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Creating Baymax, the huggable star of Disney's Big Hero 6
Baymax is big, he’s soft, and he’s very huggable. Which is quite amazing when you look at the robot Baymax originated from, a mechanical, Godzilla-like beast that started life in the Big Hero 6 comic series from Marvel. My expectations? Baymax toys and plushies under every Christmas tree all over the world this year. But how did the people at Disney come up with this marvelous creation anyway?
One day, Disney animation chief John Lasseter gave movie director Don Hall (Winnie the Pooh), the go ahead to look through Marvel’s archive of comic book characters, to see if there were any characters they could turn into an animated movie. What he came up with was’t one of the bigger name heroes the whole world knows and loves, but instead he pulled something unknown called Big Hero 6 out of the crates. “I’d never heard of it, and I was a big comic-book nerd,” Hall told The Telegraph in an interview.” “I liked the title – I thought it sounded cool – and a Japanese superhero team, well, that’s cool too. Then I read the comics, and the tone was light, and I thought OK, we can do something with this.” Hall took the original story and turned it upside down, coming up with a tale about 14 year old robotics-genius called Hiro, who one day uncovers a conspiracy and teams up with his friends to take on this threat. One of his friends is a robot his older brother designed for Hiro, right before he perished in a suspicious fire.
This robot, Baymax, is a health care robot, designed to take care of and provide for Hiro, who can use somebody like that now that his older brother is gone. So the idea was never to create a battle ready robot like the one in the comic, instead they wanted one more, well, soft and huggable. The creators of the movie toured several technology institutes in America, also to have a look at all the new inventions that would be coming in the next five to ten years. As the movie takes place in the near future, the Hall and his co-creators wanted to fill the movie with believable technology. One of the things he ran into is a new material used to build robots. No hard steel and flashing lights, but instead a soft material that would be perfectly suited for a robot built to take care of people. “If you’re actually going to touch someone, you need to be safe and soft,” said Chris Atkeson, professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon, which was one of the institutes that Hall visited.
And so Baymax is now a robot whose limbs are covered in inflatable vinyl. As you can see in the trailer of the movie, the inflatable vinyl isn’t even that strong. And really, Baymax is a big softy in character as well. His relationship with Hiro is integral to the movie, maybe even more so that the action and superheroics. For this, Hall was inspired by the work of Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanese director of wonderful movies like My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away. “When I studied animation at college, there were these things called Hayao Miyazaki movies which would get passed around on VHS tapes, and they were just mind-blowing,” Hall told the Tribune. “I was always struck by how dynamically staged the action scenes were, but there’s also a sentimentality and a stillness that we wanted to capture.”
A toddler with a full nappy
To add to this, they gave Baymax a walk that was inspired by the softest thing they could come up with: A toddler with a full nappy. All these elements turn Baymax into something really special. Of course, later on in the movie, when the action heats up, Hiro builds a harnas for Baymax to turn him into the fighting machine he was never meant to be. But beneath the hard shell is still one of the most endearing robots movie lovers have ever seen.