedule where it was just too much and we had to split off and Don concentrated on animation for a while and I concentrated on lighting and the effects department, and then we kind of came back together towards the end.
Which of the six do you each relate to the most?
Don: I think, you know, as far as relating goes, I probably relate to Fred most of all, as far as just being a fanboy, you know. I have a lot of fanboy roots and, you know, pretty good comic collection, so I definitely relate to Fred.
Chris: I guess I would like to aspire to be as cool as Go Go, but I think I’m more on the Fred and Honey Lemon end of the spectrum a little. A little goofier, I think. A little bit less physically capable.
Big Hero 6 is now playing in theaters everywhere.