Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra is back, and the New York Comic Con 2013 panel was a fan’s dream come true. Creative team Bryan Kietzko and Joaquim Dos Santos were joined by the voice talents of Janet Varney (Korra), PJ Byrne (Bolin), and Steve Yeun (Wan), to bring us sneak peaks, answer questions, ask a few of their own to each other, and provide a behind the scenes look at what it takes to create just one seemingly simple animated sequence.
The panel began with a preview of the next episode, with Konietzko jokingly telling the audience that in this week’s episode (that most of us missed since we’re busy here at the convention) Korra is dead. The audience went quickly silent. No, she’s not dead – but she has lost her memory and we are jumping into a story arc taking us back to the first Avatar.
The team came down from the dais and sat with the audience as we were all treated at a look at the beginning of Wan’s origin story. Throughout the clip there were murmurs and gasps as we saw in full effect what sets this series apart from other animated shows today.?Konietzko explained after that what we saw, a trip for Wan into the world of the spirits and the subsequent effects, was an idea that came to them during the Avatar series – but they wanted to wait for the right moment to tell the story. With sequences in a traditional Asian wood block art style, and even a Chinese ink wash effect, the visuals were just as breath-taking as the gut wrenching reveal at the end of the episode.
After the preview, the team walked back up to the dais with the biggest grins. It was a real treat to see them so proud of their work, especially the voice talent that had not seen the completed episode themselves yet. Moving on to questions from the Korra Nation tumblr, Janet was asked what her most memorable fan interaction has been. Without a beat, someone in the audience yelled they love her, and she said “yep, that’s it.” In all seriousness, she went on to explain she really enjoys receiving, and even just seeing online, the fan art from the series. Dos Santos went on to explain they’ve actually added a couple of artists to their team based on their fan art and Konietzko introduced his nephew in the audience, explaining he was the first one to do fan art after seeing his uncle’s “series bible” that he was working on 11 years ago.
The next question was for Byrne, asking what he thinks of the Eska/Bolin relationship. He very assuredly answered, “a tip for everyone – if you are in that relationship, GET OUT OF IT.” Eska owns him, and he’s sure his wife is loving it, but he really doesn’t know where the relationship will head and it’s very clear she essentially owns him.
Yeun, known for his work on AMC’s The Walking Dead, was asked if he was familiar with the series and if he was intimidated by being cast as the first Avatar. The answers to both were yes, as he went on to explain, “my first thought was… how am I going to mess this up?” It’s a family show, but also the team feels like a family and he’s since been honored to work with them.
The next fan question asked Varney what being Korra has been like, and she jokingly answered, “well my bending has definitely improved.” She said it’s the traveling it’s allowed her to do, the fan interactions, and she enjoys the variety of on camera work she does along with the off camera voice work for this program. She’s done many projects but feels “you never know or can see when success is coming… and I feel very privileged.”
Turning to ask each other some of their own questions, Dos Santos asked Yeun if this is his first animated series. Yeun answered he’s only previously done voice work for video games, “and that’s just recording things like choke #7 or struggle #5… never working directly with a story.” Dos Santos then asked how he felt watching his animated debut, and Yeun described it as “horrifying.” Having been seated directly next to him while they watched, I can concur – he indeed looked very nervous, and uncomfortable – but he also was smiling and laughing along with the audience.
One more fan question came from an online person nicknamed "Mako," asking Byrne what his favorite Bolin line has been. Varney jumped in to answer her favorite has been from the first season in a scene where he was riding Naga and flailing, saying rythmically as she gallops, "I want to be on your back!" This led to an explanation of additional dialogue recording (ADR) in which he adlibbed the line when he saw the rhythm of the animation.
As they continued to discuss their reactions to the episode we saw, Varney asked Konietzko and Dos Santos what the inspiration was. Konietzko explained it as a combination of the beloved animated movie Spirited Away, the desire to solidify the Avatar's origin, and fan art he'd seen.
The panel concluded with a very thorough walkthrough of what it takes to create even a short sequence from script, to background art, character design, storyboarding, animation, voice recording, sound effects, musical score, ADR, and finally the completed scene. Not only was this more insight than most of us have on what it takes to create an animated series of this caliber - but it was a scene from the tenth episode of this season, so we got to see even more of where Korra is heading.
The Legend of Korra may keep fans waiting excruciatingly long between installments, but this panel illustrated just why that is, and the work put into the show shines through in the finished product. Fans of the original Avatar series, this series, or even just animation in general will not want to miss what is coming up this fall on Nickelodeon.