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The Artful Technology Behind Elemental

Pixar Elemental
Concept sketch of Elemental, by director Peter Sohn. Image: Pixar

During the four years it took the studio to make Elemental, Pixar animators faced incredible challenges in rendering the story.

The characters in Elemental are actual elements: fire, water, earth, and air. So, for example, animators had to design a character that was fire - vs. being on fire - and determine how fire might move through life if it had a personality.

Look at the main fire character, Ember. says animators had to make her almost fluid. Her actions had to seem spontaneous, with her limbs changing shape as she moved. If she was too still, or too human-like, she would look like "a statue on fire."

Mockups of Wade and Ember.

As for Wade, the main water character, he had to look refractive and somewhat transparent, but not too much. These characteristics had to be animated with care. "If these qualities weren’t handled properly," says Inverse, "you could see the back of Wade’s eyes and teeth, which made for a realistic, but terrifying sight."

Element City, where the film takes place, is modeled on New York City. In a paper titled "Worldbuilding", prepared by Pixar animators, the city had to reflect the different qualities of each element.

"Specifically, we needed to build a city with new and distinct forms of architecture for each element, fill this city with fire, water, smoke, and vegetation, and add animation to make everything feel alive in the way a bustling city should," says the paper.

To pull everything together, Pixar needed lots of computing power and storage for the 50 effects artists working on the film.

Pixar ended up with over 151,000 computer cores, according to IMDB. Compare this to Toy Story (1995), which used 294 cores.

Come see this amazing technology at work in Elemental, playing at Stettler's Jewel Theatre August 18-24. Check for showtimes.

See you at the movies!


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