The Almost-Se­cret Ori­gin of

Animation Magazine - - Features -

In a fic­tional con­struct as vast as the Mar­vel Uni­verse, even the most hard-core fan will oc­ca­sion­ally have trou­ble iden­ti­fy­ing some of the more ob­scure char­ac­ters. And Big Hero 6 was pretty ob­scure, even by comic-book stan­dards, be­fore Dis­ney plucked them from their four-color ori­gins to be­come big-screen stars.

Big Hero 6 was cre­ated as Ja­pan’s first su­per­hero team in the Mar­vel Uni­verse by writer Steven T. Sea­gle and artist Dun­can Rouleau, both of whom went on to be­come mem­bers of the an­i­ma­tion-cre­ation pow­er­house Man of Ac­tion.

Sea­gle and Rouleau had planned to de­but the char­ac­ters in the pages of Al­pha Flight #17 (Dec. 1998), but due to the odd­i­ties of comic-book pub­lish­ing, a three-is­sue minis­eries ti­tled Sun­fire and Big Hero 6 from a dif­fer­ent cre­ative team was pub­lished first.

The team at this point con­sisted of young tech wizard Hiro Takachiho; Bay­max, Hiro’s ro­bot body­guard who can trans­form into a “bat­tle-dragon mode”; hot­headed speed­stress GoGo To­mago; Honey Le­mon, who can re­trieve any item nec­es­sary from her mys­ti­cal purse; and long­time X-Men char­ac­ters Sil­ver Sa­mu­rai and Sun­fire.

The char­ac­ters reap­peared in 2008 for a five-is­sue minis­eries from long­time X-Men writer Chris Clare­mont and artist David Nakayama, in­tro­duc­ing new char­ac­ters WasabiNo Ginger and Fredzilla, who projects a gi­ant-lizard like creature, to re­place Sun­fire and Sil­ver Sa­mu­rai.

An ad­di­tional Big Hero 6 story ap­peared in the pages of The Amaz­ing Spi­der-Man: Ends of the Earth #1, pub­lished in 2012.

The film ver­sions have mor­phed sig­nif­i­cantly from the comic-book ver­sion, with Bay­max the most ob­vi­ous re­vamp­ing from a body­guard into a health-care provider. Hiro’s last name has be­come Ha­mada, while Wasabi-No Ginger be­comes just Wasabi and Fredzilla is just Fred. GoGo To­mago and Honey Le­mon ar­rived on screen rea­son­ably in­tact.

As of now, Mar­vel has an­nounced no plans for new Big Hero 6 comics and prices for the rel­a­tively rare pre­vi­ous is­sues — now long out of print — are start­ing to heat up among col­lec­tors. But if any­thing’s clear about the Mar­vel Uni­verse, it’s that noth­ing is too ob­scure to make a big splash.

— Tom McLean

Some­times, a sim­ple an­nounce­ment can make a big change. For Pa­trick Os­borne, that an­nounce­ment was an open invitation to any­one work­ing at Walt Dis­ney An­i­ma­tion Stu­dios to pitch three ideas for a short film.

“It started as this lit­tle form on the web site where you fill out three spots for three ti­tles — you have to pitch three ideas and you have to write your ti­tles in — and then you hit send and you’re in,” says Os­borne, who at the time was co-head of an­i­ma­tion on the stu­dio’s up­com­ing Big Hero 6.

That started the jour­ney to the green light­ing and pro­duc­tion of Feast, a short film about a dog, a ro­mance and food that Os­borne di­rected and will go wide at­tached in front of Big Hero 6. Com­pleted in the spring, Feast was warmly re­ceived in its world premiere at An­necy and has since been spot­lighted at fes­ti­vals such as Ot­tawa and screened in front of the sing-along ver­sion of Frozen in a re­cent limited en­gage­ment at Dis­ney’s El Cap­i­tan The­atre in Hol­ly­wood.

But first, back to that open pitch an­nounce­ment. “I thought you’d have a lit­tle bit of time after click­ing that but­ton to get your ideas a lit­tle more straight, but they called that af­ter­noon and said come up­stairs and pitch,” says Os­borne, who pre­vi­ously worked as an an­i­ma­tor on the Dis­ney short Paper­man, as well as the fea­tures Wreck-It Ralph, Tan­gled and Bolt.

After a bit of de­lay­ing, he be­gan pitch­ing his shorts ideas to the Dis­ney story trust, com­prised of direc­tors from around the stu­dio, and got a lot of feed­back be­fore even­tu­ally learn­ing his idea had gone through to chief cre­ative of­fi­cer John Las­seter.

