Exclusive: Elemental Animators Discuss the Making of Ember’s Fire

Movies Features Pixar
Exclusive: Elemental Animators Discuss the Making of Ember’s Fire

One of the biggest stories from this year’s new releases is about how Elemental, the latest film from Pixar, went from having a shaky debut at the box office to becoming a word-of-mouth smash hit. There are many theories and opinions about why an original film from the country’s best-respected animation house succeeded, but the simplest seems to apply here: Because it’s good. Reviewing the film out of Cannes, our critic Jason Gorber called filmmaker Peter Sohn’s Elemental a worthy, satisfying tale of star-crossed lovers. But mostly, he heaped love on its impressive animation. He wrote that there was “some absolutely sublime animation at play as well, using the dynamics of flame and water in ways that—for anyone familiar with the challenges of bringing this stuff to life using the tools of polygonal manipulation—feels like magic.”

To celebrate the digital release of Elemental, Paste has an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the making of some of this “sublime animation,” where innovative techniques and increased collaboration between Pixar’s teams helped create visuals—especially fire—that looks unlike any that’s ever graced the screen. We love to get technical, and these animators get into the details.

Take a look:

Just one snippet of the featurettes available on the home release, this video about protagonist Ember (voice of Leah Lewis) allows the expertise and experience of character articulation lead Jonas Jarvers, directing animator Gwendelyn Enderoglu, effects lead for characters Patrick Witting, character shading principal artist Jonathan Hoffman, and character supervisor Jeremie Talbot to explain just how much went into her expressive presence. And, wow, is it a reminder of just how many people it takes to make an animated movie.

Playing around with pyro effects, the newly developed “emotion system” and all the little things that go into a character’s model (like their hands, mitten-like or fully fingered) gave the seemingly simple and cartoonish character unprecedented range of movement and expression. Her fire wanes and grows, stretches and peters out, and always reflects Ember’s emotional state—all while still looking like organic, real flame. 

Disney and Pixar’s Elemental releases on Digital on August 15, while it arrives on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD on September 26.

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