When users of Elemental Powers need to kick ass and take names, they can't always count on there being enough of their element of choice around to properly fight.
At its core, Elemental Baggage belongs to the Acceptable Breaks from Reality brought about by the Rule of Cool. In order to make the action more interesting, the author expects that the viewers will not concern themselves with whether there's enough water around for the empowered character to flood the room, as long as it makes for flashy combat scenes, and maybe just assume they got it from Hammerspace.
When this violation of Equivalent Exchange occurs in a Fantasy setting, one can always claim that A Wizard Did It.note It should be noted though, metaphysically, a lot of the time elements in functional magic systems are used not as material substitutes or basic building blocks of matter as they are classically, but rather "forms" or "ideas" that is imposed on raw chaotic existence in order to cause an effect, either by changing things or creating things. This implies the world is not based, as ours appears to be, on real objective matter, but rather, a simple "existence" which elements directly affect. Or in other words, equivalent exchange simply doesn't apply sometimes because reality was out to lunch in the first place. However, it gets more and more egregious the closer we come to a Science Fiction setting. From the moment the powers start getting called Greek-element-o-kinesis the authors have introduced a magnet for Fan Wank. The fans are going to demand explanations increasingly often and the writers are going to be in trouble.
Of course, Fan Wank or not, it will still look like a cancerous example of Holding Back the Phlebotinum if the writers decide to do an episode where the elemental user is explicitly at a disadvantage because they can't find a large enough source of their element to control.
This phenomenon is less of an ailment for users of more volatile elements such as air (which is present in large enough quantities in pretty much every setting), fire (although someone is bound to ask where all those calories come from, which is often Hand Waved by having fire users be Big Eaters) or lightning (where one is usually more distracted by the character's Psycho Electro qualities). Earth users and especially water users (as the examples above show) may have more trouble, but benevolent viewers will often allow for 10,000% humidity or really really dusty conditions. Not to be confused with Seasonal Baggage.
Compare This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman if the power is harder to get into use, or there's less Rule of Cool to make it acceptable.
Related to Shapeshifter Baggage and the Hyperspace Arsenal. Often implied for Snow Means Cold.
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Anime and Manga
Apparently invoked only to be nastily averted in Now and Then, Here and There. Lala Ru is introduced as having the ability to create endless water using her pendant. This is later clarified as the pendant containing a vast but by now nearly emptied reservoir of water, the depletion of which is directly tied to Lala Ru's steadily worsening condition, and then it's heavily implied that, far from the pendant creating extra water, there's a connection between the slow emptying of Lala Ru's pendant and the fact the earth has turned into a desert. And then by the end Lala Ru finally uses the last of the water. And dies. But then, nothing in Now and Then, Here and There works out well for those involved.
The Logia (and certain Paramecia) Devil Fruits of One Piece run off the A Wizard Did It explanation: one of powers they grant is specifically noted to be the ability to produce as mass amounts of whatever element the Logia fruit in question represents.
It should be noted that the "huge amounts of water appearing out of thin air" disappeared when the guy that made it appear was beaten. And given that people regular using Summon Magic for both magical animals and weapons, it likely that this involved summoning the water from a remote location. With the Second Hokage it's even specifically noted (as per the above quote) that not needing an existing water source had to do with his level of skill.
One character that does avert this consistently is Gaara, whose sand manipulation powers rely on a supply of sand that he carries in a huge gourd on his back. If that's not enough, he'll just make more sand by grinding up nearby rocks (though sand made this way isn't as useful pound-for-pound as the sand he carries around because he hasn't put as much chakra into it).
And when he fights in his homeland, a desert, he predictably has pretty much infinite ammo for his sand manipulation.
This is pretty much the only thing that can possibly explain the Sage of the Six Paths creating the moon without the sudden presence of a new body of gravity killing everything on the planet. Never mind the conspicuous lack of a moon sized crater that the material to create it should have come from.
One filler episode featured a villain that was fairly clever at averting this: instead of making the water himself, he pulled it out of the wet dirt ground.
