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 baymax san fran

Q: What can you tell us about the digital world of San Fransokyo created for the film?
A: It started out like everything does here: with research. We sent people on trips to Tokyo and San Francisco to take lots and lots of photos and video of everything, from the trash in alleyways to the sky in both cities. We started to figure out just what that amalgam city looks like, that combination of both.

Then we started planning out scope and scale. Geographically we decided to layer it on top of San Francisco. We really liked the rolling hills and the feeling of the bay and all of that, so we started with that. We got ahold of city data from the City of San Francisco for the price of $5. The data tells you every lot in the city, where it is, how big it is, how big the buildings are on it, the base plan of the buildings on that lot (in terms of the shape of it), how many stories tall it is, and a whole bunch of things we didn't need, like how many bedrooms and bathrooms there are. The stuff we did use was where it is, what shape it is, how tall it is. We used that as the foundation.

There were 83,000 buildings across 23 districts and we built them all, as well as populating the city streets with 200,000 trees and over 200,000 street lights. A lot of scenes where you're flying over the city show all of it, with tens of thousands of buildings in one shot. It's really exciting. Without Hyperion, we never would have been able to put all of that in a single shot.

Q: Were there any particular challenges to creating an environment on that scale?
A: From my perspective, it was gathering the right people, having all we really needed, and planning it all out. Then getting the tools to make progress, from Hyperion itself, to the city-building tools we put together, to the crowd system that we built (a whole new system called Denizen) for populating those streets with people and traffic. We started assembling all these different pieces.

A lot of it was managing the social engineering aspects. Being that ambitious provokes a lot of anxiety from a lot of people, because at the end of the day we do have a deadline. We have a release date, we do have to get the movie out. A fun part of the job is riding that line of being a little crazy and not too crazy. I think we walked that line successfully on this one and we're really proud of what we pulled off.

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