The first in the series of our Big Hero 6 interviews, features Directors Chris Williams and Don Hall, and Producer Roy Conli, where we discuss childhood superheroes, the official brother summit, and the inspiration behind the latest action-packed comedy-adventure from Walt Disney Studios and the team behind “Frozen”, “Tangled”, and “Wreck It Ralph,”. Follow #BigHero6 for more interviews and behind the scenes information celebrating this great movie's upcoming release Nov. 7th, 2014.
Interview: Big Hero 6 Directors Chris Williams and Don Hall, Producer Roy Conli
Q: This story is super loosely based on the comic, were you guys comic fans when you were growing up and what comic really inspired you.
Don Hall: I loved comic books and Disney animation as a kid, as does everybody, so it was a dream project to actually be able to take both these things and combine them in to one thing. I kind of followed artists actually, and when an artist would go on to a new book that's what I'd follow. I always liked Captain America, but I also loved John Bynre's version of Fantastic Four.
Fantastic Four is similar to what we're doing here, and a lot of the early Marvel stuff had that sort of humorous vent to it, and it's all character based. Fantastic Four specifically, where you have this district group of personalities trying to be superheroes and live together, fighting, and the conflicts arise when people with different personalities are put in a room, that was to me, when I think about early Marvel, that's kind of what I felt that John Byrne picked up with Fantastic Four in the early 80's.
Chris Williams: I'm not as well versed in comic lore as Donny is, but as a kid I loved to draw, and so if I found a comic book with art that I like then I would pick that up. Actually Joe Cougar was an artist that I really loved as a kid, and I still aspire to draw like him. I was a big fan of his.
Roy Conli: Thor. [Laughter] I think it's the hammer. That's why I became a producer. [Laughter]
Q: Did you ever consider sticking to the story of the comic book, rather than writing an original story?
Don Hall: Not necessarily. It wasn't like we were all “We're gonna change everything.”, it happened in little steps. We inquired about the project because I like the title, found out it was a Japanese super hero team and got even more intrigued, actually read the comics and got really intrigued. When we met with Marvel and said we wanted to do Big Hero 6 they loved it, and said don't worry about setting it in Marvel Universe. They said do your own thing with it, use your own creativity to create your own world.
So then we created San Fransokyo, right off the bat, what's the world we're dealing with here? We love fantasy, I think we do fantasy really well, so we wanted to create a fantasy world which is what led to this mash-up of San Fransokyo. And then from there, we kinda of extrapolated from there.
I guess my long-winded way of what I'm saying, is that a lot of these little decisions took us farther away from what was essentially the comic book. In the comic book, if my memory serves, it was kind of like the Avengers where they recruited super power beings and it was a government sanctioned super hero team kind of thing, and so ours took on, just by the nature of how we crafted and iterated it, a very different sort of aesthetic.
Roy Conli: Don't we have enough of that?!? [Laughter]
Chris Williams: One thing about our process is, no matter what story you think you're going to tell when you start out it's ,going to be something else by the end. Three years later it's going to be something else, because of our iterative process, because we're allowed to learn, and experiment, and try things and make changes, that's just the way it is, so it was always fated to be that way.
Don Hall: Duncan Rulow, who's one of the co-creators of the original comic, just saw Big Hero 6 in New York and loved it. He really was touched and thrilled to see this thing he created with Steven Segal blossom into this. We got street cred! [Laughter]
Q: How much did the characters change, if at all, once the voices were attached to them.
Chris Williams: Well, I don't know about changed, I'd say became clearer and more well-defined. That always happens. That always happens in these movies where we'll be writing the character and doing scratch acting, and it really isn't until you cast that character that they go from this kind of…
Don Hall: A theory of, we kind of see where you're going to…
Chris Williams: Oh that's the character, and you absolutely know them. It just becomes crystal clear. Genesis, when we brought Genesis in, just getting to know her and see where she was going with it, then we could write to her version of Honey Lemon, and the same with everybody else.