The Third Hokage actually had a jutsu which played this straight using dirt that just came out of his mouth to block attacks.
At one point a character with the power to "absorb any ninjutsu" is able to absorb the water being pulled out of thin air by another character, but can't absorb the sand that Gaara carries around and and creates by grinding up nearby rocks. The implication is that when the element they need isn't nearby ninjas just create an artificial substitute with their own chakra, which is convenient but inferior in some ways to the real thing.
Most Pokémon are capable of expelling ridiculous quantities of their elements from their bodies. One episode of the anime had Ash's Squirtle fill up a whole truck with water using only Water Gun. In the games, a Pokédex entry mentions that Blastoise (about the size of a van) could fill an Olympic swimming pool. How did so much water end up inside the Mons? Nobody knows. Then again, that creature the size of a van fits in a ball the size of a clenched fist (which in the anime can become even smaller).
Not so much in the Pokémon Special manga. Almost at the end of the third arc, the day is saved because Blue's Blastoise had run out of water and Red filled it with flammable water from a mystical healing spring.
Technobabble given by Roy Mustang from Fullmetal Alchemist says that he is able to create fire by changing the concentration of oxygen in the air and lighting it with a spark made by snapping the fingers while wearing his special gloves. He's breaking apart hydrogen bonds with alchemy and then igniting them. Hydrogen is highly flammable (although it doesn't burn very hot), which is why a room filled with water is actually a good thing for him. Provided he's got an alternative source of sparks, that is.
Ice and Water users from Bleach. Hitsugaya, the most prominant ice-user, goes for the "humidity" explanation, even when conjuring icicles the size of buildings.
Averted in Darker than Black. Ice-user November 11 and April, who can create cloudbursts, both need existing water to use their powers.
Used in To Aru Majutsu no Index and its spin-off, where elemental users seem capable of generating large amounts of their chosen element from thin air. Of course, much of it is explicitly explained as magic.
Great Mazinger has its Thunder Break attack, in which Great unleashes a weaponized bolt of lightning at his opponent. Sometimes (typically in Super Robot Wars and Mazinkaiser), this includes sending a jolt up into the sky, which somehow causes a thunderstorm that sends an even bigger bolt back down for Great to use.
In Yurara, fire wielder Mei plays this pretty straight, though the excuse is that it's "spirit fire" that normal people can't even see. Yako, on the other hand, very much averts this — he carries around bottles of water just so he can create his water barriers any time, anywhere.
Coco from Toriko plays with this trope. He can only produce a limited amount of poison at a time as his poison is composed of his own bodily fluids, in other words, the poison he produces the more dehydrated he becomes. At the start of the series his maximum was 15 liters of poison, however due to his Gourmet Cells evolving and learning Food Immersion, he can produce a larger quantity of poison than before, although their is still a limit.
In the Fantastic Four, the Human Torch's power is the ability to set his body on fire, yet there's not usually any actual fuel for said fire.
Ultimate Fantastic Four had Johnny become a walking fusion reactor; his entire body has reconfigured itself to be as perfect an energy store as possible (which results in some bad effects on his health, as you might expect for someone who turns his stores of body fat into plasma). Warren Ellis tried very hard to justify Johnny. He also has a protective layer of microscopic scales to protect him from this flame. Though that still doesn't explain how he flies...
The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe tried to justify the Original Johnny's flames in a different way, saying that they're a pyrokinetic ability to create a superheated plasma. The Word of God follow-up justification for why his flame goes out when the air supply is cut off is that he can only heat up oxygen molecules, which has been contradicted time and time again in the actual stories.
And still fails to explain where the energy to move those molecules comes from, although violating thermodynamics is pretty much par for the course when it comes to super-powers.
Storm from the X-Men. This was used to (sort of) explain that she can control weather, but not really create it. (For instance, when she makes it rain inside a room, it becomes much drier outside.) Compare Thor, who can make it rain anywhere, because his powers are explicitly magical.
