Our Exclusive Look at ‘Elemental’ (and Details from the Press Event)

Behind The Scenes Elemental Interview News Pete Sohn Pixar Press Conference

Earlier this week we were invited to Pixar Studios to tour the studio, talk to the filmmakers behind their newest picture, Elemental, and most excitingly, watch footage from the finished film!

Before watching the beginning 20 or so minutes of Elemental, director Peter Sohn took to the stage to introduce his second feature. Just a few days prior the final shot of the film had finished rendering! We were some of the first to officially seen the final animation alongside the gorgeous score courtesy of composer Thomas Newman.

Though it has Pixar’s signature outside-the-box worldbuilding and humor, Elemental has a grounded story at its core. It is one in a long line of Pixar films that sprouted from a director’s own story. The film is “a very personal project” for Sohn as it is directly inspired by his journey as well as the life and sacrifices of his parents. There were three main pieces that came together to form Elemental:

  1. Sohn’s parents immigrated from South Korea to the Bronx in the ’70s, and his father opened up a grocery store that attracted immigrant customers, creating a community like “one sort of big salad bowl of cultures, languages, and foods.”
  2. Growing up in a New York neighborhood, the periodic table to Sohn’s eyes became just another highly diverse community. In this apartment complex, platinum and gold happily lived side by side but “be careful of mercury because they have toxic relationships!”
  3. Sohn’s marriage to a non-Korean woman presented a bit of a problem for his family initially. “My grandmother’s dying words were ‘marry Korean!'” Sohn explained and the idea of stepping outside of a cultural comfort zone became a building block for the film’s story.

The following day, we got to hear from several key members of the production team. Their discussion of the various challenges Elemental presented and the unique solutions made much of the footage we had seen earlier even more impressive in hindsight. Some interesting insights:

  • Don Shank, the production designer, explained how the artists needed to work backwards by finding design and then creating an appropriate visual language. They needed to “elementalize the world for the characters.” A chair couldn’t simply be a chair, but a furnace-like construction specifically for fire people.
  • Sanjay Bakshi, the VFX supervisor, admitted the film presented “a terrifying challenge” because the scale was intimidating. It all started with Ember and balancing cartooniness with realism. Every three weeks, the artists were tasked with coming up with a new version of Ember, one that best reflected the concept of a character that wasn’t on fire but was fire herself.
  • Jeremie Talbot, the character supervisor, explained they constantly worked from Sohn’s initial pitch, which was that the elements were not human. Animation depicts flesh and bone through caricature but the characters of Element City were meant to be actual fire and water, and so required a more malleable and fluid depiction.

Afterwards, we had the chance to draw Ember and Wade with head of story Jason Katz. We were also treated to a walk through the upper floor of the Steve Jobs building. As they do with every upcoming feature, Pixar had curated an art gallery of various production sketches, design work, and concept art the Pixar artists had created to bring Sohn’s story to the screen. We’re excited to share more art with you in the coming weeks so stay tuned!

It was this writer’s first visit to Emeryville. Passing through the Pixar Animation Studios gate and walking past the iconic Pixar Ball and Luxo Jr. was an incredible feeling. To top it all off, being present to have an exclusive first look at Elemental and hear more about its production was an amazing experience. So much love, creativity, and innovation was poured into this film, and even before learning about the artists’ efforts, we could see it all on the screen.

We can’t wait to watch the entire story unfold when Elemental hits theaters June 16th!

Tags: , Last modified: September 10, 2023

Maya has been unabashedly in love with the animation medium since early childhood, helped in no small part by the feature films and shorts from Pixar Studios. Having enjoyed writing about the magic of the animated films’ art and stories, Maya is excited to share a different perspective at Upcoming Pixar.