INTERVIEW: “Big Hero 6: The Series” Director Nick Filippi – Animation Scoop

INTERVIEW: “Big Hero 6: The Series” Director Nick Filippi

Disney’s Big Hero 6 won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2015. Big Hero 6: The Series gets its launch this Monday November 20th at 8pm on Disney Channel and Disney XD with the one-hour movie “Baymax Returns.” Animation veteran Nick Filippi is the series’ executive producer and supervising director.

Jackson Murphy: “Baymax Returns” picks-up immediately after the end of the movie. So how soon after the film was released were there talks about turning this film into a TV series?

Nick Filippi: It was actually discussed right around the release of the film – actually right after it came out. My co-producers Mark McCorkle and Bob Schooley were contacted, they were here already at Disney, and a discussion came up about ‘hey – how would you guys feel about pursuing this project?’ And they were very excited about it. When they told me, I got very excited about it.

At that point it was like: what would be our angle? What would we do to continue the story of these characters. It’s all about the characters and how they relate to each other – the story of Hiro and his relationship with Baymax. What could we do? Everybody loves these characters. We want to continue with these characters. What would be the compelling arc for this story?

JM: And you’re no stranger to working on shows that have been adapted from hit movies, like “Madagascar” and “Monsters vs. Aliens”. Their characters stayed CGI. The “Big Hero 6” team is now hand-drawn, but so were the comics. So tell me about that transition.

NF: There were a lot of reasons why we decided to go to hand-drawn animation rather than CGI. One of them was just… if we did CGI, then we’re immediately going to be, “well this is just a continuation of the same style. It’s not really new.” And we also can’t do… the feature was just amazing. They created this huge world, and for us to try and continue that in CGI – we just wouldn’t have been able to match that, and there would always be that comparison.

So we felt that we could create something that is fresh – that is going to have all the feeling of the original feature but it’s going to have a fresh look to it. It’s going to have a really warm, appealing look to it by going with hand-drawn. So that’s really why we went in that direction. We wanted something that – you see these characters and this world and you immediately recognize it as “Big Hero 6”, but it has a fresh, inviting look to it.

JM: And many of these characters’ faces have sharp angles, and you see sharp angles on the buildings as well. What was that part of the design process like?

NF: We had a lot of different influences on our final designs. We were looking at the feature itself, and we spoke to designers from the feature, and we spoke to the production designer of the feature, Paul Felix. And we were looking at some early Japanese prints as one of the influences. And then when we spoke to Paul, he brought-up that some of the influences of the feature were “101 Dalmatians” (the original feature), which has this fantastic warmth to it, but it also has these really interesting details in the background and the locations.

And then also there was an animated film called “Tekkakin Crete” which had this beautiful density to the world. It was a world where you look at the background and it feels like there are people there – even if you don’t have characters there. We wanted to get that feeling with our locations, with our world for “Big Hero 6”: This is a place that looks inhabited – you don’t even have to have characters in there to feel like it is an inhabited world.

That’s what we were really going for is this warmth of a real world. With the characters, we wanted them to feel like they belonged in that world that we were designing. And one of the reasons that we designed the characters with the intersecting lines is… We were looking to have something that had the appeal of hand-drawn, but we wanted to give it a fresh look to it. And also those intersecting lines really give the animators… a point to latch onto. It helps them figure out the construction of that character if you have these very specific intersections on the character. It helps that character still stay appealing all through animation.

JM: And there are a lot of nighttime scenes in “Baymax Returns”. How difficult are those, and how do you find the lighting to use to brighten them up?

NF: I think a lot of times the nighttime scenes are chosen to bring up the mood of it. You can do things with nighttime where you can affect the color a little bit more than daytime. You can affect the mood a little more than daytime. So, a lot of times we’ll choose a nighttime location just to give it that much more of an edge to it. And you do have to figure out the lighting.

