Hiro and his robot Baymax in a scene from Big Hero 6.
Hiro and his robot Baymax in a scene from Big Hero 6. Disney

A cuddly robot stars in Disney’s new animation Big Hero 6

A LOVEABLE, huggable robot is the star of Disney's new animated blockbuster Big Hero 6.

The sci-fi adventure centres on Hiro, a young tech prodigy who is grieving the untimely death of his older brother Tadashi.

Hiro's strongest connection to his brother is the prototype of a healthcare robot Tadashi was working on at university.

That robot, Baymax, was inspired by real-life inflatable robot technologies currently being developed at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University.

"It was important for us to make sure we created a robot like no one had ever seen," producer Roy Conli told APN.

"One of the things we talked about early on was that we wanted a huggable robot.

Roy Conli is a producer of the movie Big Hero 6.
Roy Conli is a producer of the movie Big Hero 6. Ricky Middlesworth

"Western culture tends to look at robots as violent creatures whereas in eastern philosophy, in terms of robots, they're very gentle, they're care-giving and actually mental health companions in a certain sense.

"The vinyl technology gave us an ability to do that."

When faced with a new threat, robotics genius Hiro does his best to turn Baymax and Tadashi's university friends into a group of superheroes.

"We wanted to make sure we were telling a story about a bunch of smart kids, where their superpower was their technology and their intelligence," Conli said.

"For me that's one of the things I'm proudest about. In a certain sense it's a celebration of the nerd; it is a celebration of intelligence and a celebration of people who go out and make things."

The film was inspired by a little-known Marvel comic - discovered in the Marvel archives by co-director Don Hall - which starred a Tokyo-based superhero team.

"There were only 12 issues ever made of the comic book," Conli said.

"Don saw it as a kind of love letter to Japan and in particular Japanese pop culture and he wanted to maintain that in some way."

The result is the film's setting of San Fransokyo, a colourful east/west mash-up metropolis brought to life by a new rendering system and lighting software Disney developed.

 Characters Hiro and Baymax in a scene from Big Hero 6.
Characters Hiro and Baymax in a scene from Big Hero 6. Disney

"We developed an entirely new light rendering system, called Global Illumination, and then we made a piece of software called Hyperion, which is a ray-traced system that allows light to more physically mimic actual light," he said.

"Light bounces and it was important for us to figure out how to get as many bounces as possible, that way the translucent quality of the (Baymax's) vinyl comes alive."

The film has grossed nearly $178 million at the US box office so far and is Disney's highly anticipated follow-up to the global box office phenomenon Frozen, which is currently the highest-grossing animated film of all time.

"We're in a great place at the studio right now," said Conli, who has previously worked as a producer on Tangled, Treasure Planet and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

"We're very happy. The creative I think is firing on all cylinders; it's an amazing team. I've been here 21 years and I can't think of a better time than the past eight years."

Big Hero 6 opens on Boxing Day.