Elena Boils Satisfying animated volcanoes. What’s not to love?


Elena Boils grew up close to volcanoes, both active and dormant, in Mexico City, and now she recreates them by way of short animations. Her volcanoes spew green-brown ash plumes into orange skies and fire out glowing jets of hot lava, turning the sometimes dangerous eruptions into something playful and fun. Here, she talks us through her fascination with these mountainous magma chambers.

“I grew up in a volcanic region in the south of Mexico City. In school we were taught about the eruption of Xitle, which still sits just outside the city, in AD 245-315, and although it hasn’t been active for thousands of years I always thought the threat could still be real. There was also the Popocatépetl in central Mexico, which has been active all my life, every now and then sending out smoke or ash. There’s a lot of volcanoes in Mexican Art, and the most prominent artist who painted them was DR. Atl, whose work I have always admired.

Growing up in a volcanic region, there was a subconscious sense of fear, but also of excitement. With Mexico City being a valley, the mountains are always in sight. I find there’s something terrifyingly beautiful and interesting about eruptions. In terms of the way they look and the movement involved, there’s so many different ways to explore them. Sometimes they’re slow and smokey and sometimes they eject a violent jet of lava.

I can’t remember a specific moment that I chose to pursue art. It was always what I wanted to do. I think the only thing that’s changed since growing up are the themes I work with; when I was younger I would always draw people, but now I prefer to create settings or worlds that are devoid of characters.

I make my animations using Adobe Photoshop. The process is the same as frame-by-frame animation, except the drawings are done digitally. I’m fairly new to this process and still need to experiment and learn a lot more, but every time I make a new animation I’m finding different tricks to apply and ways to make things smoother. I think the biggest challenge for me is timing. I’m getting better at it, but setting the pace so things don’t happen too quickly, or too slowly, is a real learning curve for me.

Coming from a still-image illustration background, I like the idea of having a rigid backdrop with certain elements that move through it, so every time I set out to make a volcano animation, I pick the colors and shapes intuitively. I treat it as a still image to which I then add movement. Sometimes I spend time on YouTube looking at eruptions to give me ideas. Recently I watched Into the Inferno by Herzog, which gave me a new set of ideas for visualizations. I think my style and the colors I use give my short animations a kind of comical effect, which mutes the seriousness of the eruption.”