Getting to the Heart and Soul of a Robot: The Story of Baymax

March 2, 2015 ,

Every once in a while, there comes a Disney character that captures the hearts of everyone who sees them. It doesn’t take a degree from San Fransoyko Tech to know that Baymax, from Big Hero 6, fits that bill. His selflessness, unassuming humor, and simplistic design all help make Baymax the type of character you can’t help but love. We recently had a chance to sit down with the Academy Award-winning directors of Big Hero 6, Don Hall and Chris Williams, along with the voice of Baymax, Scott Adsit, to discuss how Baymax came to be the robot that everyone wants to hug. 

While Hall and Williams always knew that Baymax would be a part of the story, they first had to figure out what his design would look like. “If you want to make a movie that features a robot, our boss, John Lasseter, will ask you to put up an image of every iconic robot that’s ever been featured in a movie ever and say ‘give me something different,’” noted Williams. “That’s when Don went off on his research trip and found Baymax.”


At Carnegie Mellon University, Hall discovered soft robotics and was able to observe research the university was doing with creating an inflatable vinyl robotic arm. Once Hall saw the potential, he knew it would be perfect for Baymax. “The Carnegie Mellon trip gave us everything, but there was still the question of what his design was going to be, especially his face. How is he going to express? At one point, we were thinking he might have a mouth and John (Lasseter) was like ‘Nah, you don’t need that. You can express without it,’” said Hall.


On another research trip to Japan, Hall found Baymax’s simplistic design. “I was looking at this temple (in Japan) and I kind of looked up at these bells that were staring down at me and they had that kind of simple two circles with a line. And I was like ‘That could be Baymax’s face,’” explained Hall. “So, I snapped a few photos of it, brought it home, took it to our character designer and said, ‘What do you think?’ and John really supported that. He really loved the idea that less is more with him.” 

With Baymax’s design in place, it was time to find a voice that would fit a caring nurse robot. Hall and Williams found that in Scott Adsit, who is best known for his role as Pete Horenberger on 30 Rock. “I saw the character design at the audition and knew that it had to be very soft and friendly and nonthreatening and huggable,” said Adsit. “I came in with this idea of the rhythm kind of like an automated phone system, where there are set phrases that have variables within them. You can hear Baymax talking and you can hear a kind of, fill-in-the-blank part of the sentence.” 

For Adsit though, one of the challenges of voicing a robot was, “trying to impart some kind of emotion without showing any emotion. That came about by knowing that Baymax is a robot. He doesn’t want to be human, he’s not like Pinocchio. He is what he is and he knows what he is. But then, he does have this connection with Hiro,” noted Adist.


That relationship with Hiro is at the core of Big Hero 6, as we witness both Hiro and Baymax grow and learn together over the course of the film. In the development process though, Hall and Williams realized just how important Baymax would be to the story. “For the longest time we felt like we were telling two different stories. There’s the story of loss. There’s this fourteen-year-old super genius who loses his brother and a robot becomes his surrogate brother and healer. That was always going to be our emotional story,” explained Hall. “But we also really wanted to tell a cool superhero origin story and it was like, ‘How do those two things work?’ and for the longest time they didn’t. It wasn’t until fairly late in the game that we discovered that Baymax was actually the character that could link those stories.”


“Baymax is coming at it from a very strict point of view, which is ‘I’m just trying to heal my patient. My patient is going through grief and I’m going to learn all I can about loss and I will treat him.’ So, part of that treatment is supportive friends and loved ones and it wasn’t until we hit upon that link that the stories then kind of meld together,” said Hall.

While Baymax was never designed to be a superhero, his care for Hiro takes both he and Hiro on an unexpected journey. “He helps Hiro through his brother’s death and he understood how Hiro was feeling as a healthcare provider,” added Adsit. “While he might not be able to emote, he can understand …everything he does, every decision he makes, every exciting moment that he chooses to do, is to aid Hiro.”


It’s that selflessness that is just one of the reasons why Baymax is so beloved. “I think it’s because he’s without ego. He’s there to essentially love you, without expecting anything for himself. I think we all love him because we have our own flaws and he is fairly flawless,” noted Adsit.

If you want to learn more about Baymax’s story or just rewatch all your favorite Baymax moments again, Big Hero 6 is now available on Blu-ray, Digital HD, or Disney Movies Anywhere.

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