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Peter Sohn — Director, “Elemental”


The universal language of cinema has proved a constant in Pixar director Peter Sohn’s life, and with Elemental, he used it to tell a story close to his heart. Born in New York City to Korean parents, Peter’s mother fell in love with the visual storytelling of Disney movies. He then carved out a career in animation, starting with The Iron Giant and moving to Pixar for moves including Finding Nemo and Up, and making his directorial debut with The Good Dinosaur.

In this podcast, recorded at the View Conference, Peter discusses how his life experiences contributed to Elemental and helped inform creative decisions. He delves into the technical aspects of the movie, revealing how machine learning helped solve some of the surprising complexities of fire and water characters. It’s a moving episode, and one that affirms cinema as a powerful tool to express and share human emotions. 


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0:05:12 "Elemental" as Peter's origin story

0:09:50 "The Iron Giant" and Brad Bird as a leader

0:12:46 Joining Pixar for "Finding Nemo"

0:14:12 "Elemental:" a universal story about immigration and parenthood

0:18:18 What inspired the creative decisions in the movie

0:20:14 Why he chose elements as characters

0:23:52 How to direct a simulation

0:26:02 Machine learning to create fire that looked cartoony and hot

0:28:41 The difficultures of creating Wade, the water character

0:32:50 Creating the store and its culture

0:36:43 How Pete Docter helped Peter avoid the dark side

0:39:46 Korean culture clash

0:40:48 Changes in the animation industry

0:46:16 The effects of AI and how it can make anyone an expert

0:50:29 What's next for Peter

About the author

Christopher Nichols

Chris is a CG industry veteran and Director of Chaos Labs. He can also be heard regularly as the host of the CG Garage podcast which attracts 20,000 weekly listeners. With a background in both VFX and Design, Chris has worked for Gensler, Digital Domain, Imageworks and Method Studios. His credits include Maleficent, Oblivion and Tron: Legacy.

Originally published: November 27, 2023.
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