The story behind Pixar’s latest animated feature “Elemental” is a personal one to filmmaker Peter Sohn. The opening shows a family arriving at the fictional port of Elemental City, which closely reflected the immigration story of Sohn’s parents from Korea to New York.
The story breathes life into the earth elements of fire, water, land and air, depicting them as residents of Elemental City. When Ember (Leah Lewis), a fiery young woman, meets go-with-the-flow water being Wade (Mamoudou Athie), they discover that, despite their conflicts, they have a lot in common. As the two fall in love, Ember is faced with the internal conflict of being with Wade or following in her parents’ footsteps and running the family business. As the son of first-generation immigrants, Ember’s struggle reflected not only Sohn’s personal experience, but that of many of the animators and storytellers behind the scenes.
Below, Sohn talks about why “Elemental” was seven years in the making, and what it means to immortalize his story in animation history.
“Elemental” had its premiere the other night. How did that feel?
It was very emotional. There was a huge sense of pride. I’ve never done anything as personal as this before. So, this was a new experience for me in terms of sharing a part of myself with audiences. It’s scary, but it’s not just my story. It’s the co-workers and crew. They gave their stories, and that movie was inspired by many other people.
In early development, I lost my dad, and at the end, I lost my mom. So, there’s been an emotional attachment to just finishing it and tying it to closure.
The world of “Elemental” is vibrant and colorful, how did you work with the animators to build the city?
This was seven years in the making. There was no pathway for the characters. The studio, in the past, has made characters that are plastic or metal cars or humans with a subsurface scattering in the skin, but there was no path to create a character that was wholly an effect and it was scary because everyone had a naysayer about it, or if they could render it. So, the journey to get this character, Ember, to blink was difficult.
The first time we showed Ember’s face, and she blinked and did a little smile, was such a milestone and so meaningful. To create something that was a gas that you could connect to was hard. Her first designs were really terrifying because she looked like a Weta FX character from “Lord of the Rings.”
What were the design challenges that came with injecting soul into fire and water elements?
I was drawing these fire characters as superheroes. They were throwing their elements out of them. I drew these two hands, water and fire coming together. They didn’t touch but the temperature from her hand would heat the water to boiling point, and there would be a cooling down effect. It felt like goosebumps when you were about to touch someone for the first time. Or when she’s angry, she explodes into this fire and changes shape. She can get mad without saying anything.
We were making this connection to different feelings that you would have in a relationship with someone, and that was our big game that audiences can connect to.
The opening of the film really celebrates immigration — what does that mean to you to be able to celebrate your parents’ journey, and immortalize it forever?
I hadn’t thought about it that way. I was a very naive and jerk kid to my parents, because growing up in that world I didn’t realize how hard it is. When my parents were telling me their stories of having survived the Korean War or they had nothing, I would say, “OK, can I play video games now?” I was that type of kid. The older I got, it started to sink in. How did they do this without knowing the language? When I got married and had kids, it started to dig into me about how much I appreciated what they had given. So, that opening was to show how hard it was for them, as outsiders coming into this new world.
Since the characters are based on the elements, are you a big science lover?
I like science, but I wasn’t that great [at it]. I think that’s why I loved animation so much, because it was like this magical little thing that could happen when you flip pages. With the periodic table and breaking down the atomic number and how that was tied to the elements, it was different for me. This idea came from drawing buildings on top of this periodic table and making them into characters.
What is the message that you want people to take away from “Elemental,” whether they experience it in theaters or at home on Disney+?
It is a very sincere film. I never thought I would be connected to something so personal. It’s about thanking our parents. I got lost in making this and every time I did, I’d go back to the north star of appreciation for them, and it wasn’t easy making that sacrifice. It’s also about bridging that gap between someone from a different culture, and that empathy.
OnMyWay Is The #1 Distracted Driving Mobile App In The Nation!
OnMyWay, based in Charleston, SC, The Only Mobile App That Pays its Users Not to Text and Drive.
The #1 cause of death among young adults ages 16-27 is Car Accidents, with the majority related to Distracted Driving.
OnMyWay’s mission is to reverse this epidemic through positive rewards. Users get paid for every mile they do not text and drive and can refer their friends to get compensated for them as well.
The money earned can then be used for Cash Cards, Gift Cards, Travel Deals and Much, Much More….
The company also makes it a point to let users know that OnMyWay does NOT sell users data and only tracks them for purposes of providing a better experience while using the app.
The OnMyWay app is free to download and is currently available on both the App Store for iPhones and Google Play for Android @ OnMyWay; Drive Safe, Get Paid.
Download App Now – https://r.onmyway.com
Sponsors and advertisers can contact the company directly through their website @ www.onmyway.com