Iceman, also of the X-Men. He canonically makes his ice by drawing the moisture out of the air, but the huge sculptures he creates would be difficult to pull off even in the aforementioned ten thousand percent humidity. The precise mechanism depends on the writer; one was that he draws the moisture from an extra-dimensional source, but he needs actual moisture in the air to "pattern" it from. Thus, he's weaker in extremely arid conditions. In one issue of The Defenders, Bobby manages to kill an alien fungus by draining all the moisture from a sealed room, but it takes much, much longer than you'd expect from the volume of ice he's producing.
Played with in Psycho Dust, where the main character Daisuke and his abilities over fire. Although he can control flames, he can't generate them himself, requiring such outside forces as a lighter or a pair of gloves that work like flints. However, when he does get a light, he can cause it grow or even increase in temperature. Later revealed to be completely disregarded when its revealed that the flames are coming from him and not outside forces, though they certainly do help.
Averted in With Strings Attached. John's Kansael acts as an extradimensional storage space for a lot of water, which is where he draws his water from when he doesn't have a ready source nearby. Since he doesn't do much large-scale water casting, he only ran out once, on the dead-dry Plains of Death.
Film — Animated
The Incredibles had Frozone using water that's either in the air or in his body, and one scene suggests that the air is too dry and he's short on body water so he's screwed, but after a single drink from a cup from a water cooler, he creates enough ice to entirely cover a man and stop a bullet. Mind you, he'd just moved from a burning building into a cool one.
In Frozen, Elsa summons massive quantities of ice and snow out of seemingly nowhere. In the finale, she dissipates the products of her Endless Winter, also seemingly into nothing.
Film — Live Action
Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics has this for Reign of Fire. It calls this "the milkshake problem" — without anything flammable in the air, in order to produce enough energy for one flame blast, a dragon would need an energy intake equivalent to thousands of milkshakes.
Made worse by the fact that they feed on some of the least energetic stuff around, namely the burnt ash of their victims.
And then there are the cartoons where the flame creatures even have sound effects (birds roar, horses gallop and whinny, etc.)
The Last Airbender introduced this to the Fire Nation; They needed sources of fire in order to bend it. Compare this to the cartoon, where they could draw flame from anywhere. Iroh pulling fire out of nowhere shows how Badass he is.
Pyro from X2: X-Men United can only control fire, not create it. He compensates for this by carrying a lighter around with him, and in the third movie, a flamethrower.
Averted in one of The Wheel of Time books: Rand specifically notes how dry it is in the desert, and after expanding his search in the air for hundreds of miles, just goes underground to an aquifer.
However, also used straight; while weaving fire is often used to set people and objects on fire, as well as projecting illusions, the most common use for it is creating fireballs out of thin air. (To be fair, these are supposed to be balls of hot air held together with magic. "Fireball" just sounds better.)
The "water from a desert" thing is used similarly in Eragon, where the title character can't get enough water from the air, and attempting to control the weather to get rain would kill him, so he digs a pit and uses a spell to draw up water from deep underground.
Averted in The Lord of the Rings. Gandalf the Wizard is a master of fire, but needs fuel to work with, noting that he "cannot burn snow".
Wild Cards' Water Lily believes that she condenses water from the air, but to account for the amounts she makes, it's later speculated that she can actually subconsciously transmute air and other matter around her into water, at one point creating a large flood.
Averted pretty reliably in the Circle of Magic books and sequels. Tris may be an incredibly powerful "weather witch" but in order to summon rain, she has to bring it from somewhere, and to get rid of it, she has to send it somewhere else; tampering with the weather has a high ecological cost in this 'verse.
Similarly, Tris can absorb elemental power such as volcanic heat, lightning, earthquakes, etc.—and stores it in her braids—but not really generate it.
Briar, the plant mage, cannot force vines and whatnot to grow from nothing. When he knows he is going to be in battle, he carries premade seed packets with him, often of thorny vines. He also has a water bottle, to soak the packets. He can only increase the speed of development with his magic.
