Marvel comic turned 3D animation «Big Hero 6» began production in 2012, and since then its health-monitoring robot has come a little closer to reality thanks to wearables and health apps. But unlike an app, Baymax the robot cares, looking after prodigy Hiro’s physical and emotional well-being after his brother Tadashi’s tragic death. Directors Don Hall («Winnie the Pooh») and Chris Williams («Bolt») talk about compassionate health care, drawing, and their favorite apps.
The thing that struck me most about the film is how much Baymax replicates the experience of Apple HealthKit and even the health and fitness functionality we’re anticipating from the Apple Watch.
Don Hall: Baymax’s whole health care persona came out of a Carnegie Mellon study about applying soft robotics to the health care industry . Also, I really like the idea that we can have these robots help us out when we need it. And the idea of his being an app is a really interesting idea. But technology is advancing faster than we can keep up with it, and even now with the Nike+, they’re keeping track of our vital signs and encouraging us to exercise more. So there’s a rudimentary health care app idea already in the ether, and who knows where it’s going to go.
Chris Williams: There’s definitely a future in it, because a lot of the people who’ve seen the movie say they want a Baymax, because he seems to actually care. He’s not just a bunch of numbers, not just readings, or a cold bit of advice. He seems to genuinely care about his patients, so I think that’s what we responded to — this thing that seems to genuinely care about my well-being. I don’t know if there’s an app for that, but there will be someday.
It’s interesting how Baymax is supposed to epitomize health, yet his appearance is reminiscent of an even rounder Michelin Man.
Don Hall: When we were researching, we realized that it’s a big stigma. These health care robots started in Japan, and the way they designed them is very similar to how we designed Baymax — very simple and appealing — but they’re not as large as Baymax. But we wanted them to be very nonthreatening and huggable. His shape came out of that idea of not wanting to scare a patient or scare a little kid. So, looking like you just want to wrap your arms around his bigger belly, it never occurred to me that it might read as an out-of-shape person. He is a robot without a mouth, so there’s no overeating. Height-wise, we made him the same height as Tadashi, because they’re mirrors of each other.
As co-directors, how did you divide your workload?
Chris Williams: There’s a lot of overlap, because we’ve both been storyboard artists for quite some time. We’ve known each other for almost 20 years, so we knew we’d spent a lot of time in the story room together, so only when the schedule became too much and we needed two bodies in different places did we split up. Don focused on the animation side, and I focused more on the lighting and effects side, but then we brought it back together as soon as we could.
Do you two use apps as part of your directing work?