Malaysian Animator Shares What Her Experience Working On Pixar's 'Elemental' Was Like

"It was so heartwarming to see my hard work put out into the world and being appreciated."

Cover image via Pixar Animation Studios (Provided to SAYS) & Kim Leow (Provided to SAYS)

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"You'll never know until you try," is the perfect saying to describe Malaysian animator Kim Leow, who works with Pixar Animation Studios

Hailing from Taman Yulek, Cheras, Leow recently shared her experience working on Pixar's latest film, Elemental (2023).

Needing no introduction, Pixar, a subsidiary of Walt Disney Company, has been known for popular animated films such as Monsters, Inc. (2001)The Incredibles (2004), Inside Out (2015), Coco (2017), Soul (2020), and their latest movie, Elemental (2023).

Leow was "lucky", as she described, to be chosen to be part of the team behind the film, which was directed by Peter Sohn and released in Malaysian cinemas on 22 June.

Kim Leow

Image via Kim Leow (Provided to SAYS)

Speaking to SAYS, Leow shared her journey of how she went from doing commercials in Malaysia to becoming one of the animators at the world-renowned animation studio

After working in Malaysia for about a year, she moved abroad to continue working in multiple companies. As an animator, it's quite common to move around as it's the "nature of the business", she shared, describing how she went from Toronto to Vancouver in Canada over the course of her 15-year career.

"In Vancouver, I got to work with bigger studios, like Sony and Animal Logic. Over the years, you sort of build a portfolio that is pretty good. 

"During the pandemic, I was just finishing off a show when a friend of mine asked if I was interested to do remote work with Pixar. To me, at that time, I didn't think much about it 'cause I thought I wouldn't make it, but I decided to give it a try anyway. I threw in whatever I had — and it worked out!" she shared.

Describing the interview process as "one of the most intense interviews" she ever had, Leow, who also worked on Hotel Transylvania 4: Transformania (2022), revealed that she had to go through three rounds of interviews with different people.

In hindsight, she said she was glad she had done a variety of shows during her career, as that helped her get the offer at Pixar.

"I was a generalist (someone who does multiple things in animation), then I was teaching for a little bit. It all came together and it just worked out. During the Pixar interview, I think the interviewer saw that I had so much range in what I bring to the studio," she told SAYS.

A first look at the concept art for 'Elemental'.

Image via Pixar Animation Studios (Provided to SAYS)

Despite how lucky she feels, nothing comes easy and it took hard work to get to where she is today.

Leow shared that this is the first Pixar film she's worked on and was honest about how it all felt to her in the beginning.

"It's intimidating, to begin with... I got to see how everything works, how much they care about the story, and how much the animators contribute throughout the whole production," she explained.

"One thing about Peter Sohn (Elemental's director) is that he's a talented person, and [great at] articulating his emotions and what he wants. So, during the production process, he spent a lot of time giving us a sense of what he's looking for. On top of that, you're surrounded by 80 other amazing animators that are the masters of the craft, they know how to pitch ideas, and being part of it, I [felt] like a little girl soaking it all up," she said.

Having been an animator himself, Sohn encouraged the team to put their own "flair, ideas, and thumbprint on their work", Leow said, adding that it felt really good to know that she "owned a specific shot", a feeling that was hard to get from previous films she worked on.

The best part of the entire process for her was getting to play around with the elements of the characters

"A good way to put it is that you don't want to see Ember (one of the characters in the film) as a person on fire, you want to feel that she's a fiery person. How she moves shouldn't be jarring, it should just flow, it's her natural way of moving, that was my favourite part. Getting to play around with what to do with fire and what to do with water. For an animator, it's been a dream," she shared.

Like many careers, there will be challenges. Although the end result seems easy when you watch it on the big screen, Leow said that there were many elements to control.

"For just one pose, you need to really know the appeal and bring out the best side of each character. Like for Ember, when she's angry, the emotion flares up, you have to dial in the colour, how big she goes, or how dim she goes like a candlelight moment. That was really, really tough to do. Just seeing this abstract moment being visualised, that's really challenging," Leow described to SAYS.

Leow hopes that everyone will enjoy Elemental while it screens in cinemas

"There are so many emotions and funny moments, and those moments are the best. You laugh with the audience, I've never seen an audience clap at the end of the movie," she said, which was a touching moment she experienced when she finally watched it on the big screen after spending months behind a 30-inch computer working on the film.

"It was so heartwarming to see my hard work put out into the world and being appreciated. I'm proud of it and I had so much fun on it," she added.

Catch Elemental while it's still screening in cinemas!

You can watch the trailer below:

Recently, we also got to chat with one of the Malaysians behind Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse:

It's never too late (or too early) to reach your dreams as these other Malaysians have proven:

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