Louise Smythe, aka Louise the Lion-Hearted is part of Onward’s fellowship. If you are wondering what the fellowship is, it was a diverse group of Pixar employees that were united by their love of the fantasy genre. As production went forward, the fellowship was relied upon to advise on the fantasy elements of the film to ensure it was grounded in that genre while also providing easter eggs for fellow fantasy fans.
One way that the Fellowship assisted was devising the spells. The subset of the Fellowship that focused on this particular element was the Spell Squad. While brainstorming the incantations, they devised three rules:
1) It must be short
2) You can guess what it does by hearing it
3) It doesn’t sound silly
So, for example, a levitation spell could be something like Aloft Alevar. It is short. The alliterative language brings to mind something “rising,” and in its context, it doesn’t sound goofy. The team spent a lot of time developing the incantations and they went through various iterations. For example, originally the spells sounded more juvenile or “sing-songy,” but as they continued moving forward, they landed on a more sophisticated sound.
In order to ensure that you could guess what the spells did, the Spell Squad had Onward’s director Dan Scanlon come in one day and pull the Spell Squad’s wizard names, (yes, they each had wizard names), from a hat. The selected Spell Squad wizard would perform their spell and then Dan would have to guess what the spell did. When he was able to guess, they knew they had met their goal.
There is more to a spell than an incantation. In the world of Onward, every spell needs “heart’s fire.” This is the emotional desire for the spell to work and the confidence and belief that the spell will work. You may have caught a glimpse of this in some early promotional material in a scene where Ian has to believe that the trust bridge is there for it to actually be there.
Not all spells are easy. Some require a little more help. For advanced spells, they will also need an “assist element.” As you have seen in the trailers, for the spell that conjures Ian and Barley’s dad, they use a phoenix gem. This is one example of an assist element. The need for an assist element to finish the spell is what sets Ian, Barley, and their dad on their quest.
That is just a brief overview of how the Fellowship contributed to the spell process of Onward. It is just one example of the attention to detail that Pixar is known for. It was great to hear how Pixar used their own team to share their passions in order to give the film a special layer of detail. While the Fellowship has a great love for the genre and wanted to fill the film to the brim with fantasy elements, Louise did point out that the team did have to show restraint. After all, the fantasy is there to serve the story so everything needed to fit the structure of the film. That being said, she did say creating spells is the coolest, “I felt like I was getting paid to do a hobby that I would have done anyway.”
Pixar’s Onward will cast a spell on cinemas starting March 6th.
FanBoy is a Disney dweeb who has worked at Disneyland and Walt Disney World