Big Hero 6 is now officially on Disney's schedule for theatrical release on Nov. 7, 2014, and is the first product of what many observers were hoping to see when multimedia giant acquired Marvel in 2009: The company's revered animation division adapting Marvel's famous characters.
Directed by Don Hall, Big Hero 6 is clearly something of an unexpected choice for Disney's initial Marvel-based animated movie — a Japanese superteam that's only made a handful of comic book appearances, and started life when Steven T. Seagle and Duncan Rouleau created them as guest stars during their run on Alpha Flight in 1998. In the interim time, other creators have presented their take on the characters, and Seagle and Rouleau — along with fellow comic vets Joe Casey and Joe Kelly — have found phenomenal success in the televised animation world with Ben 10, Generator Rex and Ultimate Spider-Man.
Newsarama talked with Seagle and Rouleau about their reaction to Thursday's announcement, the first concept art and footage, and how Big Hero 6 helped inspire much of their latter output.
Newsarama: Steven, Duncan, the public first heard about the possibility of a Big Hero 6 movie back in June of last year, though presumably you were in the loop before that, especially given that you're already working in the Disney/Marvel sphere — albeit in a different part of the company — as co-executive producers and writers on Ultimate Spider-Man. Wanted to rewind to the earliest point — what was your reaction when you first knew this was a possibility? It had to be something of a surprise, if only because it was somewhat obscure characters, which the two of you really only got to work on in one issue, from more than a decade ago.
Steven T. Seagle: In some ways it was a surprise. We knew almost right away, because obviously there are paperwork things that had to be done, so we were on the very forefront of the knowledge of it all. But as you said, this is a Disney animation project being done with Marvel characters, and we're working directly with Marvel on Ultimate Spider-Man and Avengers Assemble. They're two different worlds, but we were aware of it pretty early on.
We were super-excited. Duncan and I made up Big Hero 6 basically so we could have some relief from the stress of working on Alpha Flight, which at the time was pretty stressful. We were just like, "What could we do to have some fun?" We started with Hiro, and then his robot Baymax, and then added the team around him, and it really was just a pressure-relief valve for us in an otherwise stressful work environment. That that spirit of fun could live on, and somebody else like Don Hall would look at it and go, "Hey, this is fun," was pretty awesome.
Duncan Rouleau: We were actually talking about the characters themselves in a Spider-Man meeting, saying that we wanted to have some sensibilities that were similar to that in one of the episode. From that, Joe Quesada and Jeph Loeb came and talked to us about the fact that it was in development. It was very exciting.
If I was to be completely honest, you've got to believe in everything you work on, and think that it's going to be accepted by everybody with loving arms. With Big Hero 6, I think we were having some fun with them, and we were hoping everybody else would have the same amount of fun.
Seagle: There was one panel with Hiro in issue #16, then the whole Big Hero 6 story in issue #17. By that time that issue was penciled — not even inked — Marvel came to us and said, "We want you to do a miniseries with these characters." Just people reading it in-house were like, "Oh, this stuff is actually fun." Unfortunately our schedule didn't allow us to do that, but before the book even came out, people wanted to do more with it. So it didn't super-surprise us, because we thought it was fun, too.
Nrama: It's clear that these are characters you maintained a lot of affection for — in the interim time since the Alpha Flight issue, did you ever give any consideration to returning to Big Hero 6?
Rouleau: I think that tone and that spirit most definitely translated into M. Rex, as well as Ben 10. There was a kid-centric hero, which in this case is Hiro, and a wacky sensibility.
The idea that there wasn't a Marvel group/team/character that really responded to the pop culture aspects that were coming from Japan — all of a sudden, it was like a lightbulb went off in our heads, and it made complete sense. "Marvel needs to have some characters like this." I think we've been chasing that notion a little bit in our own work afterwards.
Seagle: It was a little disappointing, because Duncan and I had a ton of ideas for Big Hero 6. I think back then the smarter move for us would have been to quit the X-Men and quit Alpha Flight, and just do Big Hero 6, because we were super-into it, but at the time we were new to Marvel, and on these super-big high-profile books, and you think, "Oh, that's probably the place to stay."
So we never got to quite work out the ideas we had with the characters, and they were handed off to other teams like Scott Lobdell and Gus Vasquez; Chris Claremont took a turn with them. That's exciting — it's cool to make up something that then other people run with. We never quite got to do what we had in mind with them, so as Duncan said, we formed Man of Action, and have been doing all kinds of cool stuff, with a similar vibe.
Nrama: Have you been involved in brainstorming sessions for the film at all?
Seagle: No, again, just kind of separate companies. We're still all out here, if they ever called and said, "Hey, come look at this," we'd love to do that. But there are so many people involved in projects. As directly as we worked on Ultimate Spider-Man and Marvel's Avengers Assemble, it's a room full of people for every step of the process, and feature films are that, times another factor. I'm sure there's a lot of talented cooks in that kitchen having a great time. But we do have a lot of super-good ideas still, and who knows?
Nrama: Thursday brought the first footage, concept art and logline for Big Hero 6. What are your thoughts on what's been released so far?
Seagle: I love the idea of San Fransokyo. For us, it was set in Japan, and we kept thinking, "We love that, but there's no way they're going to do a feature that just picks up and moves a Marvel epic to Japan itself." Creating a mythical blend of the two cultures perfectly underlines what Duncan was talking about in terms of the way we created the characters. So I thought that was really smart, and the footage looked beautiful.
Rouleau: I saw the clips they've been sending out and some of the early development art as well, and I really couldn't be more excited. I think Don Hall is putting together an incredible team, and it really is going to be very exciting.