As the first panel on the New York Comic Con 2014 main stage, Disney's Big Hero 6 and Tomorrowland had a lot to live up to -- but with Big Hero 6 directors Don Hall and Chris Williams and producer Roy Conley; Tomorrowland director Brad Bird and producer Damon Lindelof (as well as some special guests), the panel was certainly poised to succeed.
After introductions by moderator Chris Hardwick, the panel kicked off with the Big Hero 6 directors and producer.
"Three years ago as I first started on Big Hero 6, I came to New York Comic Con. It's kind of emotional that we're here where it all started," Hall said. "There was one particular incident I do remember -- I got to hold Captain America's shield. … The really funny thing about that is right after I took that picture, the vendor attacked me and took it back!"
Hall described Big Hero 6 as a "dream project,” as he's been a lifelong Marvel and Disney animation fan. Hall also gave a shout-out to Duncan Rouleau, who with Steven T. Seagle, created the original Big Hero 6 comic. Also in the audience was Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada, whom Hall described as "such a friend to this movie."
"Joe and Jeph Loeb attended all of our story screenings and really became a part of our story trust," he said. "We all thought it would be great to take Big Hero 6 and really make it our own." To that end, the team came up with San Fransokyo -- a hi-tech mashup of San Francisco and Tokyo. Slightly futuristic, the city is also grounded and immersive, "but still very playful,” Hall said.
Conley provided quick plot synopsis for the film, which involves Hiro starting off as a back-alley robot fighter, but is inspired by his brother's work on Baymax to enroll in a local robotics university.
An exclusive clip featured Hiro in a robotics lab looking at wheels and encountering GoGo Tomago. "Welcome to the nerd lab," she says. The bike has electromax suspension, and although Hiro is impressed, Go Go isn't so sure about the wheels. Wasabi -- not his real name, a nickname even though he only spilled wasabi on his shirt "one time" -- is next, and cuts an apple into paper-thin slices. Honey Lemon is yells over her headphones and does quite a bit of chemistry to turn a heavy cannonball-like object into dust. Fred is last up, taking about his role as school mascot, and his hope that the lab could invent an invisible sandwich.
Following the clip, Jamie Chung (Go Go Tomago), T.J. Miller (Fred) and Genesis Rodriguez (Honey Lemon) took the stage, and describes their experiences with the film.
"We saw the movie just two days ago, and it was so surreal," Rodriguez said. "It's the perfect project because Honey Lemon is so me. I don't know if people know this at all but I was on a robotics team growing up in high school, so I think this character was written for me subconsciously."
"I was on a battlebots team, but my battlebot was always going into a fetal position," Miller said.
Chung discussed her portrayal of GoGo Tomago, "the Clint Eastwood of the group," saying, "She's pretty tough and it's always fun playing that, and she certainly has a soft side and you get to see that in the film -- but it's rare."
Williams said that "so much of the best lines in the movie came from them” – the cast – explaining that improvisation played an important role.
Miller said the process "felt like a vacuum," and he improvised a lot -- "you can see them laughing through the glass but it's silent."
"The crazy thing about this process is that you do start a year and a half [in advance], and they change the script and it's so malleable,” he said. “I think that's why Disney and Pixar make these incredible movies. … It's really exciting to keep coming back in and see more and more about how your character is developing and how the story's developing. … There's comedy to it, there's sentimentality to it -- I'd say it's a dream come true for me, but it's not."
The panel also showed a second clip, in which Baymax's battery runs dangerously low. The scene takes place outside of the police station, with a quick cut to Hiro's house, with his Aunt, played by Maya Rudolph. The clip showcased the humor of the piece, as Baymax stumbles up the stairs; Hiro also throws his cat Mochi upstairs. This is where the scene comes in of Baymax petting the cat and calling it a "hairy baby.”
Following the clip, actors Scott Adsit (Baymax) and Ryan Potter (Hiro) joined the panel, with Adsit taking a video of the audience as he approached his seat.
"I've only been drunk once in my life," Adsit said of the previous scene, in which Baymax seemed intoxicated, “so I didn't have anything really to draw on.”
Adsit said it was very strange to be on the panel, as he’s tried to get into the room every year. "I don't have the stamina that you people have. And Chris would not get me in,” he said. “It's a thrill to be up here right now because I've always been in the crowd, and to be up here and to be somebody so central to this movie is mind-blowing. … I've been a fan of things like this for so long and now I'm up here with these brilliant actors and these amazing filmmakers -- I can't believe my life right now."
