The Challenge Of 'Big Hero 6': How To Make A Huggable Robot : All Tech Considered Baymax, the lovable robot in the new Disney movie, was inspired by inflatable robots being developed at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.

The Challenge Of 'Big Hero 6': How To Make A Huggable Robot

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

A new kids' movie hits theaters today. "Big Hero 6" is a superhero story that takes place in a mythical city called San Fransokyo. As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, the robot is a scene stealer.

CHRIS WILLIAMS: Seriously, we're facing each other?

DON HALL: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: Oh, so we can't draw.

HALL: Yeah.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: You'd expect a couple of Disney animators to be jokers as their mics are being set up for this interview.

WILLIAMS: It's like we're DJs.

BLAIR: And doodlers. I can hear the doodling...

HALL: That was Chris, by the way.

WILLIAMS: Oh, sorry. Sorry

BLAIR: Chris Williams and Don Hall directed "Big Hero 6." It's loosely based on a Japanese-style comic strip of the same name. For the movie, they were desperate to create a robot nobody had ever seen before - not so easy given the competition.

HALL: Terminator, Johnny Five, C-3PO.

WILLIAMS: C-3PO, R2-D2.

HALL: That's just the Western ones. Then, when you start putting a board together all the Japanese robots - oh, my gosh.

BLAIR: So Don Hall went looking for inspiration. He visited MIT, Harvard and Carnegie Mellon.

HALL: I was on the hunt for a robot that could be very appealing but also huggable.

BLAIR: Huggable because "Big Hero 6" is something of a love story. More about that later. At Carnegie Mellon, he scored.

CHRIS ATKESON: I have a colleague here who explicitly designs huggable robots.

BLAIR: Chris Atkeson is a professor at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute. At the time Don Hall came to visit, he and his colleagues were trying to develop robots that could be used to help the elderly in nursing homes.

ATKESON: Do things like feed them and dress them and comb their hair and wipe their face - tasks where you get very goes close to the human, and you touch the human.

BLAIR: To do that safely, they were designing soft, inflatable robots.

ATKESON: It's been called a balloon-like robot. It actually has compartments so it's more like a balloon animal that a clown makes at a party.

BLAIR: Just what a guy from Disney wants to hear. Don Hall says Atkeson told him that as a scientist, he was frustrated that most movies featuring robots were about technology run amok.

HALL: And he kept saying, when is somebody, you know, going to put a robot on screen that can be the hero? When are we going to get that? And finally I jut stopped him, and I was like, dude, you had me at inflatable.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BIG HERO 6")

BLAIR: In the movie, the robot inflates into a giant, round, snowman-like figure. Once the animators had the look, they needed a voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BIG HERO 6")

SCOTT ADSIT: (As Baymax) Hello. I am Baymax, your personal health care companion.

BLAIR: Scott Adsit is best known for playing Pete Hornberger on "30 Rock." He says, for Baymax the robot, he thought about those automated voices we hear way too often.

ADSIT: It's like, your call is very important to us. It will be answered in the next seven minutes.

BLAIR: In the movie, the robot, Baymax, can also be a little annoying.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BIG HERO 6")

ADSIT: (As Baymax) On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your pain?

BLAIR: Baymax's chest lights up and shows one of those pain scales with faces that go from sad to happy.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BIG HERO 6")

ADSIT: (As Baymax) I will scan you for injuries.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Don't scan me.

ADSIT: (As Baymax) Scan complete.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Unbelievable.

BLAIR: The robot was created by a young computer whiz named Tadashi.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BIG HERO 6")

DANIEL HENNEY: (As Tadashi) This is the first test of my robotics project.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROBOT MALFUNCTIONING)

HENNEY: (As Tadashi) Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop.

BLAIR: Through trial and error.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BIG HERO 6")

HENNEY: (As Tadashi) This is the 84th test.

ADSIT: (As Baymax) Hello. I am Baymax.

HENNEY: (As Tadashi) It works. Oh, this is amazing.

BLAIR: But Tadashi dies in an accident. For the rest of the move, Baymax is the steady, reliable caregiver for Tadashi's younger brother, Hiro.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BIG HERO 6")

ADSIT: (As Baymax) It is all right to cry.

RYAN POTTER: (As Hiro) No. No, no, no, no.

ADSIT: (As Baymax) Crying is a natural response to pain.

>>POTTER (As Hiro) I'm not crying.

BLAIR: The superheroes in "Big Hero 6" are all young scientists - inventors experimenting in a lab. Co-director Chris Williams says, fine with him if kids think that's cool.

WILLIAMS: If this movie is a celebration of people trying to realize their potential, and if it encourages scientific curiosity, then that is fantastic.

BLAIR: Ingenuity is a pretty useful superpower. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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