How A Marvel Comic Became A Disney Blockbuster
I attended an all expenses paid press trip to LA with Disney and ABC Television. Any and all opinions expressed are my own.
Big Hero 6 opened this weekend in theaters everywhere and it’s already number one at the box office and if you’ve seen any of the previews then you know what it is and will be a blockbuster for Disney. While in LA this past week I had the opportunity to walk the red carpet for the Big Hero 6 Premiere as well as attend a special press day with all the bloggers. One of the opportunities I had was sitting down with the directors of Big Hero 6 – Don Hall & Chris Williams. They were amazing and had lots to share with us about how a Marvel comic became a Disney blockbuster.
Don Hall and Chris Williams walked into the room to a rousing round of applause, surprised they walked to the front of the room and looked at all of us with smiles on their faces – they gave us the “all this for me?’ look and took their seats. They asked the first question and it was “how did you like the movie?” A simple question and one you could tell they asked out of a sense of pride in the work they had done. Kind of like when you make a great dinner for your family and you ask if they liked the meal because you want to make sure they are satisfied. That’s how they asked, they truly want to make sure that people going to see the movie leave feeling like they got all they came for and in this case I’m certain they will and even more. These guys were both amazingly humble and great to talk with.
The first question was for Don; what attracted you to the story of Big Hero 6, being that it’s sort of small-publishing in the comic book world? He responded by saying he liked that the comic was somewhat small in the world of comics. He jokes that there are a few small comics and when ever he says that sentence everyone always says “What were the other ones?” – he doesn’t remember them all but he says “We never pitched one idea. We pitched a few, at least three. And this was like five or six. What originally attracted me to Big Hero 6 was just the title. It just sounded interesting. And then I researched it a little bit more. I saw the Japanese superhero theme, thought that was super cool, and then read the books and you know, I was really struck by the characters.” He went on to say that he felt like all the characters were just so fun and appealing. They had goofy names, like Honey Lemon, and you could tell that the creators loved Japanese pop culture, and that’s why they did the book. They wanted to take their love of anime, and all things Japanese, and infuse that with a sort of Marvel superhero story. So, I love that. Most of all we could see amidst all of that there was en emotional story, about a 14-year old super genius who loses his big brother, and his robot that becomes a surrogate big brother and heals him. So it had all of these elements, but, even then, it still was, to me, a dark horse.
The next question came from Twitter: what was the biggest change from the initial script to the final cut of the movie?
Don responded first, while Chris thought of his answer by saying “Biggest change? Well, I know that one — it may not be the biggest. One thing that just comes to mind is that Baymax became more central, than how he really started — we sort of realized that when he is driving the story, and driving the plot it really helps. And he became a real interesting character in uniting the sort of ‘boy and his robot’ story and the superhero origin story.” Chris chimed in saying “Yeah, but I don’t know if it’s the biggest. I think it’s the most significant because, up to that point Hiro was really driving it. Which makes sense. You’d want the protagonist driving the story. But the story wasn’t coming together, and it didn’t come together, until we put Baymax front and center, and it really took — take that idea that he wants to heal him and put it in the forefront and make it really proactive, as opposed to you know, being reactive. Because, before, he was really reactive to Hiro and he just followed Hiro around. He was always a great character, but when you’d put him front and center and make him proactive, he’s the one engaging a lot.
More from the interview: Don also added that the scene on the wind turbine after that first flight scene. That really kinetic scene where they’re flying through the city. The scene where it’s just the two of them sitting on the wind turbine above the clouds — that really sort of sweet scene — was a very late addition, but that’s the way we worked. We keep sort of questioning our assumptions and keep challenging the story. And we realized there was something missing that’s when we added that scene, and it really solidified the relationship, it helped us understand then how much they were invested. How much they loved each other. We became invested in their relationship, and that was a fairly late addition, and so I am really proud of that scene.
Question: Did you study any specific Marvel action scenes from the movies to inspire any of the scenes from this movie?
Chris responded first saying “I can’t say we did. Well. I wouldn’t say we studied, but we’d seen the movies so many times that we’re all just big geeks, so, we probably knew them more than we should. We definitely wanted to do right by the action part of it, but the emotional story is the most emotional thing, you know? We also felt that there was going to be an expectation that the action scenes had to be pretty awesome. And, not only that, but they had to have a different personality.”
