"You could see the potential for an emotional story" - Big Hero 6 director Don Hall talks to hmv.com
Big Hero 6 is the latest smash hit animation to come from the assembly line of hits over at Disney. The film tells the story of a young robotics prodigy called Hiro who sets up a group of high tech superheroes when a masked villain shows up in San Frisokoyo.
Don Hall, one half of the film’s team of directors, sat down to tell us about it...
Congratulations on the movie! I understand that you poured through masses of Marvel archives to try to come up with a new project to work on. What was it about Big Hero 6 that inspired you to pick this one?
“As directors, we’re tasked by John Lassetter to bring him stories that are going to be the next Disney feature. But we never pitch just one, we always pitch at least three. In this instance, it was six because I was so excited! This one [Big Hero 6] – I had never read the comics but I liked the title. It just intrigued me.
“I looked it up and saw it was about a Japanese superhero team and thought, ‘hey that’s pretty cool!’. I got my hands on some of the issues and really like the characters and you could tell that the creators loved Japanese pop culture – and we love that too at Disney Animation.
“Most importantly you could see the potential for an emotional story, with this fourteen year old super-genius who loses his older brother and gains this robot who essentially becomes a surrogate big brother.
“By Marvel’s standards, it was not a well-known property but it had a lot of really intriguing elements to make a great animated movie. What really attracted John to it, and myself included, was the potential for the emotional story.”
Did Marvel give you free rein to do with the story as you pleased?
“Yep. Totally. In fact, I called a meeting with their creative committee after John picked Big Hero 6. I think they were a little surprised but thought it was awesome. They were very encouraging and basically said, ‘Look, don’t worry about setting this in the Marvel Universe. You don’t have to worry about working Iron Man or Captain America in here.’ They’ve got that covered in the live action world.
“They said they were really excited to see what we do with this and told us to create our own world – and this was music to our ears. And that’s what led to San Frisokoyo.
That sounds like a great environment to work within?
“Yeah and the way animation works – at least at Disney – is very collaborative. We all work on each other’s stuff and we’ll all drop whatever we’re doing to help whoever is in the hot seat – and Chris (Williams, co-director) and I were in the hot seat on this one!
One thing that I always wonder when I look at such technologically advanced animated movies such as this one is how do you manage to strike the correct balance between the technical elements and finding an emotional resonance in the story?
“It’s hard. Our process is such, as far as the story goes, you’re iterating the whole time. We never start with a script and say, ‘Okay, it’s done! Just make that!’ We start with a script and we storyboard that and then screen it. Generally, the first time you screen your movie, it doesn’t work. It’s not expected to work.
“It’s almost like a weird scientific approach to story. You’ve got to be passionate but have enough distance to not be crushed when things don’t work. Our process allowed for you to never really get off-track too much.
“As far as the perfectness of the world, I definitely wanted a live action look to it. That said, it has to be balanced out because we’re not making a live action movie but the cinematography and so on has to be very live action by design.
With the many different people involved to make a project such as this, who did you and Chris handle the dividing of duties involved?
“Chris and I tried to stay together as much as possible to make sure that we were making the same movie. At a certain point, though, our producer felt that we needed to split off to meet different needs. We both stayed in story, so Chris went off to handle to the lighting and effects and I handled animation.
“At a certain point in production because animation was an ‘around the clock’ kind of thing, he would do some of the latter recording sessions but by that point we’d all become very familiar with the actors.
Speaking of the voice talent, what were the things you were looking for when casting Big Hero 6?
“The characters never really come alive until you cast because they’re going to add that little nuance that is specific to that actor. We had a very young cast and our casting department would bring in actors – not unlike live action. Baymax was the one I was most picky with because I had something very specific I was looking for and it wasn’t until they brought the idea of Scott Adsit to the table that I sparked to that. He came in and read and was amazing.
Is it important to you to see animation flourishing outside of the Hollywood framework?
“Yes. Don’t you think that the fact that Tomm has been nominated for two Academy Awards -- to me that is mainstream success. I think as technology advances, hopefully you’ll see a lot more smaller crews begin to make films and then you’ll get a lot more personal statements – things like that. It’ll open up the variety of what animation is. I think we’re still unfortunately pigeonholed a little bit that we’re just a kids’ medium.
“We never approach our movies like that at Disney, we feel like we’re making movies for everybody. Big Hero 6 works on an adult level and a kid level but unfortunately we’re still fighting that stigma a little. The more variety we have, and the more voices we have, is great for the medium of animation.”
Big Hero 6 is out now.