So far we have shared with you our interview with Kevin Costner for ‘McFarland, USA’, an interview with Leigh-Allyn Baker and the release of the Disney Movie ‘Bad Hair Day‘, and Fresh off the Boat. Today we get to talk about the interview we had with Big Hero 6 Directors Don Hall and Chris Williams. They were really funny and it was great listening to them talk about the film.
The first question was “How did you get on this project?”
DON : I was finishing up “Winnie the Pooh” and started thinking about my next project and John Lasseter always asks the Directors to start with, what are you passionate about? I started thinking about it and as a kid I loved Disney Animation. Obviously that’s what brought me here but I also loved Marvel Comics and it’s really where I learned to draw and tell stories and I’m not unique by the way. I mean, the entire Studio pretty much has that same story. I just happened to be the guy who brought it to the forefront.
I pitched John that idea and he got super excited and said go find something. It was that simple. It was a 5 minute conversation. So I just made lists of stuff that I thought would be cool and I came across “Big Hero 6” having never read the Comic, I just liked the title. I saw it on their website and I researched it further and it was a Japanese Super Hero team. I thought that that was cool. Then I read the Comics and I thought the tone was appropriate. It was lighthearted, the Characters are fun. They had goofy names. You could tell the Creators just loved Japanese Pop Culture and that’s what they were trying to infuse into the Super Hero story, which we did too. We love Japanese Pop Culture as well.
You could see that there could be a really 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 : I remember so vividly the day that Don first pitched Big Hero 6 to myself and the other Directors at Disney and when he talked about this. At that stage you’re not pitching the whole story, you’re pitching just a seed of an idea. 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. I really hope that will be what John would respond to and Greenlight. 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. If it doesn’t have that core emotion, then you have you’ve failed. I saw it in this story.
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 it where it was on the wall, I remember really responding to it. So I was then thrilled when a year or so later, Don asked me to join him.
Did you ever expect the response of success of “Big Hero 6”?
DON : Yeah. [LAUGHTER] We did. Remember we talked about that? No. We’re very fortunate because we’re always the first Audience. And so we were won over by Baymax as a Character and the Film subsequently. You always feel like OK if I’m not that different from everybody else and if we like it, and our Studio likes it, hopefully everybody will. Once we started rolling it out and sat in the Audience and listened to them laugh and gasp and cry then it started to hit us that OK, it seems to be resonating with people.
And Baymax as a Character, that is something you can’t predict. That a Character will blow up that bit. I didn’t mean to do that, I didn’t mean to do that. A Character will just resonate like that with People and worldwide. It’s just resounding. It’s pretty cool. He’ll outlive all of us and to have contributed a Character like that to the Disney Legacy is pretty cool.
CHRIS : And that legacy is something we think about a lot. We got into Animation because we fell in love with Disney when we were kids and I loved the Baymax Character. That was definitely my in to the Film and then I’m really proud of the dynamic between Hero and Baymax and definitely the lineage from Baymax all the way back to Bambi and Dumbo and Pinocchio and these kind of Characters that have this purity and this sweetness to them. I always respond to those kind of Characters that they’re a big part of the Disney Heritage. It is an overwhelming idea sometimes for us that we are part of this group that’s helping to carry that Legacy forward. But here we are. We’re very proud of the Movie.
How important was the Clinical Psychologist that you brought in to mold Hero’s Character?
DON : It was hugely important. On a couple of different levels. We always start with our personal story, especially when you’re dealing with something as personal as loss so the conversations in the story room would always be more personal stories so you always start there because that’s your only experience.
When we did bring in the Clinical Psychologist, Child Psychologist later it did two things. It gave us a new insight into specifically Teen loss, but it also reinforced that we’re on the right track. A lot of things she talked about and her Social Worker friends 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 the Character who’s dealing with loss, we wanted to be true to that experience. That’s one of the things I’m most struck by is we don’t want to be driven. We want to talk about our own experiences and that’s certainly helped us a lot with this Film.
Whose idea was it to get Stan Lee into the Movie?
CHRIS : Well you knew there would be something, right?
DON : Yeah, we had a desire to do that. I have to say though we kind of back burnered it. We pushed this about as far as you could push, as far as right up to the deadline. But we both went to go see “Guardians of the Galaxy” and I think it was August when it came out. And by this point the Film was animated and we’re finishing it up, doing some stuff, and we both had a very similar reaction when we came in on Monday morning. And it was sort of panic cause it was like nobody left the Theater.
We stayed for the entire “Guardians of the Galaxy” and everybody stayed through the Credits for the Howard the Duck scene. And we weren’t doing that. We didn’t have one. And so we both came in on Monday morning a little panicked and so we just had a quick conversation and we always thought that it would be funny to do something with Fred and his Dad. That felt like areas that we hadn’t explored yet. So Chris went away and Storyboarded and wrote that little tag, and came up with the Underwear call back.
And we pulled our Producer in, who at this point said I don’t think there’s any Animators left on the Show.
CHRIS : We were winding down.
DON : We need a little money for this. So can you finagle something and so he had a couple of Car Washes and we grabbed some people and the most amazing thing about this sequence is we kept it from the Crew. We took just essential personnel. We had I think a Team of maybe 20 people sworn to secrecy. We all had Code names. It was on its own Server, so that people couldn’t snoop around and find it. We actually managed to pull that off. We actually managed to keep it a secret from the Crew until the Wrap Party. They didn’t know and it was awesome.