More from the interview: Chris shared that he loved the fact that they’re all very different. He even shared some of his memorable scenes from the movie like the car chase is kind of just fun and thrilling. The scene we call it monster, but it’s the face-off where who Yokai is, that one is tragic. You know? And then the battle at the end it’s just, all hands on deck and the one in the warehouse, that was creepy but comedic.
Question: Who your favorite character is in the movie, and why, the both of you?
Chris chimed in first saying “We should probably disqualify Baymax. Yeah. That’s too [LAUGHTER] easy — I guess for me, I identify a lot with Fred. He’s really a dork and a geek and all just, you know, into monster movies and sci-fi. I mean, I don’t have the collection that Fred does. There are moments, I guess, for Fred, during the superhero shenanigans part of it, I keep remembering the feeling that I had when I was a kid and we played superhero, and I had the trash can lid for a Captain America shield. You’re in a building full of Freds here.” Don added that he really liked Wasabi, he said “Damon, he really performed that character. That character probably changed the most after we cast Damon. Yeah. We kind of had an idea of what that character was going to be, but Damon comes in, and he has this really great comedic skill set that really guided us.”
More from the interview: When asked about the scenery for the movie Chris and Don shared that they really wanted to push that with this movie. So they had some rules that governed their art direction, which were, simple characters on a complex background. And so they knew that, man, we’re gonna just pack in everything – there’s more detail in this movie than in our last three movies. They gave the credit to our production designer, Paul Felix and their art director of environment, Scott Watanabe, who they felt shared the burden of how to integrate all of this, the Japanese stuff, into San Francisco?
Question: The technology in the film is not only futuristic, but it’s kind of ultra-modern. Is that based on anything? Did you guys work with a science team?
“Yes, and yes. If you watch the credits, you’ll see, ‘Thank you, science.’ There’s so many people that we brought in, because we do all extensive research. So, yeah, there were scores of roboticists that consulted on the movie, and that research trip, that gave us Baymax, but then there was a guy I met on that research trip, Dr. Tom Wagner, who was from I, Robot. He became a kind of consultant on the film early on.” stated Chris. Don talked about how fast technology was moving in today’s world, “to make a movie where you’re trying to deal with the latest cutting-edge technology. One of the challenges is, the actual stuff is moving so quickly, we have to make sure we get our movie out ahead of it. I think we managed it.” – Don Hall.
Did You Know?: when the team started doing research on the technology they wanted to include in the movie they thought they were bending the rules with telekinesis but they learned that researchers were already working on ways to incorporate telekinesis into technology.
Question: Is there a message that you are trying to send about the emotional relationship between a boy and his robot, compared to, nowadays, its people and technology, and their SmartPhone?
It didn’t take Don long to respond by saying “We were thinking of Baymax more of a character than as a robot, ultimately, and his role in the emotional story. And primarily, we were thinking of this as a story about loss, and the idea that Baymax would be a surrogate big brother, helping Hiro with his loss of his brother.” This is a very emotional story. They kept circling the idea of trying to show that when you lose someone you love they can still live on in you through your actions. Hiro needed Baymax to help him finally come to that realization, that although he lost his brother he is still there with him.
By the end of the interview we were laughing and talking with these guys like we’ve known them for ages. They make you feel that comfortable and they are that humble. Even with another blockbuster hit on their hands they just loved talking about this movie and how they worked to bring it to life. Three years later we all get to enjoy the fruits of their labor and honestly I have to say it’s a fantastic movie. Earlier in the interview Chris talked about how much the movie changes over and over with all the different pitches they make. The story evolves so much he said, he was excited about talking with the creators of the original comic book at the LA premiere the night before and they shared how much they loved the movie. “I felt like, well, okay, if the creators of the original comic book love this movie, then hopefully I think we did something right by them.” With a seal of approval I think both these guys can be certain they not only did great by the creators but they all the old and new fans of Big Hero 6.
Be sure to read my review of Big Hero 6 and check out all my other posts from my trip including my drawing demonstration, directors of Feast interview, Disney Infinity 2.0 and Big Hero 6 consumer products you’ll want to get for the holidays. Also connect with Big Hero 6 online and on social media below.
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