Disney's biennial D23 Expo is now underway in Anaheim, with its "Art and Imagination: Animation at the Walt Disney Studios" presentation including a look at 2014's "Big Hero 6" feature, based on the Marvel comic book characters.
Director Don Hall told the crowd that when looking for his next project following 2011's "Winnie the Pooh," he "kept coming back to two things I loved since I was a little kid -- Disney Animation and comic books."
Describing "Big Hero 6" as "an underground Marvel comic about a Japanese superhero team," Hall said he loved "the characters and the Japanese aesthetic" -- plus the fact that the property is on the "obscure side," allowing latitude for Disney animation to make it their own.
A preview reel, featuring a wide range between more polished CGI animation and 2D drawings, introduced the movie's main cast to the 4,000 fans assembled at the Anaheim Convention Center's "D23 Arena" which included: main character Hiro Hamada, called a "14-year-old tech wizard with unparalleled genius;" GoGo Tomago, a "daredevil bike messenger with velocity and ferocity;" Wasabi No-Ginger, "a sushi chef whose talents are sharp -- razor sharp;" Honey Lemon, "a brainiac chemist and part-time barista, big on hugs and thwarting thugs;" Fred, "a fanboy whose comic book knowledge is vital to their mission" and sports a fire-breathing monster suit; and the robot Baymax, "Hiro's best friend, originally programmed to be a diagnostic nurse, but reprogrammed and repurposed into a superhero warrior." None of the film's voice cast was revealed during the presentation.
Each of the main characters have their origins in comics, but come with changes -- Hiro's last name is "Hamada" rather than "Takachiho," Fred appears to be operating a high-tech outfit rather than actually turning into a monster and Wasabi No-Ginger is depicted as African-American. Based on the footage shown, the main characters' abilities appear to be derived from technology, rather than superpowers.
Technology also drives the film's conflict, with one of Hiro's inventions, "Micro-Bots," falling into the hands of an unnamed supervillain.
Hall informed the crowd of the film's previously announced setting, San Fransokyo -- as the portmanteau suggests, a mix of San Francisco and Tokyo, and where Hiro attends a cutting-edge robotics college -- and discussed his motivation for taking on "Big Hero 6."
"What I loved most of all was the emotional story of a 14-year-old genius named Hiro who loses his big brother, and a robot named Baymax that heals his broken heart," Hall said. "That feels like the makings of a Disney movie."
A lot of research went into Baymax, Hall said, including consulting real-world robotic experts on how to properly render a "huggable robot." Hall emphasized the character's compassion, saying Baymax is "totally focused on the health and well-being of all that are around him."
John Lasseter, Disney's chief creative officer of Walt Disney and Pixar animation studios, hosted the presentation and described "Big Hero 6" as "really for everybody. It's so cool and hip."
Tom Hiddleston, Marvel's live-action Loki, also appeared at Friday's animation showcase in connection to his upcoming voice role in 2014's "Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy," the latest entry in the direct-to-video "Tinker Bell" franchise.
"Big Hero 6" is based on concepts and characters created by Steven T. Seagle and Duncan Rouleau during their run on "Alpha Flight" in the late '90s. The "Big Hero 6" animated film is scheduled for release in theaters on November 7, 2014.