Oscars: 'Big Hero 6' Filmmaker Reveals the Inspiration Behind Baymax's Look

That's just one of the backstories revealed by the directors of animation's Academy Award-nominated films.
Courtesy of The Walt Disney Studios

This story first appeared in the Feb. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

BAYMAX
Big Hero 6

"Thank God for Chris Atkeson at Carnegie Mellon, who introduced us to soft robotics," Don Hall says of the inspiration for the lovable robot in Big Hero 6, the film he co-directed with Chris Williams. "There's squash. There's stretch. I did the first couple of sketches and then [lead character designer] Shiyoon Kim took those and created something charming, elegant and huggable. Two eyes, a pear-shaped body and stumpy elephant legs. And the face came from the bottom of a Japanese bell from a shrine. I looked up while in a shrine in Tokyo, saw this bell and felt serene, calm and peaceful." Adds Williams: "Storywise, his physical appearance works with his personality because he's purely good and naive."

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VALKA
How to Train Your Dragon 2

"Valka had to be both an intimidating warrior and a nurturing mother as the story developed," says writer-director Dean DeBlois. "We wanted her gender to be initially unclear. Her mask is inspired by the Bewilderbeast, the great alpha dragon that she serves. The rest of her costume is a mix of dragon-like plates and spikes. She has two more layers: one that we called her riding outfit, which is a stripped-down and less heavily armored version of her initial look, and finally a bare dress made from scraps of leather. These layers represent the stripping down of her guardedness and the re-emergence of her former self, the mother and wife she had once been. Her face was designed to give her damaged character empathy."

MACHA
Song of the Sea

Macha is an owl-witch, "half turned to stone by her own magic," explains director Tomm Moore. "Her belly is carved with Pictish patterns inspired by the stones of the ancient burial mound at Newgrange in Ireland. Macha has huge, owl-like eyes that glow in the dark, and her head can spin a full 360 degrees. She can seem like a kindly old grandmother, but in an instant can change and become very frightening and angry. Her silhouette resembles both that of a carved stone and a giant owl, with her head almost equal in size to the rest of her body."

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EGGS
The Boxtrolls

"From the beginning, our character designer Mike Smith and I described Eggs as looking like the young actor David Bradley in Ken Loach's brilliant film Kes," says Anthony Stacchi, who co-directed with Graham Annable the stop-motion animated movie about a young boy who is brought up by underground-dwelling scavenger creatures known as the Boxtrolls. "The young David Bradley had exactly the right dirty, scrawny, feral quality we wanted in Eggs. Mike didn't just do a portrait of the character; he was inspired by the boy's awkward, gangly, heartbreaking quality. And then Mike's loose drawings were used to inspire the sculptor Kent Melton to make our first sculpture of Eggs."

PRINCESS KAGUYA
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

"People who were poor, even if they might be wearing tattered clothing, they could move nimbly and energetically," director Isao Takahata (who's also a co-founder of Studio Ghibli) says of the early look of his title character, who later becomes more upper-class. "In those days, upper-class aristocratic women were attired in heavy garments that were gorgeous but difficult to move in; their hair hung incredibly long, and they wore makeup that for us in modern times can hardly be considered beautiful. It seemed like they were caged birds, and their costumes like straitjackets for women who were fated to become the property of men."

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