Disclosure: This is part of a sponsored collaboration with Disney and the Walt Disney Animation Studios. I received an all-expense paid trip from Disney so that I could gather and share this information. However, all experiences and opinions are always 100% my own as this post is written by me in its entirety.
Whenever I watch a movie, especially an animated movie, I tend to take for granted the creative minds behind the story. Not on purpose of course, but simply because it just seems so easy. Like when you see one of those infomercials and think “why didn’t I think of that?” Well let me tell you that after having the chance to speak to the directors behind Big Hero 6, featuring Disney’s newest lovable and most huggable character Baymax, I will never again take an animated film for granted. Disney, you have my word!
Getting to sit down with Directors Don Hall and Chris Williams was an eye and mind opening experience. Let me first give you a quick little background on Don and Chris…
DON HALL (Director) directed Walt Disney Animation Studios 2011 feature “Winnie the Pooh.” Why is this important, well because who didn’t grow up with Pooh bear? And because my Aunt is going to go nuts when she reads this! She’s a total Pooh fanatic, so much so that every one of her kids is nicknamed after a character from Winner the Pooh. Hall graduated with a BFA in drawing and painting from the University of Iowa and a BFA in character animation from California Institute of the Arts.
CHRIS WILLIAMS (Director) directed works in the story department and worked on the 2013’s Oscar®-winning feature “Frozen.” Yes, that Frozen. The one you are begging your kids to “Let It Go!” Williams earned a fine arts degree from the University of Waterloo before studying animation at Sheridan College.
Directors Don and Chris were very excited to share this information. So without further ado, I share with you the inside information behind Big Hero 6 you won’t find just anywhere!!!
Since Big Hero 6 is up for an Academy Award for Best Feature Film, I just had to know how working on this project was different from anything else they have ever worked on before to come to this point…
DON: It just reaches back into those childhood loves, it is sort of a dream come true. To do a movie like this and then to have it be recognized by people. That’s sort of the icing on the Cake. We’re thrilled especially considering the field of other nominees. There’s a lot of animated films this year and they’re all really, really good. So it’s an incredible feeling.
CHRIS: We have both worked at Disney Animation for about 20 years and I’ve worked on a lot of movies and every story’s hard. It’s just the way it is. They’re meant to be. If you’re going do something original, then it’s gonna be hard. This one I think we would agree was the most challenging story we’ve ever worked on. There’s a lot of disparate elements that we brought together and had to make sense together.
It was just really ambitious. The number of characters, the size of the world, technically, it was incredibly challenging. But I think there was also a choice made from the very beginning that we were gonna attempt to reach a depth of emotion with this film that was going pretty deep. And we knew that — that was the bar we were aiming for, and we had to achieve that or again, we wouldn’t have done our jobs. I think that we managed it.
They sure did manage it! It takes an entire Disney village to work on a project of this magnitude. Don and Chris had the backing of “hundreds of really talented artists who are so invested and they give everything they have, and they give years of their creative lives to this one thing. So we achieved it with them and I’m really proud of what ultimately came together” said Chris.
While the response of success to Big Hero 6 was unexpected, it’s very much appreciated. Baymax as a character is something they couldn’t have predicted and were over the moon to find that he resonated with people all over the world. Being able to have contributed such a lovable character to the Disney Legacy is humbly “pretty cool” for Don and Chris. And just as Bambi, Dumbo and Pinocchio brought “purity and sweetness” to the screens, now Baymax is doing the same for children everywhere.
Knowing how awesome this film is leads to the burning question of how it came to be…
It all started with Don’s passion for Disney Animation as a child, but also a love for Marvel Comics. And although most of those working at Disney Studios have the same background story according to Don, it is him that “just happened” to bring the two to the forefront. He pitched the idea to his boss John Lasseter who was “super excited” and told him to “go find something.” And he did! He came across “Big Hero 6” and was instantly attracted to the title. He researched the Japanese super hero team further and found that it was fun, light-hearted and had a great bunch of characters.
Don: Most important, you could see there could be an emotional story, about this 14-year-old Super Genius who loses his brother and this robot who becomes his surrogate big brother. So I pitched it along with about 5 or 6 other ideas to John and this is one he gravitated towards and said go.
Chris remembers that day like it was just yesterday.
Chris: When he talked about this main character, who was gonna lose his Brother, was gonna be left with his creation, this surrogate older brother, it was so powerful, and I thought man, that’s great. And I really hoped that would be what our boss John Lasseter would respond to and green-light. And he did, because for John, emotion is everything. It has to be funny, it has to be exciting, and you have to have thrilling action scenes. I feel like the last 3 and a half years has been about realizing that potential that Don laid out in that pitch. I remember where it was on the wall, I just remember really responding to it. So I was then thrilled when a year or so later, Don asked me to join him.
Three and a half years to create one animated movie. Incredible and shocking all at the same time. Who would have ever thought that it could take that long to create a “cartoon” movie. But it’s more complicated than that. The directors even brought in a clinical psychologist to help mold Hiro’s character.
DON : I did some reading very early on about loss and grief and watched “ordinary people.” But when we brought in the clinical psychologist what it did was it gave us a new insight into specifically teen loss and it also reinforced that we’re on the right track because a lot of things she talked about we were already doing in the film. So in a sense, it kind of validated our approach and also gave us some new insight.
CHRIS : It is amazing in our story room how generous and open people are and how vulnerable they allow themselves to be. The story room for us is a really sacred space. We come in there, we close the door, and then people are very open and respectful. People will talk about some of the most difficult moments of their lives and since we were telling a story about a character who is dealing with loss, we wanted to be true to that experience.
Big Hero 6 is set in its own little big world, San FranTokyo. That is quite a combination of two very big cities from other sides of the world. With the support of the Marvel guys, Don and Chris were free to create their own world for Big Hero 6, one outside of the Marvel Universe. And so they set out to create a world that was familiar, yet new, but kept with the aesthetic of the Japanese culture and thereby a mash-up of Disney and Marvel by creating San FranTokyo. It’s a bit Eastern, a bit Western and a lot of creative!
CHRIS : For our Boss John Lasseter the world building is really important. Part of the experience for the audience is being told a great story but another part is being taken to a world where you’ve never been, and it’s been a big part of Disney History as well. And so we love that idea of creating a world that is unique that the audience would love to go to and I hope we achieved it with San FranTokyo.
DON : I knew it would be an easy pitch. I mean, let’s be honest. It’s like John lives in San Francisco and he loves Tokyo so you know.
Yeah, easy pitch from start to finish for these pros. Directors Don and Chris nailed it with Big Hero 6. As a lover of Disney movies, my hat goes off to Don and Chris for a phenomenal job with Big Hero 6. Stay tuned for more Big Hero 6 exclusive interviews and a film review coming soon. Have you seen Big Hero 6 yet? Let’s chat now that you’ve got some behind the scenes info, what did you find most fascinating about this movie, or any other Disney animated film?
Grab a copy of BIG HERO 6 available on Blu-ray DVD Tuesday, February 24th and enjoy a fun-filled family movie night! Can’t wait another week and want to see it now?? It’s available for purchase now on Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere. Don’t miss the really adorable short available on the Blu-ray called Feast! Get social online with the official movie hashtag #BigHero6 to learn more and interact with other fans on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Check out my journey to LA and all the fun I had learning about Big Hero 6 with the hashtag #BigHero6Bloggers on Twitter.