Q&A: A Peak Behind the Scenes of Pixar’s ‘Elemental’ with Director Peter Sohn and Producer Denise Ream

There’s something so magical about seeing animated films — the beautiful colors, lively animations, and in Pixar’s case, the moving storylines that everyone in the theater, from the rambunctious tots, grumpy teens and the strung-out parents with tears in their eyes. 

But what is often unknown is the incinerated details that are often painstakingly put together for these larger-than-life films  — from the animators to the scriptwriters, hundreds of hands go into creating the finished project.  One upcoming feature that fits this category is Pixar’s upcoming summer flick “Elemental” which follows a headstrong firey elemental by the name of Ember Lumen (Leah Lewis) as she ventures out of the fire enclave in Elemental City and crosses paths with the sensitive water element Wade (Mamoudou Athie.)

To offer a unique behind-the-scenes perspective — director Peter Sohn and producer Denise Ream sat down with Character Media ahead of the world premiere of “Elemental” at the Canes Film Festival on May 27 and the theatrical release on June 16, to speak about the heartfelt nature of the film and how it’s been over seven years in the making.

CM: Part of “Elemental” was inspired by your real-life experiences and after your parents passing, what was the development process like in revisiting your childhood/young adult years?

Pete Sohn: It is fun to talk about funny moments in our lives, and have that become something in the movie. It’s hard to talk about the vulnerable stuff that happened in life, and so there’s been an up and down to that. The journey of the film has been a rollercoaster because it’s been personal, a real rollercoaster ride. There are moments where you’re like “I don’t think it should be this personal because [there’s] the danger that you don’t want to change anything; you don’t let it grow.” But then it boils down to something we all feel personally in all our disparate lives. But I’m so proud of the film. I’m so proud of all the artists that made this thing. 

Denise Ream:

I really did resonate with the sacrificing aspect. I feel grateful that I worked on this because it actually opened my eyes to what my dad did specifically. I’ve learned a lot about my family’s immigration experience. It had been an incredible experience but there’s been tears and laughs that’s all I can say at the end of the day.

CM: The story is seven years in the making; how did the original script change?

PT: The plot of it changed a great deal. The characters remained the same at their heart — like Wade was always an emotional character and Ember was always a strong, fierce character. But the jobs changed; the original fire shop was a garbage sanitation center, while Wade’s jobs differed; he was a guide in one, an artist in another. But the heart of the characters remained the same. The actual storyline, we had so many different versions, like all Pixar movies, but they were all similar. 

DR: But the immigration part of it was always pretty much there.

PT: Yeah, [Ember’s] relationship with her parents was easy. That’s the core of the story.

CM: In recent years, there have been many immigrant-focused stories, which is a good thing, but how did you try to make Elemental differ from the rest? 


It’s such a mixed bag because these things take so long. But to answer your question, most of the time it was trying to find what was real to me. And I just hope that specificity would carve [the film’s] own place. If it was too generic, it could be vague and similar. But there are details in the story that i haven’t seen in other details. But those specificities to what I remember in terms of a xenophobic moment felt very real to me. And so my focus was on how to make that truth