“Elemental” Experience and Interview with Pixar Directing Animator Gwen Enderoglu

The Elemental Experience was a fun event to celebrate the premiere of the new Pixar movie “Elemental.”  The pop-up was a relatively small but bursting theme area in the Hillsdale Mall.  Guests were invited in after the ribbon cutting by “Elemental” Directing Animator Gwen Enderoglu and Pixar EVP of Production Jonas Rivera.

Upon entering the experience there was a bench with life-sized versions of Elemental characters Wade and Ember that you can take a photo with.  I really liked this photo opportunity since we weren’t able to take a photo at the screening due to the long line.  

The experience featured some hands-on activities like a wind tunnel which kids could grab Fandango tickets, get water from a pipe that mirrors the pipes in the movie, get apple seeds to plant at home, and my personal favorite which was drawing the characters in Elemental with a Pixar animator.

Another fun activity was making truffles with the “I’m the Chef Too” team, prepping the truffle kits to bring home to finish and eat.  

Elemental experience I'm the Chef Too

I had the opportunity to speak with the “Elemental” Animation Director Gwen Enderoglu. Here is our interview which has been edited for grammar and time.  

Elemental experience Jonas Rivera and Gwen Enderoglu
Pixar EVP Jonas Rivera and Director of Animating Gwen Enderoglu (in red)

Q:  We had the opportunity to screen the movie last week. We loved it.  I thought it was interesting that it was so very different than what the trailer portrays. I wasn’t expecting a very sweet love story. Can you talk a little bit about the Elemental animation team? About how big is the team and how long did you all work on the project?

GE: Yeah, absolutely. So, as a directing animator, I was one of the first ones on the team, which was about 18 months long. The majority of our team came on about a year to ban. So shop production takes about one full year from the very first shop briefing till the time we finalize our last shot. 

We had a team of about 60 to 65 animators working on the film. And that’s a wonderful-sized team because everyone really gets their own piece of the pie. And as a way to contribute and feel like they do a couple of minutes of animation each, they really get to either focus on certain characters or explore and get to play as all the different characters in the film. 

Q: As a Pixar animator, what unique challenges did you face with bringing fire and water onto the screen?

GE: Oh, yeah, it was a huge challenge. I think we were all super intimidated by the pitch. One thing that we had to do was we had to learn a new level of motion and keep alive that these characters didn’t feel like they were on fire. They feel like they were made of fire, which is a really tough distinction to make. So one of those things is, if you watch Ember, she’s constantly in motion and was always drifting. She’s always changing shapes. 

The other thing that we thought really made her feel like she was made of fire was not being restrained to a skeleton inside the character. So that you feel the shape of her head morphing and drifting where her arm could bow and bend in ways that, like an anatomical arm couldn’t. It was a lot of extra work for the animators to not just create a typical, beautiful animated performance, but then to add on top is the elemental performance and weave those two layers together. 

Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in animation? Do you have any words of advice for women going into the field?

GE: I was led to animation because my childhood interests were art and theater, and it was kind of a really wonderful way that I could still be a performer, but through my art. And I would say for young women who are considering this as a career, please, there is a seat at the table for you. I think that we, as women in this industry, have the superpower of having such a wonderful sense of emotionality and sensitivity to our work. We bring so much of ourselves to the work that we do and that requires people from all walks of life to share their experiences and to be successful in this film. 

Click for a spoiler-free review of Elemental!

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