Roy Conli: Damon (Wayans Jr.) is a good example, he was a little bit of a germaphobe to begin with, and then we made him a precision freak. Things just kind of alter.
Chris Williams: The Wasabi character is the one that evolved the most, and changed the most because of the actor. He (Damon Wayans Jr.) has a very particular style of comedy, and we found ourselves bending the character towards that style because we knew he was a perfect complement to the other actors, and so that was one character that changed quite a bit over the construction of the story.
Q: Did you ever have second thoughts about killing Tadashi?
Chris Williams: No, that was part of the original pitch.
Don Hall: Yeah. It was core, absolutely. A non-removable absolute that we were going to kill Tadashi. This is a movie about loss, that meant stake in the ground his brother was going to die, and our character was going to go through the phases of grief, get lost in it a little bit, and get healed by this robot. That was the story.
Chris Williams: If anything over the course of creating the story, I remember at one point we thought we veered to far away from taking on the loss directly and that Tadashi's death had almost become incidental, and that wasn't good. It needed to be critical to the story, and so we steered back, and we knew we were never afraid of taking on deep emotion on a difficult subject matter. It's part of the Disney history going back to Bambi, Dumbo, these movies that impacted us as kids. Bambi's the movie that told me my parents were going to die, what's more powerful than that, but if you can do it artfully, if you have something to say about it, that's what Disney is. I'm really proud and almost a little overwhelmed by the thought that we are a small part of carrying that legacy forward.
Q: Most of Disney's background is you lose somebody, you don't talk about it, you just deal with the loss that happened afterwards to the character. You guys actually went through the stages of his grief. Was there any research involved in that, and how carefully did you try to stick to that?
Don Hall: I've read the Kübler-Ross, the seven stages of grief, and at a key point in the movie we actually sought out some grief experts, some social workers actually that deal with teenagers and teen loss, specifically teen loss. It was after a screening, and we brought them in to talk about the movie and get some insight into their take on it and what they go through, and the stories they had to tell us. We learned some stuff through that, but I also remember feeling validated in the approach that we were taking, that we were on the right path. A lot of the stories they told, we could see echoes on how we were handling Hiro's grief.
Chris Williams: And I think the first thing that Donny brought up is really critical. We spent a lot of time talking about our own life experiences, and if we're going to take on a story about loss we're going to talk about our own loss. We would sit in a room, and talk about the best things that ever happened to us, the worst things that ever happened to us, and you end up leaving yourself pretty emotionally bare to your coworkers and that is almost a requirement, to get to the truth of what it is to lose somebody and to really understand these experiences.
Roy Conli: What was really cool was at the very beginning when you (Chris Williams) first started, before I was on, before anyone was on, he (Chris Williams) had a brother summit.
Chris Williams: I did. I have a sister, I don't have a brother, so I wanted to make sure…
Roy Conli: He basically put out a A.P.B. for anyone that has a brother at 4 o'clock today, there will be beer, come talk. [Laughter]
Chris Williams: We had to sweeten it a bit, we had to add the beer.
Roy Conli: It was amazing. I have two brother, and you (Don hall) have a brother…
Don Hall: I have a brother, I was not there, but…
Chris Williams: I remember Roy being there, and part of me felt like I was a therapist all of a sudden. I'm there with a ledger pad, and I'm taking notes, I found my posture even being relaxed (leans back in chair), it was great. It was so cool.
Roy Conli: It's so important to the film, that brotherhood thing is so important to the film. Getting to that root, and with Daniel Henney and Ryan Potter together, they are such great brothers. They're such great brothers.
About Big Hero 6
Big Hero 6 is directed by Chris Williams and Don Hall, produced by Roy Conli, and features the talent of Ryan Potter (voice of “Hiro Hamada”), Scott Adsit (voice of “Baymax”), Damon Wayans Jr. (voice of “Wasabi”), T.J. Miller (voice of “Fred”), Genesis Rodriguez (voice of “Honey Lemon”), Jamie Chung (voice of “Go Go Tomago”). Big Hero 6 opens in theaters everywhere Nov. 7th, 2014.