The team from Disney's Marvel Comics-inspired film Big Hero 6 gathered at Comic-Con today to explain the setting of "San Fransokyo," how Japanese infomercials informed Baymax's design, and why one character runs around in a kaiju suit. Plus, we got a peek at two clips from the film.
In today's Art of Big Hero 6 panel, producer Roy Conli, director Don Hall, production designer Paul Felix, visual effects supervison Kyle Odermatt, character designer Shiyoon Kim and visual development artist Lorelay Bove, talked about how the movie's world came together and debuted a little footage.
While Big Hero 6 is inspired by the Marvel comic of the same name, the production team was encouraged to build their own world rather than set the movie in the Marvel Universe. Because the comic book Big Hero 6 team was based in Japan, the team decided to create a setting that blended East and West—or, more specifically, Tokyo and San Francisco. Conli brought on artists like Kevin Dart and Paul Felix to mesh the visual styles of the two cities, and the production team visited Tokyo in order to find the elements that would allow them to "give San Francisco a very Japanese makeover."
The production team decided to blend the sense of history in San Francisco's architecture with the newness of Tokyo while amping up the technology to create its futuristic setting. They looked at how, in Tokyo, aesthetic details appear even in the most utilitarian aspects of a city, such as the lovely designs you'll see on manhole covers. But while some of the aesthetic is Japanese, the foundation is clearly San Francisco; they used data from the San Francisco assessor's office—detailing the buildings on each lot in the city—in order to build San Fransokyo from the ground up.
Odermatt said that he wanted nursing-robot-turned-superhero Baymax to be a robot the likes of which we have never seen before onscreen—something advanced, but also huggable. On visits to robotics departments at Harvard, MIT, and Carnegie Mellon, Odermatt encountered a healthcare robot made from inflatable vinyl. He knew he had his robotic inspiration. Kim says that Baymax's face was inspired by a pair of bells that Hall found in Japan that featured to round holes connected by a linear slit. Based on those bells, Kim wondered if Baymax could have no mouth and express himself with his eyes alone.
The animators, the panelists say, were up to the challenge and it was decided that Baymax didn't need a mouth. The animators were also asked to come up with the cutest walk possible for Baymax and presented the team with three options: a toddler walk, a toddler with a full diaper walk, and a baby penguin walk. The baby penguin won out.
Kim said that Baymax was also inspired by his own affinity for the products he's seen in Japanese infomercials. You'll see a rice cooker, he explained, and "the rice cooker is so cute and adorable, but you don't see all of the technology things inside it." By the same token, Baymax is cute and his technology relatively invisible. And Baymax has another form besides inflated robot and armored superhero; he can also roam around in a compact, wheeled carrying case.
Kim looked to his own teenage years to develop the style and body language for Hiro, our protagonist. Hiro wears a backpack filled all the way up to his neck, is permanently dressed in hoodies, and doesn't pay much attention to his hair. Kim drew a series of slice-of-life images to get a sense of Hiro's daily life, with a particular emphasis on that teenage habit of mulitasking—eating while watching TV and checking his phone and doing who-know-what-else at the same time.
The other members of the team went through various visual developments and refinements, thanks in part to Bove's fashion design efforts. One of the particularly interesting team members is Fred, who is a big fan of comics and what is, in our world, Japanese culture. That's why Fred's superhero suit is a colorful kaiju costume, in contrast to the armored outfits of his teammates.
The production team showed two clips from the movie, both highlighting the relationship between Baymax and Hiro. In the first clip, we see Hiro yelping over a stubbed toe, which prompts Baymax to inflate out of his carrier. There is a lot of great physical humor here as Baymax tries to tip-toe (or rather, tip-waddle) around Hiro's room, knocking over books as he walks. And while Hiro tries to assure Baymax that he's fine, Baymax brings up the pain scale on his chest that we saw in the Japanese trailer and tries to examine Hiro. That only causes Hiro to jump back, break a shelf, and end up trapped between his desk and his bed while really cool toys plunk down on his head.
The other key aspect to the humor is how matter-of-fact Baymax is in everything he does, whether he's diagnosing Hiro or flying through the skies of San Fransokyo. He quickly assesses that Hiro is going through puberty and brings up a diagram of the human body, warning Hiro to expect increased hair growth. We love.
In the second clip, Hiro and Baymax are in their hero suits and Hiro is riding a flying Baymax. They fly up San Fransokoyo's version of the Golden Gate (which has some nice pagoda details) and when they land atop it, Baymax comments that Hiro's neurotransmitter levels have increased. "What does that mean?" Hiro asks. "It means that my treatment is working," Baymax tells him, right before freefalling off the bridge. Naturally, he starts flying again before they hit the water.
This is a neat tour through San Fransokyo. We see the wind turbines (adorned with curling designs—functional, but also aesthetically pleasing like the Japanese manhole covers) high above the buildings as well as the buildings themselves. Hiro admires his reflection in the windows of a skyscraper and likes what he sees. So far, so do we.