Daja, the fire/metal mage, does not create fire. She does have much more resistance to heat (being able to hold white-hot metal barehanded) and is able to manipulate already existing flame and heat, but not produce them from nothing. Also, the fire itself has to have fuel to stay lit, forcing her to add coal to the forge just like any smith.
Played with in Guards! Guards!, a Discworld novel. Swamp dragons, which are small pathetic creatures kept as house pets, can breathe fire but are obsessed with fuel and frequently explode from getting the mix wrong. 'Noble dragons', the series' name for the standard fantasy fire-breathing dragon, run on magic - whether this counts as fuel or not is debatable, although magical items are seen to crumble to dust once the magic is sucked out by summoning the dragon.
So far averted in the Whateley Universe. Riptide, who can control water, has had enough water to really kick ass only once - a stormy, rainy day in Boston. (But she got knocked out before she could use her powers.)
It depends on the person, lucky mutants play this straight.
Also there are "Manifesters," who essentially create (temporary) matter, even things as complex as plants and animals, out of nothing/psychic energy. In some of the later stories Riptide is described as being a water manifester... specifically "creating" water to fuel an apparently steam/mist propelled flying board designed for her by a friend.
The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher averts this at times. While it is entirely possible to create fire, solid objects (formed from ectoplasm, they collapse when magic is no longer sustaining them), and energy through the use of a wizard's personal will, they can also channel existing energy. Emotions can also be used to power spells. Harry has frozen water by drawing heat from it to create fire and channeled the energy of a storm, but has also just created fire and tossed it around, and after becoming the Winter Knight, gains the ability to create cold.
The in-universe explanation is that you can call up fire with magic, but once it gets there, it behaves like real fire. So after the initial fire blast, anything flammable may ignite, and once you cut the magic powering it, any fire without anything to burn just dissipates.
Averted five times out of six in the Codex Alera series, also by Jim Butcher. Everyone has powers corresponding to at least one of six elemental "furies" of earth, air, fire, water, metal and wood. The power of people with water furies varies greatly depending on how much water is around them. Same for aircrafters, earthcrafters, metalcrafters and woodcrafters: their power is almost directly proportional to the amount of that element within easy reach. The one exception is firecrafters. Their power is countered by water, but that's just because they are elemental opposites; it has nothing to do with physics or conservation of mass or energy. A good firecrafter can make something room-temperature burst into flame instantly, as long as both it and he are dry.
On the other hand, firecrafters are in high demand because its apparently more difficult than other disciplines.
In Harry Potter it is explicitly stated that you can't create matter out of thin air (explaining Mrs. Weasley's ability to conjure up food to cook). During the course of the books, Harry has used a spell to shoot a stream of water from his wand and conjure flame. However, it is never explained how exactly the fire is created. Of course, we're dealing with magic so you could just say A Wizard Did It.
More specifically, food is one of Gamp's Five Untransmutables. Anything not on that list is fair game for being instantly generated.
Discussed in Stephen King's Firestarter. An evil scientist muses how the title girl's talent to conjure up huge amounts of thermal energy with a barely noticeable effort is going to mess up the theories of physics.
Averted in the Rose of the Prophet trilogy. When a wizard travels to a desert environment he teaches some locals how to cast a spell to create mist and fog in order to allow them to help captured love ones escape. He fails to remember his teachers warning never to use the spell in dry conditions and as a result all the water has to come from somewhere. Specifically from the enemies guarding the prisoners who end up as dehydrated corpses. The wizard is understandably upset to find out he accidentally caused the deaths of a few dozen people who were just doing their jobs.
A version of this appears in The Death Gate Cycle. The magic in the books is based on possibilities. So if a wizard is going to cast a fireball, he shapes the waves of reality to find a possible situation where a ball of flame could be hurled through the air. Or if he is being shot by an arrow, he can turn air into solid shield in front of him. No need to really know why, just that there is a CHANCE that the effect might be possible. Only limitation is that more complex spells take longer to prepare. For example in the books the main character prepares weapons with enhancement to kill with each hit. They take hours to prepare (scratching runes into metal) and even a small mistake in rune carving means he must begin everything from the scratch.
