The morning Disney’s “Big Hero 6” received its Academy Award nomination — an award it won this past Sunday — directors Don Hall and Chris Williams were in vastly different situations upon hearing the news. In fact, for Williams, it wasn’t even the morning.
“Our producer, Roy Connolly, and I were in Korea because we were rolling out the movie there, and for us, it was 10:30 at night,” Williams recalled at a press event held prior to Sunday’s Oscar ceremonies. The nomination came as a welcome surprise after a long day of interviews and the group duly celebrated. “And we had a really rough flight to London the next day,” he joked.
Hall, however, was home in Los Angeles. “I was thrilled, but I got to enjoy it for about three minutes. Then my seven-year-old and four-year-old barged into the room,” he explained. His celebration consisted of making breakfast for his kids.
The directors, along with voice actors Ryan Potter, Daniel Henney and Scott Adsit, spoke with CBR News about the film’s upcoming home video release, the animated feature’s characters and the time it took to hone the film into a work worthy of Oscar recognition.
The film, a Disney adaptation of a lesser-known Marvel comic, follows Hiro and his robot pal Baymax as they attempt to become heroes and uncover the truth behind the death of Tadashi, Hiro’s bother and Baymax’s creator. A potent mixture of drama, action and resonant themes, “Big Hero 6” seemed like a natural Oscar contender, but for Potter — the voice of Hiro — hearing about the nomination was unreal and hard to process. “To put it in perspective, I would watch the Kids’ Choice Awards [as a kid] and I wanted to go, but I knew it was never going to happen,” he explained. “So, I put it out of my mind. It’s unattainable, it’s this false world. Now, I’m on a Nickelodeon show and I’m at the Kids’ Choice Awards. So … this happened, what else can happen? I’m just very grateful for the opportunities that have come my way.”
“It is like fulfilling my greatest fantasies about [the film],” said Adsit, who voiced Baymax. Though he felt he is only a small part of the effort being recognized, he added, “I don’t go into anything expecting anyone to even notice anything I’ve done and when anything I do gets recognition, it’s amazing.” Instead of obscurity, Adsit’s character became the film’s mascot. He was quick to note that Baymax’s prominence was not always part of the plan and that the character’s importance grew over time. “To see the posters on the side of buildings with Baymax on it and knowing that I’m a small part of that character, it’s extremely rewarding,” added Adsit.
Henney, who voices Tadashi in the film, spoke to Baymax’s integral role in the film, saying, “In Baymax, [Hiro] finds the person he can talk to and he can heal in a very healthy way and talk about his emotions.”
“I like that his whole existence is to make sure Hiro’s safe,” continued Adsit. “He’s like a parent, but he’s also like a child and also like a brother. He’s reliable like family.” Adsit then recalled his first fan encounter with a little girl at New York Comic Con, which took place shortly after the cast was announced. She told the voice actor that she loved Baymax “because he heals people.” Affected by the memory, the actor added, “I get emotional because she got it.”
Baymax, Hiro and Tadashi all have their origins in the pages of Marvel’s “Big Hero 6” series, Walt Disney Animation was given a free hand to develop the concept, thus making the finished product far removed from its source. From Hall’s initial take on the idea, Disney and its story department scrutinized every possible permutation of the idea. Villains changed, relationships refocused and Baymax’s importance grew as the story evolved. “Story is just hard work,” said Hall. “It will kick your butt.”
Co-director Williams credited the process with producing a much better film. “Even great, talented filmmakers will make a movie that just doesn’t work,” he explained. “You have to surround yourself with collaborators and talented people to check your decision-making.” Since the project developed in an iterative way, some of the early stories ideas will appear on the Blu-ray as storyboards and deleted scenes and give insight into versions of “Big Hero 6” that almost existed.
Other special features include a making-of documentary Williams called “substantial” and a blooper reel featuring both odd animation gaffs and alternate goofy takes of scenes the animators surprised the directors with at update screenings. Hall was constantly amazed to see them because the film’s “punishing” production schedule would seem to preclude the time to plan out and render what were essentially practical jokes on him. “I don’t know where they had time to do these things,” he said.
As for the animation gaffs, Williams explained, “There are times, for whatever reason, the computer will make someone’s legs disappear or their hair explode and we have some of the most amazing technical minds in the world in our building and they’d come in to figure out what went wrong and they’d say ‘computers are weird.'”
Back in the blooper-free feature film, voice actor Potter praised its cast of characters as “a perfect example of what the United States looks like.” As one of the first Disney films with a multicultural cast and one of the first blockbuster films with an Asian-American lead, Potter feels that “Big Hero 6” is very important to all mixed race communities. “We need more film and more television that represents that,” he added. “‘Big Hero 6’ is groundbreaking.”
“As an Asian-American actor, I feel like we get marginalized at times,” Henney added. “[Often] characters can seem not as charismatic, capable or intelligent as we can be, or [sometimes] too intelligent — the one note. It’s nice to see Tadashi and Hiro; strong young men who are smart, capable and doing good things.”
Though the film is not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it does feature a Stan Lee cameo and a post-credits tag scene. “We talked about putting a tag on the film and we wondered if people would stay through the credits,” Hall said. The notion did not become solid until the directors saw “Guardians of the Galaxy” and its unexpected last-moment cameo. Beyond the unlikely guest appearance of Howard the Duck in the “Guardians” tag, Hall noted that audience sat waiting for a post-credits scene at early “Big Hero 6” screenings. “The last thing we wanted would be for people to wait through the credits and find nothing,” said Hall. Late in the production, Hall assembled a small crew to animate the scene, which was ultimately kept a secret from the main crew until the wrap party screening.
When faced with the inevitable question about a sequel, the directors were forthright with an answer: there has yet to be a moment to even discuss it. “We’ve been so busy just finishing the film,” Hall explained. “And since then, we’ve just been doing so much traveling and promoting the movie.” Following the promotional commitments, the pair plans to take a long vacation and then finally see where they can go with a subsequent picture.
“It’s such a huge undertaking to make one of these movies — and this was a very challenging story to crack — and you’re investing everything you have into the one thing and not afforded the opportunity to say, ‘Oh, this would be great for a sequel,'” Williams added. “It’s important to take a proper break and read and travel and figure out what you’re excited about rather than racing into the next thing.” He praised the studio and chief creative officer John Lasseter for fostering an atmosphere in which directors are not forced into sequels until they find a story worth telling.
“To sit down and think you’re going to make a trilogy is dangerous thinking,” said Hall. Though he praised the Marvel method and its lightly serialized world, the director said, “You really need to put all your effort into that one thing” when making an animated picture.
“This process is like a four or five year cycle and the people who worked so hard on this film would like to go and reacquaint themselves with their families,” Adsit added. “They need a little time to meet their children.” When asked if he wanted to voice Baymax again, Adsit answered, “I will be Baymax as long as they want me.”
“Big Hero 6” arrives on Blu-ray and DVD Feb. 24. It is already available online via Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere.
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