Big Hero 6 takes the future of tech to a whole new level

A love letter to San Francisco, Tokyo and tech

Robots. Microbots. 3D printing. Add a dash of Marvel inspired comic book characters, a story filled with heart, buckets of beautiful artwork and animation, and it looks like Disney has a winning recipe with its latest film, Big Hero 6.

Set in San Fransokyo, a lovely fusion of San Francisco and Tokyo, it's not surprising that so much tech was used in the movie - after all both cities are closely tied to technology.

The majority of the characters are also super smart, tech savvy teens - and in one case, a robot - who use a lot of brain power to solve problems in the movie. But we wondered just how much tech was based on actual real life machinery.

After a screening of the film, directors Don Hall and Chris Williams, CTO of Walt Disney Animation Studios, Andy Hendrickson, visual effects supervisor Kyle Odermatt and producer Roy Conli sat down to discuss the importance of science and the tech inspirations used in the movie.

Science and fiction

Like all movies, the tech in Big Hero 6 is a lot more fantastic than we're used to. Even so, much of it is based in reality, or close to it.

Big Hero 6

Check out that 3D printer on the right

One such example is 3D printing. We've seen and heard about it from different companies, and it was all the craze last year. Director Don Hall told us, "We definitely wanted to take advantage of 3D printing. It's more prevalent now but three years ago, it was still big time bleeding edge tech, so we wanted to make use of that."

Big Hero 6

The future of 3D printing: robot armor

And make use it they did. But in the film, we see what it can be in the future: a device you use at home to print whatever you want, as fast as you want - think massive amounts of stuff popping out of the printer within minutes - like armor for your giant robot.

3D printing still has a long way to go in this regard but we're sure it'll eventually take off soon especially since there's a different printer showing up on Kickstarter every day.

Bots bots bots

Speaking of robots, we can't forgot about Baymax, the lovable, marshmallow-y bot who is sure to achieve Wall-E levels of fame after the movie releases.

The team wanted to him to look as huggable and non-threatening as possible. For inspiration, they went to a robotics lab at Carnegie Mellon where they settled on vinyl as the material of choice for Baymax's skin.

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Squishy

The team also decided that a toddler "with a full diaper" carried out the non-threatening message perfect for a friendly nurse-bot.

The other robot in the film is completely different. Where Baymax is the anthropomorphic best bot friend we've always wanted, the microbots are a clear counterpoint with their creepy, insect-like characteristics - though they're still a cool type of bot we'd want.

During research trips, microbots were heavily studied, and so were nanobots. But ultimately, Hall said the concept was scrapped because "they're the least cinematic robots [because they're] microscopic."

On average, there are about 20 million microbots in every shot they appear in. They attach to their microbot buddies with electromagnetism by way of a neural, telepathic headband where the person can then control them. Through swarm-like waves, the microbots form structures and shapes to move around (or move objects).

Realistically, we're not there yet with robots, but we're pretty close. Robots have been around much, much longer than 3D printing - Asimov, Asimo, drones, factory machines, the list goes on and on. Check out the video below to see how far along microbot technology is.

For the love of science

Apparently researching science involves trips to university labs ... and watching YouTube videos. Visual effects supervisor Kyle Odermatt said to find the "coolest things based on chemical reactions" likely led to "a couple weeks right there YouTube scouring."

Scientific breakthroughs were often emailed and shared within the office to stay on top of the latest innovations. A lot of time was also spent making sure the science behind the tech was sound - even the science fiction-sounding ones, like telepathy. Andy Hendrickson, the CTO of Disney said, "Everything has a basis in reality, even something as seemingly farfetched as that."

He elaborated with the following anecdote: "We were pretty sure with telekinesis that we were going to be way ahead of the curve but six or eight months ago, we started hearing about this experiment where a guy being hooked up to a computer was making another guy's finger move involuntarily to press a button."

So there you have it. The likelihood of having a robots everywhere and telepathy are just around the corner - give or take several years, but you can see it all in action while catching snippets of the Bay Area in the universe of Big Hero 6.

The film hits the theaters on November 7 in the US, and in January in the UK.