Book Review: The Art of Big Hero 6, by Jessica Julius
Two decades after The Lion King pushed Walt Disney Feature Animation to new heights of popularity, the studio has found itself in a similar state in recent years.
The studio’s last three films have proven to be a wonderful grab bag of choices, that shows the new culture at the studio is not willing to just do the same thing for each film. Wreck-it-Ralph sought to bring us into a world of video games in a way that many would probably never have attempted, and Frozen enveloped a sisterly tale amidst the rosemaling and historical architecture of the Norwegian culture.
With the recent release of Big Hero 6, the studio found itself tackling a new frontier: a futuristic meld of two different cultures, AND a story that straddled the lines between Marvel Comics, and Disney‘s animation heritage.
Much like The Art of Wreck-it-Ralph, this book reaches into Disney’s production staff to find its author. In this case, it is Jessica Julius, who has worked on several productions as a creative executive, and story production supervisor.
Every making-of book contains several revelations I didn’t expect, and this one is no exception. Dealing in a world of superheroes and Tokyo-world aesthetics, the filmmakers reached out to both of these worlds, recruiting artists John Romita Jr (a comic artist from Marvel), and Tadahiro Uesugi, an artist from the land of the rising sun.
The majority of of the book is taken up with designing the world and environments of the film’s main location: San Fransokyo. It was a given that the studio would send out a fact-finding crew to study both Tokyo and San Francisco. And out of that seemingly non-mixable combination, emerged quite an astonishing amalgamation.
As well, there had to be some form of logic behind why this American city had been so overtaken by another culture. Scott Watanabe, the film’s environmental art director, is quoted as follows:
“Don (Hall, the director) wanted to figure out a logical explanation for how a mash-up city like this could exist. I came up with the idea that, after the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, Japanese immigrants rebult the place using techniques that allow movement and flexibility in a seismic event.”
When it comes to character designs in the last few Chronicle Books releases, there are a select few artists that are mainly utilized. For this book, there are three key creative persons Julius focuses on: Jin Kim, Shiyoon Kim (no relation), and Lorelay Bove.
Of the three, it is Jin Kim’s designs that I find myself gravitating towards the most. His line work has such an appealing look to it, that it looks like the character could start moving at any moment. Jin studied at the hand of animator Glen Keane, and it definitely shows in his work!
It is notable to also see the evolution of several different characters as well.
Baymax’s designs are simple and intriguing. Some show him with projected facial features, as well as samurai-influenced armor for his supersuit designs. I did chuckle at one image, in which Tadahiro did an early concept of Baymax, in a design that seemed influenced by the robots in Hayao Miyazaki’s Laputa: Castle in the Sky (as seen a few paragraphs below). There’s also a great breakdown image by artist Kevin Nelson, as to Baymax’s inner workings and design.
While several pages are given to each member of the Big Hero 6 team, it was the development of Honey Lemon that is most intriguing. Her character evolution (some examples on the left) put me in mind of the development of Vanellope Von Schweetz: the concept kept going in one direction, but once the designers veered away, they came up with something that worked better. Honey’s early concepts were more of a girly-girl with a love of making things blow up, with everything from chibi-exploding devices, to outfits that one would find in Tokyo’s Harajuku district.
The book also includes some abandoned concepts, including several where a giant monster attacks San Fransokyo, and numerous, additional (unused) villains. One that has a nice concept of kooky-uneasiness, is Mr Sparkles, who was based on some of the wackier personalities one sees on Japanese television.
The final 12 pages of the book, are focused on the film’s cinematography, the studio’s new Hyperion Rendering platform, as well as a color script of the film. Color scripts have been a staple of PIXAR’s Art Of books, and they have been added to Disney’s Art Of books ever since The Art of Bolt in 2008. The set included here is rather intriguing, as the first few images, differ greatly from the actual opening of the film, making me wonder if the book may have gone to press while they were working on redoing the film’s opening.
Much like my feelings regarding the film Big Hero 6, its Art of book feels like it doesn’t spend as much time on the characters beyond Hiro and Baymax. A couple characters I was hoping for a little more background on, were Aunt Cass (Hiro and Tadashi’s surrogate), and Alistair Krei (the head of tech-firm, Krei Industries). However, Aunt Cass is relegated to just two pages, and Krei is simply included in a small character lineup on page 145. As well, even some extra backstory on Hiro’s friends would have been most welcome.
I think it’s because of Charles Solomon, that I’m a sucker for wanting to read plenty of paragraphs in an Art of book. While Solomon is a professor of animation history (and it shows in his writings), Julius is one who is moreso like a professor living amongst the subjects she is studying. Given the penchant for creativity in her world, she has chosen to let the achievements of the studio’s artists speak for themselves. Also keeping with the theme of the film being based on a comic book, much of the text is cut into small blurbs within exposition boxes.
The Art of Big Hero 6 succeeds in showcasing a number of great art pieces, but the final product feels like it could have been tightened and loosened in certain areas. There feels like an imbalance in the way the three areas of concentration are sectioned off. The Cinematography section feels more like a miscellaneous area, that could definitely have been fleshed out with some more space and information. As well, there’s some valuable image space taken up by final/promotional renders
Even still, The book manages to carry on a wonderful tradition of giving us behind-the-scenes material and information, and if you’re interested in the concepts that lead to your favorite film(s), it’s definitely another to add to your collection.
“I thought they needed a pet in this movie. So I just kept drawing a cat in my storyboards. Then Shiyoon did some designs. Which went into modeling, and the cat just kept going through the pipeline! Mochi (the cat) became real. – Kendelle Hoyer, Story Artist“