Disney and Marvel’s Big Hero 6 was responsible for funding a large percentage of Kleenex sales when it was released last November. I’m making that guess based on how much I wept during the touching film about Hiro Hamada, his group of brave and smart friends, and his robot Baymax. The story was dynamic, funny, and inspiring and oh hey, it was packed with stunning art and animation. When I saw “Big Hero 6: The Art of the Story” on the schedule for WonderCon, I knew I couldn’t miss it. Disney story artists Normand Lemay and Brian Kesinger took us behind the scenes and showed us how Big Hero 6 came to life.
Lemay and Kesinger approached the panel creatively. They didn’t just go down a whole list of steps from A to Z. I mean, come on, they’re Disney artists. They came prepared with an illustrated, animated presentation that was amusing and cute but also educational. Their enthusiasm and style made the panel my favorite of the entire convention.
Though I’ve read about the story development process for both Disney and Pixar, I hadn’t learned about it from the perspective of a story artist. The graphics showed how Big Hero 6 went from storyboards (while explaining how the concept of storyboarding goes back to Walt Disney working on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) to the first screening to the final cut. It wasn’t an exhaustive explanation of making an animated film, but they hit the highlights and the process was fascinating. After storyboarding and the first screening, many of the steps go through a rinse and repeat cycle that refines the narrative. I thought of it as sifting a pile of sand over and over again until only the finest grains remain.
Lemay and Kesinger noted that the screenings are key milestones along the road of development. Roughs or finished sequences are cut together with music, sound effects, and voices, and then shown in a theater to progressively bigger groups. Kesinger noted that Big Hero 6 was extra special because Marvel was involved. During the feedback session after one screening, they had John Lasseter from Disney on one side of the table and Joe Quesada and Jeph Loeb from Marvel on the other side. It was two kinds of storytelling coming together.
Before they wrapped up the panel with audience questions (no, they haven’t heard about a Big Hero 6 sequel or television series), Lemay and Kesinger shared two unfinished sequences that didn’t make it into the film. They presented the scenes to the audience just like they’d present them to their co-workers during screenings, and yes, it is as fun as it sounds. Plus, the first sequence by Kesinger hadn’t been shown anywhere before. It depicted a fight between Baymax and Yokai in the San Fransokyo streets and had so many hilarious moments. It opened with Baymax being tagged with spray paint by hoodlums and saying, “Creative expression can be very therapeutic.” Best.
Fingers crossed that Disney continues to present this type of panel for its future films.