Movies and TV
Technical Supervisor Hank Driskill Explains the Tech Behind Disney's Big Hero 6

Elizabeth Harper | 26 Nov 2014 18:00
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Love Big Hero 6? The movie wouldn't have been possible without Disney's new Hyperion rendering tech.

If you follow our Movies & TV coverage, you already know that we love Disney's recent Big Hero 6 -- and if you've seen it, you probably love it, too. But the movie's more than a great story and gorgeous animation: Big Hero 6 is a big technical breakthrough for Walt Disney Animation Studios, using a new rendering system called Hyperion that allows them to really scale up on the number of things that can go in a single shot.

And this isn't just behind-the-scenes tech: Hyperion means that in some shots you really can see all 83,000 buildings that make up the fictional town of San Fransokyo or the millions of micro-bots moving through shots. These are scenes that wouldn't have been possible using Frozen-era rendering technology, and Disney says that the virtual worlds of
Tangled, Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph and Bolt could fit inside the world of Big Hero 6 with room to spare. So it should be a surprise that it's the tech behind Big Hero 6 that really gives the film a tremendous sense of scale that you don't always find in an animated -- 3D or otherwise -- feature.

To find out more about the making of Big Hero 6 and the tech that made it possible, we sat down with Hank Driskell, the film's Technical Supervisor. For those who haven't seen the film yet, there are some minor spoilers that come up in our conversation, though nothing that's likely to ruin the movie experience.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about what you did on Big Hero 6?
A: My job is technical supervisor. I came on board with the Visual Effects Supervisor, Kyle Odermatt, in May 2012. We were pretty much the first people to come on to the film. Kyle and I share an office, we're kind of joined at the hip.

Kyle's job is to work with the directors and art director to figure out their vision and then supervising all the artists on the floor who are actually making everything happen. My job as technical supervisor is to figure out all the R&D: anything we're going to change about the way we make our movies, any new tools, techniques, or processes that the film might need as well anything the studio wants to do and use this film as an excuse for. I'm shepherding all of that.

We have a central technology group which builds tools for all the artists, so I'm making sure they're working on things that are going to help us get the movie made, making sure they're hearing everything they need to hear to get the tools right. As well as supervising what we call technical directors (TDs). They're software folks that are building tools in various departments for the artists. And then as we transition from pre-production -- where we're figuring out how to make the movie -- we go into "don't touch it, you'll break it" mode when we're just trying to get shots out the door.

During that phase I still supervise all the TDs on the floor who are working alongside the artists to make sure everything's running. Any time the artists have issues with data or issues with a tool breaking, we're jumping on it to get them working again. We're all kind of team firefighter on the show, just trying keep it all going.

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