Averted in Dragon Weather, and its sequels. The titular dragons don't actually breath flame, they expel a fine mist of combustible fuel, much like a flame thrower.
Live Action TV
In Heroes, Angela's sister Alice is able to control the weather like Storm.
In Dungeons & Dragons, this is Hand Waved through the Elemental Planes of Fire, Water, Earth, and Air, from which these elements can be summoned, and which double as exotic adventuring locales. If you're actually on those planes, spells involving the plane's element get a free power boost, while spells involving their opposed element — fire/water or earth/air — are much harder to cast.
Which, unfortunately, doesn't explain where the energy comes from to power sonic attacks.
Most sonic attacks are used by wizards—that, or they just have tiny, powerful subwoofers in their wands.
Also consider 'create food' spells, does that mean there is a 'plane of gruel'?
In Exalted, the Dragon-Blooded don't need elemental baggage. They are elemental baggage, scions of a long line of elemental heroes, sons and daughters of the (obviously) Immaculate Dragons.
Changeling: The Lost accounts for this with the Contract of Elements. Level 3 requires that the element actually be there before you can control it... but level 4 of the Contract allows you to summon a large quantity from elsewhere if there's none available.
In The Dark Eye, most magical traditions need a small amount of one of the six elements is to summon a servant, djinn or master elemental of that particular element. If the element in question is not pure (sand instead of stone for a stone elemental) it will be more difficult, should it be purer, it will be easier (diamond instead of stone for a stone elemental).
its a bit more complicated then that. The summons are based on Druidic tradition/ritual which needs Element, concentration and gesture. The Wizzard tradition from which the iconic flame-ray comes does not need the element but proper incantation. The source-material goes more along the D&D lines with elemental planes. A way to get a druidic ritual properly wizzardized can be a mayor plothook and crowning moment for a player character.
Addressed during the Bohrok arc of the BIONICLE comics. Gali's water-summoning abilities apparently work by forcing water vapor in the air to condense on command: she's able to summon a flood in the middle of a desert.
That still creates a problem of scale, however— there simply isn't that much water vapor in the atmospheric column over a dry desert.
In BIONICLE, each Toa wield an element. To control it, they need elemental energy that slowly recharges itself when not in use, or by absorbing their own element. This energy allows them to create their element out of thin air (shooting fire or water), or to control nearby supplies of it (earthquakes, wind, etc.). As soon as they run out, however, they can't do a thing.
Sub-Zero of Mortal Kombat at first only had the ability to freeze enemies without any superfluous ice forming, but these days is capable of creating ice out thin air. It's weakly Hand Waved by him freezing water vapor in the air, but that doesn't quite account for how can make something as large as a sword out of a thimbleful of surrounding moisture.
Used heavily within City of Heroes and its sister game, City of Villains. Superpowered characters and NPCs regularly toss lightning, summon fire in a variety of forms, create blizzards or jagged shards of ice, even generate radioactive material on demand. Made most obvious during Hurl, which picks up a chunk of rock off the ground and tosses it, even when used in the middle of an ocean or on top of an empty shipping container, or in mid-air.
Or Propel, which materializes things like crates and pool tables for you to (you guessed it) propel at the enemy.
This, however, is explicitly stated to be a form of teleportation; it's a Gravity Control power.
Doubly so when you discover that no two players see the same object. "Nice lamppost!" "That was a desk."
RyuKoOh in Super Robot Wars averts this with the "Mountain Pressure" attack. It drops a mountain from a few hundred feet over an enemy's head; but this is a specific holy mountain, which is returned after it's used.
This is Super Robot Wars, the game where under the right circumstances, a technique shown to be destroying the Universe does ten damage, in a series where unit health is usually in the thousands. Willing Suspension of Disbelief is required when you start the game up.
Golden Sun contains some pretty good examples of this, such as characters freezing small puddles of water into huge ice pillars.