Potter discussed his portrayal of Hiro, saying the character is "a lot smarter than I am -- and a lot better-looking than I am."
"Hiro has a really good heart. He's a genius but he doesn't quite know the direction that he's going [in life],” he said, “and Baymax, the gang, his older brother, Aunt Cass -- all these characters are so important for Hiro because they put him on the right path. He's a big bot fighter and it's not very legal -- but he gets put on the right path and he's a really good kid."
The panelists had a few more clips to show before wrapping up, both involving the man in the mysterious kabuki mask.
In one clip, Hiro is upgrading Baymax, and uploading motion capture of martial arts before designing armor inspired by samurai. "This armor may undermine my huggable design," says. After drawing a skull on the microchip containing the new moves, Hiro sees the original medical chip with the words “Tadashi Hamada” and pauses . Baymax then tests out his new moves, chopping boards before getting some gummy bears. Hiro attempts to fist-bump Baymax, and teaches him a secret handshake. The duo heads down a dark alley as a car begins to follow.
"They're going off to confront [the guy in the kabuki mask], and this is the first opportunity for this new, improved Baymax to show what the nurse can really do," Adsit said.
The next clip featured Baymax landing on the top of Wasabi's car as the kabuki-mask guy with the stolen microbots goes after the gang. In an exciting car chase across the streets of San Fransokyo, the microbots give pursuit through a number of city environments. Wasibi stops at a red light and gets yelled at by Go Go. Wasabi puts on the blinker, and Go Go takes over, racing down a steep hill into a hairpin turn back uphill. The microbots block their way, but Go Go skids up the microbots, using them as a ramp, and jumps onto a bridge. In a humorous moment, Hiro nearly falls out of the car, but is buckled back into his seat by Baymax. The car narrowly misses getting hit by a train -- and the microbots briefly catch up to the gang before Go Go guns it out of a quickly converging tunnel.
A final trailer was shown featuring a song by Fall Out Boy called "The Immortals." The clip opened much like a trailer: The illegal bot fighting was first, followed by the man in the kabuki mask attacking the city. There was a bit of previously seen footage.
Transitioning to Tomorrowland, Damon Lindelof and Brad Bird took the stage to discuss the upcoming sci-fi adventure. Details about have long been difficult to come by, and Hardwick said the creators are being secretive about it because they want the film to be fresh.
"I was having lunch with Sean Bailey, who is the president of Disney live-action, and we were talking about what a Disney movie should be," said Lindelof, noting the success of The Pirates of the Carribean. "I don't know what it would be about, but if there were a movie called Tomorrowland, I would go see that movie. If somebody like Brad Bird were directing it …" There was some really cool stuff in a box about the Tomorrowland attraction, including maps, puzzles, laser discs -- and that's when Brad Bird got involved.
"Damon did a little work on the end of my last film, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol,” Bird added. “We were working together for a month and we were just sitting around talking about what we were doing next. He brought it up and it sounded cool.”
The duo did bring something surprising to the panel -- the world-premiere teaser trailer, as well as a poster. The preview opened with a girl played by Britt Robertson claiming some of her property in a police station: a money clip, a baseball cap, various effects -- and a pin, which she claims isn't hers. When she touches it, she’s transported -- for a split second -- to a wheat field. A voiceover, courtesy George Clooney, says, "What if there was a place, a secret place, where nothing is impossible? A miraculous place where you could actually change the world?"
As Robertson grips the pin, the silhouette of Tomorrowland appears in the background amid a field of wheat. Clooney shows up on screen asking, "You wanna go?" Then, we glimpse a split second of the girl recoiling as someone flies over her head.
"I think what we can say, and this isn't me being evasive, but clearly there's this pin that Casey comes into contact with and she sees this place," Lindelof said, adding that one of the creative team's favorite movie is Close Encounters of the Third Kind, because it’s a discovery movie. "The movie is about this character, she saw this thing, she's not entirely sure she saw it, and she wants to know more about it."
Robertson's character Casey receives the pin because she's "obviously in a bit of trouble," considering she's in a police station. "This is somebody who might need the pin at that moment because her future's maybe not so bright,” said Lindelof, who added that Casey receives the pin from a mysterious character named Athena.
Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy and Hugh Laurie took the stage to discuss as much as they could -- very sparse details -- about their characters and the film.
