By Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education
Big Hero 6 marks several firsts for Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS). It’s their first action animation with six action sequences. Previous animated movies had two or three. It’s the first WDAS movie to use the new Hyperion system that makes light much more real than ever before. The computer has 55,000 cores and resides in four separate locations.
It’s the first WDAS movie to have six major characters, actually twelve if you count their super alter-egos. It’s the first time WDAS has teamed with the XPRIZE Foundation to create a prize for students. If they win, they will be at the premier in Los Angeles on November 7 and walk the red carpet.
However, these are not the breakthroughs that excite me. This is the first time that the producer, Roy Conli, and the directors, Don Hall and Chris Williams, decided at the outset that this movie would be grounded in reality, that the science would be right. If the story group came to them during the four years that elapsed since the idea first was considered with a story idea that broke the rules of nature, they said no.
However, they did not hesitate in pushing the limits of technology. In some scenes, the g forces would have caused blackouts for real people. If you’re willing to overlook these small violations of the laws of nature and enjoy the ways in which the boundaries of technology are tested, you’re in for a treat. My day at WDAS provided me with only a few short sequences, the longest being 16 minutes, but it showed enough to convince me that this movie is breaking new ground.
Teachers, ask your students what they think about soft (and inflatable) robots? Can anyone create microbots in the real world? How can you do that? What about mental control over robots? Could you have plasma gloves or magnesium fire spitting costumes? Can robotics someday make anyone into a super hero? Explore the science.
Of course, there’s a story here and lots of heart. It’s Disney, after all. And, if you love action adventure as well as animated feature movies, this may be your lucky day.
I really like that science overrides fantasy in this movie. I only wish I had been there to point out places where the boundaries were pushed a bit far and make sure that they did so for good reasons.
The technology behind this movie is another story in itself. Never have so many extras appeared in scenes in an animated movie. It has over 500 different types of extra characters who can appear in the thousands when necessary with each doing its own thing. The city of San Fransokyo was modeled on San Francisco using the assessor records for the city so that you can find the plot where any real house sits, although that house may not look exactly like the real one but will look like homes in the neighborhood. Altogether, about 83,000 individual buildings were created in their external entirety for this movie. The underwater sequence that I saw was amazingly realistic. And so it goes. It took a large team, including 90 animators, two years to make this movie.
For me, a former chemistry professor, seeing one character be a chemist (Honey Lemon) with a sort-of Periodic Table emblazoned on her purse was cool. But, the Table is active, and she presses the element buttons to make incredible compounds really quickly that help to conquer the bad guy or save the good guys. While this purse is not very likely, the stuff it makes is very well animated and looks very real.
Once I’ve seen the movie, I hope to return to these pages with a deeper review of the science and technology that we all can discuss.