don hall chris williams big hero 6Disney's "Big Hero 6" is one of the most visually astonishing movies you'll probably ever see, animated otherwise. It's set in a futuristic mash-up of Tokyo and San Francisco and concerns the adventures of a young science prodigy named Hiro (Ryan Potter) who befriends an inflatable nurse robot named Baymax (Scott Adsit) and, together, set to rid their city of evil. Based on a Marvel property but utilizing an energy and stylization that is pure Disney Animation Studios, it's also one of the more heart-tugging movies you'll see all year.

And the immense challenge of meshing the theatrics of a big screen superhero movie with the boy-meets-robot relationship dynamics of something like "Iron Giant" (or "E.T.") fell to directors Chris Williams and Don Hall. Both are Disney animation vets, with Hall having directed the beautifully, profoundly underrated "Winnie the Pooh" and Williams helming "Bolt." It's safe to say that the odds were not in their favor for "Big Hero 6," but they pulled it off miraculously.

We got to sit down with Hall and Williams in the hallowed halls of the actual Disney Animation Studios, where we talked about the look of the film, getting the balance of thrills-to-heartbreak just right, and what Disneyland ride they'd want to see made from the movie.

This is a staggeringly beautiful film. What filmmakers influenced you the most, in terms of the look of "Big Hero 6"?

Chris Williams: The one film we talked about a lot was "Blade Runner," and not because of any specific aesthetic element but just in terms of the approach to the world. I saw "Blade Runner" when I was pretty young, but I remember thinking that they understood this world completely. They understood the history of this world, what led up to this world in this moment in time, they understood what was happening just outside of frame in this world. And you don't feel that way in movies very often. This is a very different world but we wanted it to feel that immersive, that complete.

Don Hall: And as far as the lens flares and the dust on the lens and all of those little tricks, we integrated those early on. I really wanted this to be a very cinematic movie and wanted to push them. And they had just developed Hyperion [an in-house renderer, developed by Disney, that helped with the movie's many textures, surfaces, and lighting challenges] and we were the first movie to use Hyperion, so we were curious as to whether or not it would work. And it did! It gave us the opportunity to do a lot of that stuff.

Cinematically, I've loved filmmakers who have created great shots -- shots that can really tell a story. We both grew up on Spielberg and he was great with that. Especially early in his career, he made shots that bore into your brain and just became iconic long after you watched the movie. They were just iconic. John Ford is another one. David Lean as well. They are very strong compositionally. A lot of modern filmmakers get away from that, because you're putting a camera on a character and we're following them around. It gets away from that idea of separate images adding up to tell a story. There are moments in this film that, as a shot, tell a really wonderful story. One of those moments is when Baymax is looking in the portal, just standing there, this stoic, lone person staring into the abyss. I love that shot so much.

How tough was it conquering the technical challenges of the movie while also making sure you were getting the emotional beats of the story right?

Williams: Well, one should serve the other, right? Any camera work or composition or lighting should serve a comedic beat or an emotional idea.

Hall: Well, we have really great people. And I think everybody was very excited to explore these heavy action moments and the idea that those would live next to some really sweet emotional moments, was a nice juxtaposition for people. For the flight sequences we brought in flight specialists who had worked on "Plane," so that was amazing.

Williams: They built us a really complete world, so we were able to indulge in some really dynamic camerawork. We grew up as fans of animation but we also grew up as fans of great action movies and all the Marvel movies and so we knew that we wanted this to be able to be compared to those films favorably. So we wanted to satisfy that urge -- something that would be really fun, fast-paced and kinetic.

This movie has a lot of characters. [In an earlier trip to the animation studio we were told that this features more characters than any other Disney animated movie ever.] How tricky was that, and were there any devastating losses along the way?

Hall: There weren't any devastating losses. It was brutal story work to try and meld the emotional spine of the movie, which is about a kid who loses his brother and the robot who heals him. That was our emotional stake in the ground, our major emotional idea. But we knew that since this was "Big Hero 6," we knew we had a superhero team and an original story too. Screening after screening after screening, that was the most difficult -- to try and weld those two things together. And it wasn't until we let Baymax drive the story that those two things came together. The idea that Baymax, in an attempt to heal his patient, would surround him with his friends and loved ones, was really it. It wasn't until that happened that those two stories melded together. It was all Baymax. He was the crux.

Williams: You're hitting on what was specifically challenging about this film, which has so many disparate elements -- the boy and his robot story, the superhero story, the East/West, the Marvel/Disney, then you've got the mystery element. And you also want to take on loss in an emotionally truthful way. We also had this goofy comedy. We had to find a way for all of these things to coexist and not feel like just a scramble of things. That was a big part of the evolution of the story.

Hall: It's a testament to our process that we were able to do that. Because we didn't get it right the first time. It took attempt after attempt to get it right.

And all in 90 minutes.

Williams: Well, what's funny is at the beginning they say, "Listen guys the movie has to be 84 minutes." But the nice thing is that we work for John Lasseter, and he'll walk the party line for a while but then he gets invested in the story and he got the point where he knew that the movie couldn't be 84 minutes long and he didn't want to shortchange the story.

Hall: You know what made it even harder was that there were another four or five minutes that made it even harder, since there were a bunch of insert shots of people looking at screens. That was a lot more animation. So it's more like a 95-minute movie from an animation standpoint. That extra five minutes is a whopper.

Baymax is such an incredible character and the relationship between him and Hiro is very reminiscent of "E.T." or "The Iron Giant." When did you realize that you had really nailed that character?

Hall: As a concept for a character, I think everybody early on loved the idea of a health-care robot that was squishy and lovable and only viewed the world from that lens. From screening one, you could feel like it was going to be a great character. But it wasn't really until Chris wrote and storyboarded a sequence when Baymax comes out from behind the bed and interacts with Hiro, that you got the potential of those two as a duo. That, for me, was when you could really see how these two could be fun together. It also delayed the superhero angle a little bit later. We take a pretty slow burn to get to it. And all of that is time spent building relationships. Because by the time you get to the superhero stuff it's more fun because you've gotten to know those characters.

Williams: Because no character is great in isolation, it's all about how they interact with another character, so finding the dynamic between Hiro and Baymax is what it's all about. Because Hiro is so maniacal and has a thousand thoughts a second, it's fun to play against Baymax, who is so methodical. So they really brought out the best in each other. So once we figured that out, we thought, Now we've got our anchor.

Was it hard to pick out what to use from the original comic?

Hall: The last run I read was in 2004, by Chris Claremont. That had a lot of the characters. There was a version where the entity they were fighting was called The Ever-Wrath, which was a collection of souls that perished at Nagasaki. But I couldn't figure out a way to make that work...

That would be a good follow-up to "Winnie the Pooh."

Hall: No.

What would be your ideal "Big Hero 6" attraction at one of the parks?

Williams: You'd want to fly.

Hall: Yeah, if you could somehow magnetically attach yourself.

Williams: And Go-Go is fast and fun -- that'd be cool. I love those wheels.

Disney's "Big Hero 6" hits theaters November 7.

categories Interviews, Movies