This morning we at Buz were among the lucky gang to round up in London’s glitzy Soho to spend a few hours in a screening room, filled with Sushi, in the form of a San Fransokyo breakfast, to look at clips from Disney’s upcoming animation Big Hero 6. Big Hero 6 tells the story of 14-year-old robotics prodigy Hiro, leaving in the futuristic, mashed-together land of San Fransokyo, who gets into a prestigious college for robotics, attending with brother Tadashi and his friends Honey Lemon, Fred, Wasabi and Go Go. After wowing the college with a collection of microbots that can form anything the mind can imagine, a mysterious fire takes the entire building down, and with it Hiro’s pride, joy and hope. With the assistance of his brother’s health bot, Baymax, he discovers a sinister plot involving his very own creation, and bands together his friends and their scientific skills to fight the evil at large. If this sounds like some big superhero-esque film, that’s because this is the first Disney/Marvel movie, with a Marvel comic series deep in the back catalogue proving as the source of inspiration for the work of directors Don Hall (Winnie The Pooh) and Chris Williams (Bolt).
With the clips we also got a Q&A session with producer Roy Conli (Tangled, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame). Any potential spoilers have been avoided, but as ever, going in blind is the best way to experience any film.
From the first clip it was clear that the visuals of Big Hero 6 were something quite extraordinary, as great as any animated film from a large studio always looks, this one had something else.
“On this I think the most spectacular aspect is the lighting project, we put together a whole new rendering system which is based on ray tracing, and I think it gives a spectacular look. I look at this film and I don’t think I’ve seen anything that’s looked quite like this.”
They were more than happy to indulge us with visuals set at night, to express the lights, neon and otherwise, within San Fransokyo, but even in the daytime, the brightness of a large city full of colours, vibrance, open parks and dark alleyways had a sense of realism and expressive of a utopia too. The details were so specific, and yet heightened, as Ron made clear.
“We were able to go to the US Geological Survey and get the actual topographical maps of San Francisco and we basically caricatured it. We made the mountains higher, the valleys deeper. Then we went to the San Francisco assessor’s office and literally got plot maps of every building. So we’ve got some 80,000 buildings, it’s fascinating as you fly through, you go ‘holy crap, that’s Market Street’ and you’ll go ‘that’s so and so in Tokyo’ so it’s been a great mash-up.”
We were shown a full 16 minute uninterrupted chunk, and from that part the humour was very clear, a cutesy type of nature with robot Baymax, who is a “carbon fibre structure underneath and an inflatable layer”, a cuddly marshmallow of air and soft robotics, and also a little too innocent of the ways of the world, being put together with a 14-year-old angst-ridden teen wanting to embrace the child side of himself yet dealing also with adult issues. The two together are very John Connor and The Terminator, only there’s not likely to be as many shotgun blasts in Big Hero 6. The innocent who is learning and the devious one using the innocent for their own means is well played within the clip, and suggests a wealth of fun character beats to play out as Baymax starts to take umbridge with what he is being programmed to do, and in fact be, when he gets a combat chip inserted. It’s unlikely if that’ll be a large part of the film, given very quickly we leap into montages of Hiro’s friends suiting up to help fight the baddie, a figure in a kabuki mask wielding millions of microbots.
“We decided, early on, that their superpowers would be their intellect. That was a big thing for us. We wanted to make sure that we walked away knowing what each of these kids do, and hopefully inspire kids in the future to think”
The subject of this being a Marvel property transformed by Disney took up discussion at one point, although not branded a Marvel film despite being based on a comic. “One of the things in the discussions with Marvel was this was going to be a Disney animated film, and we certainly couldn’t grab any of the properties that are filming now. Finding something that was off to the side gave us complete freedom. The original comic book takes place in Tokyo, we’ve made it San Fransokyo. Baymax in the original is not a healthcare bot. It just gave us that freedom and with that freedom we were able to create a world and characters that fit in that world, in both worlds. ”
But despite not being branded or made as a Marvel Studios film, that side of Disney was not locked out of the filmmaking process. “Every 12 weeks we put them up, story-board them up and project them on film, and Joe Quesada, who is chief creative officer for Marvel and Jeff Loeb who is in Los Angeles on their entertainment division, came to every screening. We had 8 screenings. So it’s always great that they’re there.” Ron says “what I love about Marvel is it reaches broad audiences and has a lot of heart, and what we try to do with Disney is maybe broaden the spectrum a little bit so it goes a little younger, and a little older.”
Before the footage we saw Feast, the new animated short that plays before Big Hero 6. Like Paperman, Feast is a mix of hand-drawn styles and computer animation. It tells a story of a dog, Winston, who lives his life from meal to meal, as he finds an owner on the street, eats slop with his owner, and loses his greasy food when his owner falls in love. It is a gorgeously told, beautiful-looking, sweet, well-intentioned and very funny short that is so kind to the audience even as the storyline twists and turns. In a short amount of time we connect with Winston and through him his owner. It is sumptuous, perhaps the best Disney short so far.
Big Hero 6 is out in the UK in February, but North America gets it in November. Let’s all fly over there, preferably on our own Baymaxes.