Disclosure: This is part of a sponsored collaboration with Disney and the Walt Disney Animation Studios. I received an all-expense paid trip so that I could gather and share this information. However, all experiences and opinions are always 100% honest and my own.
I had so much fun interviewing Don Hall and Chris Williams of Big hero 6.
Don Hall and Chris Williams were the directors for Big Hero 6. We had a great interview session with them on our first day in LA. Check out my interview!
So how did you end up on this project?
Don Answers: Well I was born 45 years ago and was just finishing up Winnie the Pooh and looking for my next project. What are we passionate about? I love Disney and I love Marvel comics. Can we mix the two? I was told to go find something. So I went looking. I found Big Hero 6. I had never read the comic book before but I liked the story and the tone. It seemed appropriate. You can tell that they love Japanese Pop Culture and we do too. We could see that it would be a really emotional story. So I pitched it along with 5 or 6 other ideas to John Lassiter and this is the one he gravitated to.
Chris says: I so remember the day he pitched it to me. The story of him losing his older brother and having this robot surrogate brother take his place is so powerful. So awesome. I was hoping he was going to give us the green light to do the story. And he did because to John emotion is everything. It has to be funny. It has to be exciting but to John if it doesn’t have emotion then you’ve failed. And I saw it in this story. I remember responding to it. I was thrilled when a year later he asked me to join him on this project.
and here’s the Big Hero 6 trailer in case you’re not familiar with it. What? How can you not be familiar with it? Do you live in a barn?
Did you expect the response to Big Hero 6?
Don: Yeah we did. (laughs) Um, no I mean we loved Baymax as a character. We’re not that different from everyone else so we thought if we liked it and the studio likes it then others would too. Then we started rolling it out we saw it resonate with the people in the audience. That’s when we knew. Baymax as a character is something we can’t predict. He’s bigger than life. He will outlive us all. I’m just happy to be a part of this.
Chris: That legacy is something we think about a lot. We got into animation because we grew up watching Disney and wanting to do this. I love the Baymax character. I can see the lineage of Baymax going back to Dumbo and Bambi. We’re very proud of this work.
How important was the clinical psychologist that you brought in to help mold Hero’s character?
Don: It was hugely important on so many levels. We used our personal stories obviously. But we needed insight into the teen grieving process. So it was hugely helpful in that regard. It also reinforced that we’re on the right track with how we were showing it in the film. We were already doing a lot of things the social workers and psychologists were talking about. It validated our approach.
Chris: In our storyroom it’s almost sacred space. We go in there and close the doors and then talk about some of the most difficult things that happened in our lives. We deal with real in there. It shows in the story and on the film.
Whose idea was it to get Stan Lee into the movie?
Chris: Well you knew there would be something like that right?
Don: We had a desire to do that. We had sat through the Guardians of the Galaxy and watched everyone sit through the whole Howard the Duck thing. We looked at each other and had nothing. So we ran back to the Studio, finagled some more money and used only exclusive personnel. I think we had 20 people involved in it. We kept it secret from everyone. We kept it from the crew until the wrap party.
Stan Lee was 91 or 92 at the time. We had to record it at a separate lot on another sound stage. It was on the second floor so we were thinking we’d walk behind him up the stairs, no elevators, in case he fell we’d catch him. Then he pulled up outside and sprung out of the car like you’d think Stan Lee would. He was awesome. He nailed that part.
Big Hero 6 is up for an Academy Award for Best Feature Film. How has working on this been different from anything you’ve worked on to this point?
Don: Well for me it reaches into those childhood dreams and is a dream come true. There’s some incredible nominees so to even be nominated is amazing. It’s the icing on the cake.
Chris: We’ve both worked at Disney for 20 years and during that time we’ve worked on a lot of stories and every story is hard. If you’re going to do something original it’s going to be hard. I think we’d both agree this was one of the hardest. There’s a lot of different and separate elements that we had to bring together and make them make sense. The size of the characters and the size of the world were technically challenging. Then we had to reach deep for that depth of emotion we all agreed needed to be there. That was the bar we were aiming for. We had to achieve that or we weren’t doing our job. I think we achieved it. We achieved it through all the creative artists who give their time, talents and skills. We all achieved it.
Tell us about San Fransokyo.
Don: so that kind of happened after John picked Big Hero 6. We met with the Marvel people and they were like don’t worry about setting it in the Marvel universe. They told us to create our own world. We wanted to keep the Japanese aesthetic from the comic book and we wanted to keep with the Japanese Super Hero team. So we wanted to keep the Japanese aesthetic and mesh it with a big named city that people could recognize. So you’ve got Golden Gate bridge and cable cars and it’s very recognizable what city we’re in. The mash up of Disney and Marvel was just awesome. I kind of thought the city was a mash up of the Eastern and Western thing too. They played well together and created something new and yet something familiar.
Chris: And I think for our boss John Lassiter the world building was so important to the story. Part of the fun of the audience is to be told a story you’ve not heard and set it in a location that you’ve never been. I think we achieved that with San Fransokyo. I knew it would be an easy pitch. I mean John lives in San Francisco and loves Tokyo so…
What a great interview! Thanks for listening to Chris and Don share their feelings on the process of making Big Hero 6.
Keep in touch with Big Hero 6.
BIG HERO 6 (On Blu-ray and Disney HD 2/24/15)
Check out my other McFarland posts: Intro to McFarland, my first trip post of what we did and where we went and my first exclusive interview with Kevin Costner.
And my Big Hero 6 posts where I introduce the directors to you, Fresh off the Boat where we speak with the executive producer and my Bad Hair Day movie review post and interview with Leigh Allyn-Baker.