“It ended up be­ing four months of de­lays un­til we fi­nally got to pitch to John, and then another two months of wait­ing to hear after that,” says Os­borne. “But once it hap­pened, it hap­pened fast. Once they told me the short was green­lit and I was off of Big Hero and of­fi­cially a di­rec­tor now, we were off and run­ning and in story ba­si­cally the next day.”

As for the idea it­self, it was based on visual di­ary phone apps like 1 Sec­ond Every­day, which records a one-sec­ond movie each day, re­sult­ing in a six-minute cap­sule of each year. Os­borne had done one fo­cused on meals and what they say about a mo­ment. That led to the idea of hav­ing a dog named Win­ston un­der the ta­ble at each meal to show con­trast, with the fi­nal el­e­ment be­ing the ro­mance that plays out in the film.

An­i­ma­tors As­sem­ble

This is where work­ing at Walt Dis­ney An­i­ma­tion Stu­dios shows its strengths, as Os­borne was able to as­sem­ble a core team of any­one he wanted to work on the short and even had a men­tor in the form of story veteran Jim Reardon.

“To have him around to just kind of be in meet­ings and help with the story arc is re­ally cool,” says Os­borne. “It’s daunt­ing at first, but when you re­al­ize you have all the tal­ent to help, it’s a lot eas­ier to take.”

In de­sign­ing a look for the film, Os­borne tapped as pro­duc­tion de­signer his friend Jeff Tur­ley, with whom he had been work­ing on some visual ex­per­i­ments us­ing the com­puter as less of a sim­u­la­tion tool and more of a de­sign tool.

“I’ve al­ways liked play­ing around with vi­su­als and do­ing some­thing a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent and when I was green­lit for the short I went to Jeff and said: ‘What do we want to do now? We’ve got to keep do­ing it and push it and do some­thing that looks dif­fer­ent and un­usual and in­ter­est­ing,’” says Os­borne. “And Jeff’s paint­ings are so nice that what I re­ally wanted him to do was take the essence of his de­signs and make sure we got that in ev­ery frame.”

Com­ple­ment­ing Tur­ley’s de­signs was the cam­era work, which de­vel­oped out of the idea of cut­ting as fast as you would in a visual di­ary and the shal­low depth of field com­monly used in food pho­tog­ra­phy.

“I love sweep­ing cam­era moves and it be­came clear it wasn’t a good idea to move the cam­era in this short at all un­til the end,” says Os­borne. “So it was kind of neat to hold my­self back and say we’re lock­ing down the cam­era for a lot of this un­til (Win­ston) goes on his lit­tle chase and it opens up and be­comes a lit­tle more cin­e­matic.”

De­vel­op­ing the story ended up re­quir­ing a cer­tain amount of bal­ance. The fo­cus on food with the ro­mance story oc­cur­ring at first in the back­ground are more clever ideas, mean­ing that a lot of the rest of the sto­ry­telling had to be con­ven­tional. “You can be clever about a few things and oth­ers have to be archetypes so the au­di­ence doesn’t have to be con­stantly con­cen­trat­ing and fig­ur­ing it out too much,” he says. hear back — not from John — but you start to hear back from other direc­tors that John has told them about it and you re­al­ize it’s kind of out of your hands at that point. It’s be­come every­body’s movie.”

Pro­duc­tion be­gan in Jan­uary and ended in April. “Four weeks after the short was fin­ished, we had the sound done, and we pre­miered in An­necy a week after the sound was done,” says Os­borne.

Feast’s suc­cess has it a likely con­tender for the Best An­i­mated Short Os­car, but Os­borne says he’s been grat­i­fied by the re­sponse the film has got­ten so far from au­di­ences as di­verse as An­necy to groups of school chil­dren. And he can’t wait to see it with a “real movie au­di­ence” when it’s re­leased with Big Hero 6, which Os­borne went back to work on after com­plet­ing Feast.

“I re­ally wanted to do some ac­tion-y hero stuff after spend­ing a year in a kind of emo­tional cute short,” he says. “It was fun to jump into the cli­max of the movie.”

The mem­bers of Big Hero 6, above left from right, Fred, Honey Le­mon, Hiro Ha­mada, Bay­max, GoGo To­mago and Wasabi, take on the vil­lain­ous Yokai, above. At left, Bay­max walks the streets of San Fran­sokyo.

This teaser im­age for Feast of­fered the first hint of what look di­rec­tor Pa­trick Os­borne and his crew were shoot­ing for.

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