Producer Roy Conli talks about the creation of Disney’s Big Hero 6

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Having produced the hit Tangled, and been part of the team behind Wreck-It Ralph and the sensation that is Frozen, Roy Conli is part of Disney’s incredible track record from the last few years. His latest effort sees him serving as the Producer for Big Hero 6 – which was released in Australian cinemas today (read the review HERE).

Earlier in the year, Conli visited Australia to present a special screening of the film and gave us some insight into the making of the film, as well as the changes at the studio that led to this run of quality films, following what was essentially a good decade of unremarkable exercises. For this, he says we have Pixar’s John Lasseter to thank, who has overseen all of Walt Disney Animation Studios productions since 2007 – not long after Disney purchased the iconic animation studio.

“John Lasseter helped mature the studio,” said Conli, “He has created a culture at Disney where if you don’t like something, you say it.” He pointed to Lasseter’s “story trust” as instrumental in making the latest run of films happen, as well as what’s coming next. He also emphasised one specific mantra the company now live by: Never underestimate kids.

And indeed, Big Hero 6 does not. It deal with heavy themes, straddles the line of humour between kids and adults with ease and creates a universe that is as entertaining as it is as beautiful to look at. Conli talked about the origins of the film, an obscure comic book series of the same name by Marvel – who Disney now own, along with Pixar. The film’s co-Director Don Hall started forming the idea at the time Disney purchased Marvel, noting his desire to bring the two brands together through a new animated project. Seeking “ultimate freedom” through one of Marvel’s more obscure brands, he found Big Hero 6, which was first released with 6 issues in 1996 and then another 6 in 2004.

Given Marvel’s current “Cinematic Universe”, the goal was to embed the film in the Disney Universe, rather than Marvel’s, and with the blessing of the people behind the original comic, they went to work on to rework the story for the big screen in what is the first Disney animated feature utilising Marvel characters (and unlikely to be the last). Conli describes the collaboration as bringing “the DNA from Marvel into a Disney animation”.

As Conli detailed, they made plenty of changes from the source material. Firstly, they moved the story from Japan into a make believe city – San Fransokyo, an amalgamation of the best of Tokyo with the hills and the atmosphere of San Francisco. This universe was one of the most detailed that Disney had ever created, and brought East and West together in a way we probably haven’t seen since Blade Runner (we promise there’s more colour in this vision though…). To create this level of detail, real locations were used from both cities as a point of reference, all the way to the house our protagonist Hiro lives in with his aunt, brother and… robot.

New technologies were created and implemented by Disney to engineer the city, which features 83,000 buildings, 100,000 cars of 15 styles, 215,000 street lights… the list goes on. To create a level of realism for all this detail, Conli pointed in particular to their new Hyperion production renderer, which controlled – among other things – the level of light bounce that allowed them to increase the realism, particularly for the character of Baymax (pictured at the start of this article). Another program, Denizen, allowed them to populate crowds in the city with more than 700 characters.

As for Baymax, his character was based around real robotics, with the team undertaking months of research into soft robotics for medical care to create a robot that is actually plausible from a technical point of view. His walk, meanwhile, was primarily based around that of a baby penguin and he was one of the film’s major inventions, having not been a health care robot in the original comics. Conli explained that they realised after early screenings of the film that “…we needed (Baymax) to drive the story, with the sense that he is actually healing (Hiro)…” He also pointed to some of the more frightening scenes in the film, saying how Baymax gave the writers room to balance that with humour and heart.

But in spite of the changes between comic and screen, Conli insisted that “the writers (of the original) felt that it stayed true to the spirit of their comic… both are stories about smart kids who make things…” And with his proven track record, we’re inclined to believe him.

Big Hero 6 is in Australian cinemas today.

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Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.

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