And actually, that’s where it becomes interesting because in daylight – when you’re putting a character against a daylight background, the lighting is pretty simple. But when you put a character against a nighttime background, then the lighting becomes more specific. So you have more opportunities to get more drama out of it.


JM: So at the beginning of “Baymax Returns”, we see Hiro walk around the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. He’s 14 and going to college! He’s on the tour with his friends and I noticed there’s a lot of attention to detail, like having to pay $20 to replace your ID if you lose it. Did you walk around campuses for inspiration in the design and in some of those details?

NF: A lot of the inspiration is from our own experiences: going to school, with our kids going to school. You understand, like, that whole $20 ID thing impacts a student. These are just things we see as… these are factors that are going to play on Hiro. This is about Hiro’s first day at school. It’s about him being this young prodigy at this institute where pretty much everybody else is an adult. It’s how these details of the school impact him and the team.

JM: And it’s great that Ryan Potter, who voices Hiro, Scott Adsit as Baymax, and Maya Rudolph as Aunt Cass, are all back to reprise their roles. How did they feel in the booth returning to these characters.

NF: I think they were really excited to be able to spend time with these characters again. A lot of times when you’re doing a film, you have this wonderful interaction with the creators of the film… with the writers and the actors. And for them to have a chance to go back and revisit these characters, which were so powerful and so well-loved, we really see how inspired they are. You can hear it in the voices that they become those characters.

And they’re also very protective of those characters. They want to make sure that as they’re saying lines, “Is that the line that that character would say?” “Is that really the motivation the character would have?” And what’s nice is we get to have discussions with them about that. We write the scripts – we’re trying to make them as compelling as possible, make these characters as clear (and the intent of their motivations as clear) as possible. And we love have Maya, Scott and Ryan be able to discuss that with us: “What would make the character’s motivations clear here? How would that character communicate it?”

JM: At the end of “Big Hero 6” was a surprise cameo by Stan Lee. He’s back here as Fred’s dad. Is it intimidating to work with the man who’s made Marvel the powerhouse that it is now?

NF: It is intimidating. I grew-up on Marvel comics. That’s what got me into drawing. That’s what got me into art. My plan when I was a kid growing-up and pursuing my art skills was to become a comic book artist, because I was so inspired by Marvel comics. Stan Lee is in the booth and… he’s a legend. In your head you’re like “How do I talk to the legend?” But he is so great. He is so accommodating. He is excited about doing the role. He’s just a great person to work with.

JM: You were a part of the “Wolverine and the X-Men” series a while back. What do you think about the Fox and Disney talks and the Marvel situation going on right now?

NF: I don’t know if I really have… there’s not much I can say about it. But, it’s an exciting thought to get some of that Fox stuff involved here. I don’t really have any knowledge, input or anything like that on it, but what an exciting kind of moment.

JM: And you also worked on “Kim Possible” with the fellow EPs of this series, Schooley and McCorkle. “Kim Possible” was a such I and so many people my age grew-up with and still remember. Do you think it send the trend for modern animated action series about kids making the impossible possible?

NF: I think it definitely set a trend. It was one of the first series where you had something similar to the series we have now – where there’s so much comedy mixed with action mixed with emotion. You were growing-up with Kim and Ron as they were going through the different levels of school, and I think for our audience that’s really important to identify with that. The precedent of seeing these characters, you’ve got this rich comedy (the comedy is based off their individual personalities). The action is based off their individual personalities.

That’s something you don’t see in all series – in all animated series. We try to bring that to “Big Hero 6” – that same type of writing style and directing style of “Kim Possible” where we make things very specific to the character. It’s character driven, and for me, that makes that action and that comedy more satisfying.


Half-hour episodes of “Big Hero 6: The Series” will debut on Disney Channel and Disney XD in early 2018

Jackson Murphy

Jackson Murphy

Jackson Murphy is a movie critic and entertainment columnist. He is the creator of the website, and has made numerous appearances on television and radio.
Jackson Murphy
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