Pixar’s creative team faced a challenge in animating the characters of Elemental, which were made up of many visual effects. To streamline their animation process, they realized that they needed a new approach that involved collaboration between departments. Production designer Don Shank stated that collaborating with the people making the characters, building the environment, and render was essential to create characters that looked the way they were intended.
New Pipeline for Animation and Effects
The movie takes place in Element City, a sprawling metropolis filled with residents made of fire, water, earth, and air. The movie’s director, Peter Sohn, envisioned characters made out of elements, not characters affected by them, which presented a challenge to the team. Animation and effects don’t usually collaborate, so the team had to figure out their own pipeline to communicate with each other. Visual effects supervisor Sanjay Bakshi said that since Ember and Wade are in so much of the movie, they had to build effects into the characters themselves. This new pipeline became essential to balance the realism of the elements and the stylization needed to create characters with the ability for subtle performances.
Finding the Balance
The team learned how to balance the realism of the elements and the stylization needed to create characters with the ability for subtle performances through trial and error. They encountered a similar issue with Ember, who was made entirely of fire, and they wanted her to be less realistic but still have the visceral impact of real fire. Animating director Gwen Enderoglu said they came to a ground rule of one elemental moment per shot, which would add a little elemental life to it and create a more cohesive sequence. The team learned to craft the balance between elemental-ness and performance through trial and error.
A Delicate Balance
As they developed their tools and style, the team figured out how to affect the render with their tools. For example, if Ember got angry, the animators would build in a tiny flare that would match her performance. They added heat and color in delicate balances to create a visceral impact. The team learned from this experience, which Gwen Enderoglu believed would open doors for them in the future.
Pixar’s Elemental is an excellent example of how collaboration and a new pipeline can streamline the animation process. The team learned through trial and error to balance the realism of the elements and the stylization needed to create characters with the ability for subtle performances. This experience will undoubtedly open doors for Pixar in the future. Elemental will be in theaters on June 16, 2023.
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