Cassidy said her character is "not a bad character -- she's a good character because she's helping and caring for people, but I wouldn't say she's really good. She's not the most thoughtful of people's feelings sometimes."
Laurie responded with an evil stare to the question of whether is character is good or bad. "Oh, I'm a good character," he said with a shifty-eyed look. "I can say nothing. I got involved because these two fine gentlemen asked if I would go and hear a story they had to tell. I had no memory of the storytelling part of it, but I just remember their piercing eyes and friendly demeanor. They described an attitude about thinking about the future that had simply never occurred to me. I left that meeting thinking, 'These guys are onto something really exceptional here, something incredibly powerful and uplifting.' I'm not an easily uplifted person because I'm English -- but I left on wings, wings of hope. It was an amazing meeting. Some weeks or even a month later, I got to read the script, and it was actually printed on black paper, so I couldn't read a bit of it. I'm still fascinated to know how it ends. It was absolutely terrific -- I can't find a single thing wrong."
Laurie has a long history in performance art, from theater to film and television, and he said Tomorrowland is unlike any other project he's worked on.
"[It's] Big. Big, big, big -- philosophically big, technically big, dramaturgically -- the scale of the thing just boggled the mind,” he said. “I've been lucky enough to be on some substantial projects in my time and this was mind-boggling."
Robertson said her character is "roughly 17, a high-school student. I am a dreamer and I am recruited by someone to explore Tomorrowland."
Cassidy divulged a bit more about her role, saying, "She is extremely optimistic and she knows karate," before being humorously cut off by Lindelof.
The actors also discussed working with Clooney. "He's one of the best in the business to be working with," Robertson said. "To work with him is a dream come true."
After Laurie went off on a humorous dig at Clooney, the Oscar winner approached him from behind, making a surprise first-ever appearance at New York Comic Con.
"It is not lost on me that I am spending my honeymoon at Comic Con," Clooney said to massive applause. "Yeah, [my wife] was as confused as Hugh was about what Comic Con was. It's good to see you all. I was backstage, and I couldn't hear, but if you guys need to know anything about the plot, just ask me. Everybody dies in the end."
"I think since my Batman, I was disinvited from Comic Con," joked Clooney. "I see the comments section on all you guys! I met Adam West back there and said, 'Hey, I'm really sorry! Sorry about the nipples on the suit.'"
Clooney said the film was "larger than most of the things I've been around."
"Brad has a real vision of th film he wants to make," he continued. "It was fun for all of us to play in this giant toy box with him, and helping him realize what he wants," said Clooney. "Hugh and I got to get in trouble in the Bahamas -- two former television doctors. We got to see the world, we got to work with really fun people. I like most of the people on this panel. Really? That's all they're going to see?"
There was indeed one other clip to show. The footage opened on a mailbox with the name "Walker." Robertson climbs the gate, walks past a security camera and heads to an old house. She knocks at the door, only to hear Clooney say, "Go away." "I want you to take me there," Robertson says. "Take you where?" "The place I saw when I touched this." As she holds up the pin to the camera, she's blown back by an unseen force.
Clooney's character, Frank Walker, grabs the pin and throws it back at Casey, telling her to go back to where she came from. He goes back inside and slams the door. A quick cut reveals Casey outside the house in the rain, sticking her tongue out. Frank sees something on fire coming toward the house, and unlocks the many locks on the door. The vehicle is put out and, in fact, iced up by a heavy-duty fire extinguisher. Robertson finds her way into the house and locks out Martin. Clooney is then knocked on his back by an unseen force -- the same one that Robertson's character was subject to earlier.
Casey enters a room with confluence of screens and monitors that display all TV channels; Frank enters from a secret passage inside the stairs. As another alarm goes off, Frank says, "They followed you here." They refer to Casey as "a fugitive element," and that Frank has one minute to comply. The officers, who are robots, attempt to get in with futuristic laser guns. As they try to enter Frank's monitor room, he drops them down a trap door. With one more to go, the final guard is shoved down a portal. Robertson climbs the stairs with a robotic hand still attached to her arm. Another guard gets taken out by a laser grid, another by a super magnet embedded in the wall. Another "Authority of Governor Nix." That guard gets beaten furiously by Robertson with a baseball bat. The duo enters the bathroom, and Frank has her get into the bathtub -- and activates something called "House Destruct." Before the house explodes, the bathtub launches into the air and the clip ends.
Big Hero 6 opens Nov. 7, while Tomorrowland arrives May 22.