BIG HERO 6 Directors Don Hall and Chris Williams

Big Hero 6 is one of those movies that is just great.  Funny, heartwarming and now up for 6 Academy Awards, and coming out on Blu-ray and DVD, it’s always fun to chat to the ones that take the movie very personally.  Before those characters even have a voice, they are an idea, and Directors Don Hall and Chris Williams sat down and talked a bit about that process and about how they are proof that dreams do come true!

Directors Don Hall and Chris Williams
Directors Don Hall and Chris Williams


BIG HERO 6 Directors Don Hall and Chris Williams

What a fun project to take part in, how did you get involved?

Don:  Well, I was born 45 years ago. (ha ha)  So I was finishing up “Winnie the Pooh”, started thinking about my next project and John Lasseter, you know, he always asks the Directors to start with, what are you passionate about?  And I started thinking about it and as a kid, I loved Disney Animation.  Obviously that’s what brought me here, but I also loved Marvel Comics and it’s really where I learned to draw and tell stories and I’m not unique by the way.  I mean, the entire Studio pretty much has that same story.  I just happened to be the guy who brought it to the forefront.  And so I pitched John that idea and he got super excited and said go find something.  It was that simple.  It was a 5 minute conversation.  And so I just made lists of stuff that I thought would be cool and I came across “Big Hero 6” having never read the Comic, I just liked the title, you know.  I saw it on their website.  I researched it further and it was a Japanese Super Hero team.  I thought that that was cool.  And then I read the Comics and it’s like I thought the tone was appropriate.  It was lighthearted, the characters are fun.  They had goofy names and you could tell the creators just loved Japanese Pop Culture, and that’s what they were trying to infuse into the super hero story, which we did too.  I mean, we love Japanese Pop Culture, but not only that,most importantly, you could see there could be an emotional story.  Uh, about this 14 year old super genius who loses his brother and this robot who becomes his surrogate big brother.  So I pitched it along with about 5 or 6 other ideas to John and this is one he gravitated towards and said go.

Big Hero 6

Chris:  And I remember so vividly the day that Don first pitched Big Hero 6 to myself and the other directors at Disney and when he talked about this and at that stage, you’re not pitching the whole story.  You’re pitching just a seed of an idea and when he talked about this main character, who was gonna lose his brother, who was gonna be left with his (brother’s) creation, this surrogate older brother, it was so powerful, and I thought man, that’s great.  And I really hoped John would give it a greenlight.  And he did because for John, emotion is everything.  You know what I mean, like it has to be funny, it has to be exciting, and you have to have thrilling action scenes.  But if it doesn’t have that core emotion, then you’ve failed. And uh, so I saw it in this story and really, I feel like the last 3 and a half years has been about realizing that potential that Don laid out in that pitch.  And I remember it so, I remember where it was in the hall, I just remember really responding to it.  So I was then thrilled when a year or so later, Don asked me to join him.

It must feel great to feel the success of “Big Hero 6”?

Don:  We’re very fortunate because we’re always the first audience, you know.  And so we were won over by Baymax as a character and the film subsequently.  And so you always feel like ok if I’m not that different from everybody else and if we like it and our studio likes it, hopefully everybody will.  And then once we started rolling it out and sat in the audience and listened to him laugh and gasp and cry, then it started to hit us that ok, it seems to be resonating with people. And Baymax as a character, that is something you can’t predict.  That a character will blow up a bit.  I didn’t mean to do that. That a character will get that, just resonate like that with people and worldwide, you know.  It’s just resounding. It’s pretty cool.  Uh, cause he’ll, you know, outlive all of us, and to have, contributed a character like that to sort of the Disney legacy is pretty cool.


Chris:  And that legacy is something we think about a lot.  We got into animation because we fell in love with the Disney when we were kids and I loved the Baymax character.  That was definitely my in to the film, and then I’m really proud of the dynamic between Hiro and Baymax and I definitely the lineage from Baymax all the way back to Bambi and Dumbo and Pinocchio and these kind of characters that have this purity and this sweetness to them.  I always respond to those kind of characters that they’re a big part of the Disney heritage.  And so yeah, it is an overwhelming idea sometimes, and for us that we are part of this group that’s helping to carry that legacy forward.  But here we are.  We’re very proud of the movie.

Big Hero 6

How important was the clinical psychologist that you brought in to mold Hiro’s character?

