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Elemental VFX : Unveiling the Magic in Pixar Film

elemental vfx
Exclusive Interview: Elemental VFX Supervisor Reveals the Secrets Behind Pixar’s Most Captivating Animation with Filmfare

 

When Pixar embarked on the ambitious project Elemental, it defied expectations and pushed the boundaries of visual effects and animation. Directed by the visionary Pete Sohn, the film delves into the intriguing concept of elements with feelings coexisting in a society. However, Elemental’s aesthetics take a departure from the usual Pixar style, exploring profound themes like immigration and racial discrimination while showcasing a heartwarming romance between Ember Lumen (Leah Lewis), a fiery being, and Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie), composed of water. In a fascinating conversation with Filmfare, Sanjay Bakshi, Elemental’s accomplished VFX Supervisor renowned for his work on The Good Dinosaur and Onward, unveils the intricate details of the film’s mesmerizing visuals.

 

 

Q: What was the director’s vision for the project?

A: Having worked closely with Pete Sohn in the past, we engaged in early discussions about the story and its connections to his personal experiences as an immigrant. Pete wanted to convey the emotional journey of moving to a new city, drawing parallels with his parents’ own immigration story. As someone who also relocated from India to Canada, I could relate to that experience. Our conversations revolved around finding relatable and universal elements within our personal encounters.

 

 

Q: The visuals in Elemental distinguish it from other Pixar movies. What were your creative experiments?

A: Thank you for acknowledging that distinction; it was indeed our intention to create a unique visual identity. Our goal was to strike a balance between realism and stylization. Pete aimed for a medium that didn’t resemble a comic book or graphic novel but was firmly grounded in the realm of computer graphics. Notice the dynamic and mobile outline work on Ember’s face, which emulates pencil strokes, or the line work on Wade’s silhouette, inspired by the meniscus effect in water. We sought to capture the essence of different mediums while crafting an original computer-generated aesthetic.

 

 

Q: How did the initial visuals of the elements evolve throughout the production process?

A: That’s an intriguing question. The early iterations of Wade looked considerably different from the final version featured in the film. Achieving a watery appearance for his character demanded extensive efforts, including meticulous work on his facial expressions. As we progressed with animation, we realized that certain visual elements overwhelmed the overall performance. Consequently, we had to dial back some effects, leaving them for other parts of Wade’s body. This adjustment ensured he retained a watery essence while delivering the nuanced acting required for his character.

 

 

Q: What was the key to creating Ember’s fiery look without making it intimidating?

A: To stylize Ember, we implemented a technique called pyro simulation to simulate heat. Fire possesses an entrancing and ever-changing quality that can captivate viewers for hours. However, if we applied that level of dynamism to Ember’s head, it would have become visually distracting. Our solution involved using neural-style transfer to organize the flames, simplifying them into carefully painted shapes. This approach enabled us to strike a balance between dynamism and stylization while unlocking Ember’s unique visual identity.

 

 

Q: Did any movies serve as references during the creative process?

A: Absolutely! Pete is a cinephile with a profound love for cinema. We drew inspiration from the works of Hayao Miyazaki, particularly Calcifer, a character known for his humorous and 2D-cartoony attributes. We aimed to incorporate similar characteristics into our fire character while maintaining a sense of realism. Additionally, we explored immigration-themed movies like The Godfather Part II, which features a captivating sequence depicting Vito Corleone’s journey to Italy and his experience at Ellis Island. Although Bollywood movies had fewer references, we aimed to create a universally relatable cinematic experience.

 

 

Q: The music in Elemental seemed to feature Indian instruments. Was that intentional?

A: Initially, we drew inspiration from a few Indian films, reflecting their cultural influence on the music. However, as the creative process evolved, we gradually shifted toward a more universal approach. The intention was to create a musical composition that defies pinpointing its origin to a specific country, fostering a greater sense of relatability for audiences worldwide.

 

 

Q: How has Pixar animation transformed over the years?

A: Pixar’s animation has undergone significant evolution. Elemental presented me with the most demanding technical challenges to date. The industry is constantly changing, and I appreciate the recent trend of films moving away from strict realism and embracing stylization. Films like Spider-Verse exemplify this shift effectively. In Elemental, our goal was to craft an imaginative world that captivates audiences without overwhelming them with excessive colors or boldness. I hope this trend continues, allowing animated movies to push artistic boundaries further.

 

 

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