Over the past 60 years, the ﬁnite element method has been very successful in modelling deformation in engineering structures. However the method requires the deﬁnition of constitutive models that represent the response of the material to applied loads. There are two issues. Firstly, the models are often diﬃcult to deﬁne. Secondly, there is often no physical connection between the models and the mechanisms that accommodate deformation. In this paper, we present a potentially disruptive two-level strategy which couples the ﬁnite element method in the macroscale with cellular automata in the mesoscale. The cellular automata are used to simulate mechanisms, such as crack propagation. The stress-strain relationship emerges as a continuum mechanics scale interpretation of changes at the micro- and meso-scales. Iterative two-way updating between the cellular automata and ﬁnite elements drives the simulation forward as the material undergoes progressive damage at high strain rates. The strategy is particularly attractive on large-scale computing platforms as both methods scale well on tens of thousands of CPUs.