Don:  It was hugely important on a couple of different levels.  Because you know, and we always start with our personal story, especially when you’re dealing with something as personal as loss so you know, the conversations in the story room would always be more personal stories so you always start there because that’s your only experience.  I did some reading very early on about loss and grief and watched “Ordinary People.”  And when we did bring in the clinical psychologist, and then a child psychologist later, it did two things; it gave us a new insight into specifically teen loss, but it also reinforced that we’re on the right track cause a lot of things she talked about and her social worker friends talked about, we were already doing in the film.  So in a sense, it kind of validated our approach and also gave us some new insight.

Chris:  It is amazing in our story room how generous and open people are and how vulnerable they allow themselves to be.  The story room for us is a really sacred space.  We come in there, we close the door, and then people are very open and respectful.  And people will talk about some of the most difficult moments of their lives, you know, and since we were telling a story about the character who’s dealing with loss and we wanted to be true to that experience.  And that’s one of the things I’m most struck by is we don’t want to be driven.  We want to talk about our own experiences and that’s certainly helped us a lot with this film.

Whose idea was it to get Stan Lee into the Movie?

Don:  Yeah, we had a desire to do that.  I have to say though it, we kind of back burnered it.  I mean, we pushed this about as far as you could push, as far as right up to the deadline.  Like when you say it’s ripped out of our hands, I mean, it was really ripped out of our hands.  But we both went to go see “Guardians of the Galaxy” and I think it was August when it came out.  And by this point the film was animated and we’re finishing it up, doing some stuff, and we both had a very similar reaction when we came in on Monday morning.  And it was sort of panic cause it was like Oh My God, nobody left the theater.  We stayed for the entire “Guardians of the Galaxy” and everybody stayed through the credits for the Howard the Duck scene.  And we weren’t doing that.  We didn’t have one.  And so we both came in on Monday morning a little panicked, and so we just had a quick conversation and I think we always thought that it would be funny to do something with Fred and his dad.  You know, that felt like kind of areas that we hadn’t explored yet.  And so Chris went away and story boarded and wrote that little tag.  And we pulled our producer in, who at this point there are no animators left on the show.  It was hey we need a little money for this.  So can you finagle something and so we had a couple of car washes and put together some people and the most amazing thing about this sequence we kept it from the crew.  We took just essential personnel.  We had I think a team of maybe 20 people and sworn to secrecy.  We all had code names.  It was on its own server, like so that people couldn’t snoop around and find it.  And we actually managed to pull that off.  We actually managed to keep it a secret from the crew until the wrap party.  They didn’t know and it was awesome.

Chris:  You know, we always had the Stan Lee in the painting that we passed by.  That was a given.  That was gonna be in there.  But yeah, it wasn’t until very late in the game that we decided we needed to do more.  And yeah, it was really great and it meant that we, if ever so briefly, got to meet and work with Stan Lee.

Don:  Bask in the glory.

Chris:  That was pretty awesome.

Big Hero 6 up for an Academy Award, Best Feature Film.  How has working on this been different from anything else you’ve ever worked on?

Don:  Well for me, I don’t know.  It just reaches back into those childhood loves and, I mean, it sounds trite but it is sort of a dream come true, to be able to do a movie like this and then to have it be recognized by people.  I mean, that sort of the icing on the cake.  So yeah, we’re thrilled, and especially considering the field of other nominees.  I mean, there’s a lot of animated films this year and they’re all really, really good.  So it’s just an incredible feeling.

Chris:  We have both worked at Disney Animation for about 20 years and I’ve worked on a lot of movies and every story’s hard.  You know, it’s just the way it is.  They’re meant to be.  If you’re gonna do something original, then it’s gonna be hard.  This one I think we would agree was the most challenging story we’ve ever worked on.  I think there’s a lot of disparate elements that we brought together and had to make sense together and it was just really ambitious.  I think the size of the number of characters, the size of the world technically, it was incredibly challenging.  But I think there was also a choice made form the very beginning that there, we were gonna attempt to reach a depth of emotion with this film that was gonna be pretty deep.  And we knew that was the bar we were aiming for, and we had to achieve that or again, we wouldn’t have done our jobs.  And so I think that we managed it and again, it’s not process, it’s not Don and I and a crew that works with us.  We work with hundreds of really talented artists who are so invested and they give everything they have, and they give years of their creative lives to this one thing.  And so we achieved it with them and I’m really proud of what ultimately came together.


BIG HERO 6 (On Blu-ray and Disney HD 2/24/15)

*I was part of a press conference to cover the release of Big Hero 6 on Blu-ray and DVD that all expenses were covered by Disney.  All opinions are my own.
Trippin with Tara
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