CHRIS : We always had the Stan Lee and the Painting that we passed by. That was a given. That was gonna be in there. But it wasn’t until very late in the game that we decided we needed to do more. And it was really great and it meant that we if ever so briefly got to meet and work with Stan Lee.
DON : Bask in the glory.
CHRIS : That was pretty awesome.
DON : It was awesome.
CHRIS : I think it was, I had kind of written this thing and I knew he was 90.
DON : He was 91 at the time and now he’s 92.
CHRIS : And I’d never met him so I didn’t know what to expect when we finally met him but because we were trying to keep it a secret, we didn’t record him in our building. We recorded him in another Lot. And they had actually booked him on a second story Sound stage.
DON : With no Elevator by the way.
CHRIS : No Elevator.
DON : It was an old recording.
CHRIS : We were walking a Flight of Stairs. So we had a whole plan. We were gonna walk behind him and catch him if he fell because we didn’t want to be responsible.
DON : Just on our backs. We’d carry him up on our backs.
CHRIS : We would be Marked Men.
DON : Yeah.
CHRIS : But fortunately, we were waiting upfront and he rolls up and he springs out of the car and he was everything you want him to be the energy, the persona, the voice.
DON : Gusto.
CHRIS : The gusto. And very self-effacing and he was awesome, and he took those stairs like a Champion, and he was really, really great. He nailed the part. It was the part he was born to play. [LAUGHTER]
Big Hero 6 up for an Academy Award, Best Feature Film. How has working on this been different from anything else you’ve ever worked on, to come to this point?
DON : It just reaches back into those Childhood loves and it sounds trite, but it is sort of a dream come true to be able to do a Movie like this. Then to have it be recognized by people. That the icing on the Cake. We’re thrilled and 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 just 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 gonna 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. I think there’s a lot of disparate elements that we brought together and had to make sense together.
It was just really ambitious. I think the size of the number of Characters, the size of the world, you know, technically, it was incredibly challenging. But I think there was also a choice made form the very beginning that we were gonna attempt to reach a depth of emotion with this Film that was gonna be pretty deep. We knew that was the bar we were aiming for and we had to achieve that or again, we wouldn’t have done our jobs. So I think that we managed it and again, it’s not process, it’s not Don and I and a Crew that works with us. We work with 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.
Since CG is essentially the norm now but being as this an Animated based thing, was there any, ever any thought of like doing this style a little big different?
DON : Oh, you mean like the End Credit thing?
No. I was kind of excited by doing some CG. I just finished a Hand Drawing Film and I was very interested in creating using a lot of live action techniques which mean that we had to get a lighting system that could do that which hadn’t been invented yet so they were working on Hyperion as we were doing “Winnie the Pooh” and luckily, they had just barely finished it when we first started this. So it gave us the opportunity to get that look that I wanted which was just an immersive world to enrich the light, like we’ve never had before, and to really utilize a lot of live action techniques. I love hand drawn. I directed a hand drawn Animated Film. When we were kids they didn’t CG so we fell in love with hand drawn. But for this one, it was always gonna be a CG Film.
CHRIS : We still spend more of our careers doing 2-D than 3-D Films, the two of us. Obviously we love the Art Form. But there’s something about this Movie that really lent itself to CG and one of the reasons is Baymax himself being a vinyl opaque translucent Character.
DON : Yeah.
CHRIS : Light actually passes through him and so much of his appeal is that look and texture he has.
DON : It’s true.
CHRIS : I think CG was the right way to tell this story.
DON : Cool End Credits though. I do like them.
Tell us a little about San Francisco.
DON : So that decision happened right after John picked “Big Hero 6” and I had a Meeting with the Marvel guys and communicated that to them and they were super thrilled but they said don’t worry about setting this in the Marvel Universe. They just said we want to see what you do with it and create your own world, which was really encouraging for us. We wanted to keep the Japanese aesthetic from the Comic Book because essentially it’s a Japanese Super Hero team. The Marvel Universe is the real world. New York is New York and Tokyo is Tokyo. So I wanted to keep the Japanese aesthetic from the Marvel Comic but mash it up with a City that would be very recognizable like San Francisco because of the Golden Gate Bridge and Cable Cars.
I think we created something really cool and new and just like the Movies a mash up of Disney and Marvel. I thought this City could be a mash up of Eastern and Western kind of things. I thought that they would play well together and create something familiar but sort of new as well.
CHRIS : And I think for our Boss John Lasseter 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. 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. Let’s be honest. John lives in San Francisco and he loves Tokyo.
The interview was so fun to listen to and watch. Chris and Don were very animated and played off of each other in the conversation. Big Hero 6 is one of our favorite movies and we are so glad it was made! Thanks Chris and Don for all of your hard work!
Big Hero 6 comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray on February 24! (Pre-order your copy of Big Hero 6 now)
Like BIG HERO 6 on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DisneyBigHero6
Follow Walt Disney Animation Studios on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/DisneyAnimation
Follow Walt Disney Animation Studios on Tumblr: http://disneyanimation.tumblr.com
Visit the Website: http://www.disney.com/BigHero6
This was an all expense paid trip provided by Disney. All opinions expressed are my own.