Just because we're saying goodbye to summer does not mean we have to say goodbye to summer-style blockbusters. Why? Because Disney and Marvel have one more buzzworthy treat up their successful sleeves via their first animated collaboration: Big Hero 6.
Admittedly our interest in the animated action adventure - which revolves around the relationship between teenage genius Hiro and his robot, Baymax, who helps him recover from a tragic loss - has a lot to do with the Marvel ties and a little with the well-received trailer. However, after screening roughly 30 minutes of footage and speaking to a handful of Hero 6's major players recently, our curiosity is decidedly piqued for a number of non-Marvel-related reasons. In short, Big Hero 6 is going to be a big deal. Read on to find out why.
A Brave New World
The film's setting, San Fransokyo (Click Image Above for a better Look), is an east-meets-west blend of San Francisco and Tokyo which is beautifully designed and realized in the footage we saw. The colors, landscapes and landmarks are both familiar and obviously fictional, which is an intriguing and visually attractive combination.
According to co-director Don Hall, the San Fransokyo setting opened up a whole new world of possibilities to the film's creators compared to the more familiar fairy tale-esque atmospheres of recent releases like Frozen, Tangled and even Wreck-It Ralph:
"I read the comics and really liked the tone which was sort of playful and fun. It felt like it was a love letter to Japanese pop culture and I thought, 'Well that's sort of perfect for us.' Also there was this core relationship between this 14-year-old boy and this robot which I felt could become the emotional core of the film. Once we started talking to Marvel they encouraged us to take it in our own direction, 'Don't feel like you have to set this in the Marvel universe, you can take it and make it your own.' That was really awesome and to be able to do that I felt like we needed to do that in more of a fantasy world so the idea of mashing up two cities became really fun, similar to the mash-up between Disney and Marvel. There are a lot of cool landmarks you could project this makeover on and make it really interesting, so that's how we set upon San Fransokyo."
Next-Level VFX & New Technology
Speaking of breaking new ground, the visual effects and animation teams had their work cut out for them as there are more VFX and action sequences in Big Hero 6 than have been in any Disney animated film before it. A few numbers of note:
- There are 701 unique characters in the film, which is roughly three times their average amount.
- Big Hero 6 has seven complex action sequences, the most they've ever featured in an animated film. The increase in action has led to a beefed up visual effects animating team. For example, Tangled had 13 effects animators, Wreck-It Ralph, 31; Frozen, 35. Big Hero 6 has 40.
- Be on the lookout for the scene-stealing Microbots which are small, black, index finger-like robots invented by chief protagonist Hiro, which become dangerously powerful and swarm-like when linked together. We were told that the Microbot-centric scenes feature 20 million 'bots onscreen at once.
A Love Story… Between a Boy and his Robot
Not to be outdone by the heartwarming relationships in Frozen, there is an equally prominent love story in Big Hero 6, though according to directors Don Hall and Chris Williams it's unconventionality originated with the story, not an edict issued by the studio:
Hall: This one wasn't a conscious thing to steer away from [a romantic love story] but there was no room. Really the love story is between the kid and his robot.
Williams: There's no edict [from the studio] to steer away from stories about romantic love but there certainly is one from John Lasseter on down that people should be going out and finding movies that speak to them and that can be a wide spectrum of things and examine all different kinds of relationships. It's not at all an effort to make one kind of movie or another, it's more letting people make movies that speak to them and that can take many forms.
Speaking of that lovable robot, Baymax, the team responsible for the character's body design was inspired by real-life inflatable robots found at Carnegie Mellon, and his face the surface of a bell. The robot's relatively restricted or "unimated" movement (a new term invented by the animation team over the course of production) was derived from watching penguins and toddlers walk.
Side note: Given the very enthusiastic response a Baymax-centric scene received during the footage screening from the journalists in attendance, there's a good chance Baymax will receive as much audience adoration as a certain lovable tree and talking raccoon did recently, which is not the first time a 'Guardians' connection has been made.
Marvel-Approved, But Not Mandated
Speaking of Marvel-related ties and comic book character parameters, there were no major ones set. According to directors Hall and Williams the Big Hero 6 team was left to their own devices from start to finish.
Hall: We called [Marvel] 'friends of the court.' I got to be pretty good friends with Joe Quesada and Jeph Loeb [Marvel's head of television]. Joe is their creative officer and they came to screenings and became part of our story trust meetings after a screening, they would give notes just like any of member of our story trust and just kind of came into that group and as friends of the court, nothing was ever a directive. Like all of the notes here, they are given with the best intent. It's never prescriptive, it's more suggestions, so they were involved in that way.
Williams: It was great. They were very supportive throughout and are really smart guys. At the same time they were never possessive, they never said, 'It's gotta be this.' They understood it was something we had to make on our own and were supportive of that the whole way.
Major Franchise Potential
Because this movie is an origin story, there are likely lots of thoughts floating around Disney/Marvel about sequels - no matter the fact that Hall, Williams and producer Roy Conli (Tangled) deftly dodged the sequel subject when it was brought up to them during our Q&A.
Hall: We have stories plotted out for the next 25 years, with Hiro's children [laughs]. No, this one, we are leaving everything on the field with this, so we want to put everything into this one movie knowing full well there is potential with these characters and this world to do more stories. The fact that this is how the team came together obviously we know that there could be more, but we haven't had the luxury to think [about it].
Williams: Yeah there's really been no energy or conversation put into what would happen beyond the story or in a sequel. ... The idea of them living on would be great but not something we've thought about.
Roy Conli: What I'm so proud of about this film is the amazing emotional content mixed with the action and comedy. I think if something were to happen and an idea came up, it could happen. but I think it's got to be as good as what we're doing right now.
Big Hero 6 opens everywhere November 7