The Almost-Secret Origin of
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.
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.”