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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big hero 6 team

Q: Can you give us a the layman's rundown of what Hyperion does?
A: For three or four years, we've been amping up the complexity of our films with each successive film from Bolt to Tangled to Wreck-it Ralph to Frozen. Each film has gotten more and more complex. The tools we were using, the processes we were using, we weren't going to be able to put as much stuff on screen as we wanted to.

And then one of our principle engineers in the technology group, Brent Burley, had a really, really clever idea for a different way of rendering. He passed the idea around to some of us and we all went "oh, wow, this is really cool." He got a small team of people and they started working on it as a little science experiment, just to try it out and see if the idea held up.

And in the meanwhile, Kyle and I had rolled on to Big Hero 6 and were starting to ramp up pre-production. We started looking at what we all wanted with the film. It was our first collaboration with Marvel, and though it was very much a Disney movie but we wanted it to be a Marvel movie. Marvel movies have this sense of scope and scale that we really wanted to capture. Don [director Don Hall] had this vision for San Fransokyo as a mash-up of San Francisco and Tokyo. We wanted it to be a really rich urban environment -- both of those cities, they're very alive. As we started to look at that, we realized we didn't have the tools to do it. So the science experiment came to a close in early 2013 when we flipped the switch from science experiment to "let's make a renderer!"

We made Hyperion, this whole new way of rendering, while we were making the movie, which a lot of people thought we were nuts to even try. But we had a lot of faith in Brent and the people he gathered around him. We pulled it off somehow and the imagery really speaks for it. It's a big step up for us in the amount of stuff we can put on the screen and the richness of the images themselves. We're really, really proud of it.

Q: What was the biggest technical hurdle to making Big Hero 6?
A: Certainly Hyperion. It was really ambitious to craft a whole new renderer while making a movie relying on that renderer to produce imagery. There was a lot of stress and strain just trying to get that up on its feet. There were a lot of features coming online as shots were waiting for those features. It was a very tense thing.

The most stressful and exciting thing on the film was putting that together. It's a sea change in what we're capable of. It laid the groundwork for every film that comes after, because it makes us able to do things we just couldn't have done before. We're really happy that we did that, we're really happy with what it's giving us already for the films we're working on after this... but while we were doing it, it was really stressful.

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