Luke Hearfield looks at the making of Disney’s latest animated film, Big Hero 6, which is showing throughout half-term at Berwick Maltings from this Saturday to Sunday, February 22.
You would think that after all the chaos that advanced-technology brought to the world of cinema in 2014 we would have learned our lesson by now.
Were rebellious Transformers, faulty Robocops and genocidal Sentinels in the X-Men franchise not enough evidence to support Stephen Hawking’s gloomy Artificial Intelligence predictions?
So what do we have this year? A veritable tech-expo with countless films with even more machines out to meddle with the natural order of things – typical.
But relax. It’s not all time-travelling cybernetic organisms – there is one robot coming to screens this year who couldn’t strike fear in anyone’s heart – and his name is Baymax.
He’s the breakout star of Disney’s amazing new film Big Hero 6 and the product of a labour of love from co-directors Don Hall and Chris Williams – two fellow geeks who grew up on a diet of Marvel Comics and Disney animated films.
I sat down with co-director Don Hall and executive producer Roy Conli, fresh from their recent Oscar and BAFTA nominations, to chat about Disney’s newest hero and how they handled melding Disney with Marvel for this first time.
Hall told me how they came up with the concept for the huggable robot:
“We lined up every robot from Metropolis to WALL.E and we just put images around the wall, and we agreed we couldn’t do any of this,” he says.
“I took a research trip to the Carnegie Mellon University where I met this guy called Chris Atkeson who was working in the field of soft-robotics. It was essentially an arm and the concept would be that they would be healthcare workers. This immediately was a lightning bolt moment and I knew we had found him.”
Big Hero 6 marks the first collaboration between Marvel and Disney, and this mash-up of elements is very much present within the setting of San Fransokyo.
“The reason behind this stylisation was because it felt thematic,” Hall says. “John Lasseter [chief creative officer at Disney-Pixar] said ‘don’t be worried about setting this in the Marvel universe – take it and make it your own’. So I wanted to have the Japanese aesthetic from the comic but instead of just setting it in Tokyo, it would be more fun and interesting to create this fantasy world. I picked San Francisco because it’s so recognisable. You take this setting and you lay this aesthetic over the top, so you get something new but ultimately familiar.”
Conli describes Big Hero 6 as “a Disney film with Marvel DNA”, and, coming off the phenomenal success of Frozen, it was a certainly a movie that needed to prove a point. What Hall, Williams and Conli have pulled off is a highly entertaining superhero origins story coupled with a strong emotional undercurrent.
“The fact that we’re talking to kids and telling them it’s cool to be a geek, it’s cool to be smart – that’s what we wanted to do”, says Conli. “And then I think it has a broader message in terms of how we should deal with revenge and forgiveness.
“We got to really push the vibrant action scenes. It’s got humour, and it’s got action but the biggest thing they are going to walk away with is having had an emotional experience. It may look on the surface like a kid-and-a-robot movie or even a superhero thing, but it’s a lot deeper than that.”