Elemental – Behind the scenes on the new film from Disney/Pixar

The latest animated movie from Disney/ Pixar sets out to prove that opposites attract & shows the unlikely pairing of a fire elemental and a water elemental who fall for each other. Even though their elements aren’t meant to mix, they find that they’re not so different after all.  Leah Lewis plays the role of Ember Lumen, the fire woman, and Mamoudou Athie plays Wade Ripple, the water man.

The film is set in Elemental City, a place where people made of earth, air, fire, and water live together despite their differences. With each town adapted for each element’s particular needs.

We were lucky enough to sit down with the film-makers to hear what they had to say about their labour of love. Director Peter Sohn told us about the complexities of bringing the different elements to life in the film, in particular creating characters made of fire & water, “Bringing Ember to life was a very difficult problem but the most thrilling to see her come alive for the first time ’cause she was our main character and she was holding the burden of the story.  So that was really exciting.  I think the most challenging was water.” Producer Denise Ream agreed that the team had difficulty designing Wade Ripple’s water-based character, “Definitely water’s always hard from a visual effects perspective, but then trying to create a performance out of it and its reflections.”

Sohn added, “Water can be any colour in the rainbow because it’s a mirror. And so we were dealing with those same issues when lighting it.”

One of the most fun parts of development was creating a whole new city for the movie. Sohn said of the inspiration for Element City,  “we saw architecture from around the world. We were looking a lot at Port Cities, in terms of trying to find gateways, into a country, understanding how a country welcomes people in other sort of immigration hubs around the world.  And that was just for the port, but then iconic buildings that felt romantic or beautiful or memorable.

Literally, we had seven years on this film.  We researched almost everything, from buildings in Brazil that had wonderful earth designs in them to really slick buildings in the Middle East that had watery shapes through them.”

Even though the film took seven years to make, the final years were finished remotely during the recent global pandemic, which resulted in big challenges for the animators. Ream said  “I think that when we were sent home basically managing and producing a movie this complex remotely without being with the crew was a big challenge. I felt like I had one hand tied behind my back. So that was a challenge, personally.”

Sohn added in his own challenge, “For me it was the passing of both my parents. I didn’t realize how much it would affect the production, but in the beginning of the development, my dad went and then toward the end my mom went. And both of those times shook me in a way that you just, like I don’t know if it was an upbringing, but like, we’ve just gotta keep working, keep working, keep working. But, I definitely slipped off the rails there, but you know, to honor them, you know, I put as much love and work that I could into the film, but that was the biggest personal challenge.”

Words – Graham Day

ELEMENTAL is now showing at Irish cinemas!