In a few instances in the sequel one must provide the water for the puddle by using a spell to fill a small indentation with water before it can be frozen, so it really is just a small puddle. However, since most of the magic in the game is situational (several of the cooler sounding magic will only work with certain terrain features, notably the "hover" and "teleport" spells), this is easily handwaved.
The Mega Man and Mega Man X games partially avert this. The weapons and tools are fueled by their own energy reserves, but where do the heroes get the materials for things like giant scissor blades, a damn meteor shower, barriers made of jewels, homing missiles, tornadoes, etc?
Ōkami also uses this one, where paintbrush techniques can pull various elements across the screen. It gets really bad when later brush techniques can pull these elements out of nowhere. Then again, we are talking about gods here....
Interestingly, late-game weapons double as literal Elemental Baggage - if you need a stream of fire, you can just pull it from your flaming disc weapon.
Which uses up a whole lot less ink then making it appear out of thin air.
Same goes for your final rosary and glaive; Her rosary contains the ice element while her glaive contains thunder. As far as techniques that have you connecting two targets on screen with a line, this just leaves the water power (which was obsolete in just about every way but one at that point) and the vine power (which was incredibly circumstantial and was mainly used for transportation).
In Super Smash Bros., among other obvious examples, Charizard can always grab a boulder from just under his feet and smack someone with it.
Team Fortress 2: Pyro apparently took night classes in this trope seeing as one of his/her taunts produces fire out of thin air. (Their chi, perhaps, since it is a Hadokuen.)
Depending on who you ask, there's also the questions of where the Dispenser gets the matter to generate infinite amounts of ammunition and metal, where the Medigun gets the energy to promote endless healing, how Respawn is supposed to work, and where all of those ammo and health packs keep coming from.
Any Final Fantasy game, as well as most RPG's in general, as magic usually allows you to make flames, ice chunks, etc. appear out of thin air. Although you do have to sacrifice some MP.
Dungeon Crawl generally plays this straight, but makes an exception for summoning elementals and the Sandblast spell. Elementals require a large source of the element in question (Air and Earth are pretty easy; fire and water are tricky), and Sandblast works best if the caster is holding a large stone, or else it has to use the ambient grit
Spells that create stuff always include the Conjurations spell school (for example, Bolt of Fire is a Fire/Conjuration spell). Spells that require Elemental Baggage never do.
Magical Star Sign does this with each character being able to manipulate a specific element, in order to put out a forest fire (On a Forest World the characters had to use their powers together in order to crush a rock, create a spring, and then spread the water.
This trope is averted in Drowtales, where elemental sorcery requires the presence of the element in question. For example, ice users need freezable liquid, and fire users either carry around so-called "fire pots" or strike a spark when they need some flames.
In Avatar: The Last Airbender , Hama reveals to Katara that using the water in the air is very doable, and when Firebenders imprisoned the Waterbenders from the Southern Water Tribe, they piped dry air into their cells to make sure they couldn't do anything. However, this is a more realistic instance; when they're pulling water from the air, Waterbenders only receive small portions. And when they're pulling it from living things, things tend to wither and die for quite a large area for a relatively small amount of water. Also averted with Earthbenders to the extent that keeping refined metal between them and any earth or stone is considered sufficient to imprison them... and only two have proven common wisdom wrong (one by commanding nearby stone with his exposed face, the other by figuring out how to control impurities in the metal). Though they're sometimes shown pulling boulders out of the ground without making a hole or noticeable mark in the ground (closing said hole is also likely the result of Earthbending). However, this is played straight in the case of Firebenders, who are capable of creating fire, though it's explained in-universe by chi; presumably, they sling around burning energy. This also explains why they can force their fire to explode at will.
It's mostly averted though in that both Katara and Toph have been seen to run out of bendables, in one case leading to Katara doing some rapid exercise so she could sweat to make her own.
Katara, in particular, carries a bag of "bending water"—literal Elemental Baggage—for use in waterless places.
