TURNING THE TABLES – When director Peter Sohn was a kid in science class, the future storyteller used to imagine the periodic table was a series of apartment buildings with individual apartments in which Cobalt would live next door to Nickel.
Elemental features a couple nods to the periodic table. For example, the Wetro schedule features a similar shape, and a park in the film called Periodic Park has a grassy grid that is reminiscent of the periodic table. Moviegoers will spot more, too.
Element City consists of key districts designed for the various elements who settled there. And like many big cities, the city evolved as each element arrived. Water was there first, establishing the canal system, among other foundational aspects of the city, and Earth followed—the city is built on a delta where earth and water meet. Air was next and, much later, Fire—the city isn’t as well suited to Fire as a result. Filmmakers took this approach to underscore the fact that Ember is forced out of her comfort zone into a city she has never before explored.
FIRE IT UP – Ember works with her dad, Bernie, in the family store, Fireplace. Artists had to deck it out with products that would be appropriate for Fire characters.
- Kids’ “juice” boxes are actually small kerosene cans with metal straws.
- Baby Fire characters enjoy lighter fluid baby formula.
- Ember delivers bags of Wood Chips (not potato chips).
- Fireplace sells sparklers—buy two get one free—by the cash register.
- Hungry Fire characters might pick up some Frosted Flames, Log Kabobs, Shredded Kindling, Sooty Snaps, Ash Chips, Fire Crackers, Coal Nuts, Wood Chex, Smoke Puffs, Burning Rubber Tire Jerky or Sizzle Smacks.
- After sipping a cup of Lava Java or Soot Soot Tea, Ember’s mom Cinder might want to pop a Flint Mint or brush with Tinderpaste.
- Some items feature marketing verbiage to entice Fire characters to buy, buy, buy. Slogans include Ash Covered, Scorch Free, Xtra Charred and Hot Deal!
POWER PLAY – With main characters—Fire and Water—who are literal effects appearing in every scene in the movie, the computing power required to complete Elemental skyrocketed compared to previous Pixar films. Toy Story called for 294 computers in its render farm, Monsters, Inc. jumped to 672 and Finding Nemo required 923. Elemental utilized over 151,000 computers.
- A rig for a typical Pixar character has about 4,000 controls. Ember and Wade had about 10,000 controls each
IT’S GETTING HOT IN HERE – Filmmakers used color to help convey Ember’s emotions. When she loses her temper, the color of her flames goes from yellow-orange-red hues to purple to nearly white.
- The size and shape of Ember’s flames were also used to help show what she’s feeling. Filmmakers working to frame each sequence allowed for up to a 15-percent growth of a Fire character’s flames, ensuring the whole character would be visible without completely filling the frame.
- Ember’s limbs were designed to change shape, disappear and reform, as well as create a bit of a fire trail as she moves.
WATERED DOWN – Much like Ember and the other Fire characters, Wade and the Water characters also needed special transitions to drive home the fact that they are water—not a vessel filled with water.
- Animators referenced footage of water balloons to inspire how Wade’s internal water volume might flow between poses. His form breaks on occasion with water droplets, and he has the ability to flow into and out of external water sources.
- Water characters’ limbs can bend and curve in non-anatomical ways, reinforcing the
fact that they are not human.
SIGN HERE – As a bustling locale, Element City was brought to life with an array of signage, advertisements and other graphic details.
- Fire elements might respond to signs that read, “We Flame to Please,” “Thank You Very Match,” “Please Ask Before Torching,” “You Burn It You Buy It,” “Kiss Me I’m Fireish” or “Pull Handle in Case of Water.”
- Earth characters would be drawn to sayings like “Beleaf in Yourself” and “For the Crater Good.”
- Air elements are targeted with signage and products like Cloud9, Hot Air Served Cold and Fan Club. Cyclone Stadium has lots of encouraging signage aimed at the home team, the Windbreakers, including “Blow Them Away,” “Deflate Them” and “Kick Their Gas!”
- Wade and other Water elements might be interested in the film “Tide and Prejudice,” starring Hudson River and Stormy Day.
- Element City storefronts include, Log Hut, Match Books, Charcoal Supply, Pizza Hot, Hearth and Home, Soot Locker, Potteryburn, Windy’s fast food, Fallgreens, Pond Shop and Wash and Burn Laundry Service, among others.
- Filmmakers paid homage to the late Ralph Eggleston, veteran art director, character designer and production designer who joined Pixar Animation Studios in 1992. Eggleston, who won an Oscar® for writing and directing Pixar’s 2001 short film “For the Birds,” was known for having breakfast every morning at the studio welcoming all to join him. The sign created in his honor, Eat at Ralph’s Café, can be seen in the heart of Element City.
CAN I HELP YOU? – Inside City Hall in Element City, residents can find a host of departments: Department of Violations, where Fern works, Department of Forestry and, of course, the Department of Departments.
- Savvy moviegoers will also spot A113—the number of the storied CalArts classroom where many of Pixar’s filmmakers learned their craft.
To learn more about Elemental, check out our interview with Leah Lewis and Mamoudou Athie.