A scene in the first episode shows Iroh running Zuko through firebending combat drills, where he explains that firebenders use their breath control to draw chi energy outwards, which manifests as flame. Most likely the creators did this to make the firebenders more threatening.
It's also shown many times that benders are capable of enhancing existing expressions of their element: Aang uses fans (or his own breath in one instance) to create wind which he massively amplifies, and when sitting near a campfire Zuko expresses his anger by making the fire flare several meters into the air.
An interesting example of firebending manipulating existing heat pops up in "The Avatar and the Fire Lord." During one of Roku's flashbacks, Fire Lord Sozin is shown drawing the heat out of a volcano's erupting lava and directing it into the air to cool it into solid rock. Interestingly enough, he is using the same stance and technique that Iroh would demonstrate a century later for redirecting a firebender's lightning.
This also makes Airbenders (the last one left anyway) quite formidable, as they effectively never run out of element to bend (unless they get sent to the Spirit World because, as Aang found out, bending doesn't work there).
For the live-action adaptation, the rules for firebending have been refined and slightly redefined: most firebenders work from an existing fire source and the weaponry of the Fire Nation armies is build around the tactic of spreading fire sources onto the battlefield for the benders to use. Only advanced masters — Iroh, Ozai, eventually Zuko — can conjure fire using ki powers. Unfortunately, this runs into a problem when firebenders start using fire from nearby torches which could be easily extinguished by their opponents.
On Ben 10, Osmosians, such as Kevin 11, can absorb anything into themselves, but they need to have something to absorb, so Gwen gets the idea for Kevin to carry rocks along with him to provide him with armor. He says he needs a lot more metal to make his armor.
Also, he never actually absorbs the material itself, mostly just replicating an appoximate amount; it's been shown that he himself is not now "made" from the material, it's just a covering that can be broken off. From the example above, Gwen tosses him a small metal marble. When he "absorbs" it, the marble goes nowhere nor does it shrink; however, only his hand and a bit of his wrist is covered from the process. However, this does not quite work the same when he absorbs a material from an alien who can create its own (ie, Diamondhead). And when he was forced to touch a piece of Taydenite crystal, he had an uncontrolled growth of crystals from his back that seemed very painful.
And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire, the ring of fire. (Sorry)
Looking closely at the rings, what is noticeable is that Earth, Wind, and Water are Gold rings while Fire and Heart are Silver. The golden rings require external sources, while the silver rings come from within. Since most of their battles took place on land, The Ring of Earth has plenty of Earth to tap into; and the Ring of Wind can tap into the Air practically everywhere. As fire requires several factors to come together in order to happen naturally, a person's inner fire better suits the Ring of Fire.
In Chaotic, the Liquilizer is capable of refilling itself with just the water in the air.
Averted in W.I.T.C.H. for the most part. Taranee is shown to absorb and exert heat from the human body, which is the source of her fire as she is shown to be unable to conjure fire when the heat from her body was drained away from her in "S is for Self". Irma also needs moisture in the air to create water. Cornelia subverts this the most when her element is useless in "N is for Narcissist" where the fighting takes place in a floating fortress in the sky with no plant-life at all.
Cornelia: Plants don't exactly grow in thin air, you know.
And again in "V is for Victory" when she's resorted to using algae in the school's pool for her main source of attack, to which she is criticized for by her teammates.
Cornelia: Hey, I'm working with what I got here.
Hay Lin controls air, which tends to be in abundance everywhere. Will controls Quintessence, the mythical fifth element which can be forgiven for being conjured; though it takes the form of lightning, which comes directly from the static on her body as she is shown to be glimmering with static electricity, especially her hair which stands on end at times as well as shocking people randomly when they touch her.
The way it works is that they're able to use the power of the Aurameres (or in their absence their own Life Energy) to amplify what they can naturally generate. So Will can turn a static spark into a lightning storm but can't use it if she can't start up the spark (like if she's wet) and Taranee can turn a small amount of her body heat/other heat released into a giant fireball but can't make one if she's too cold to release a little bit.