The Project: The Legend of Korra
The Panel: Co-creator/executive producer Bryan Konietzko, co-executive producer Joaquim dos Santos, Janet Varney (Korra), PJ Byrne (Bolin), Steve Yeun (Wan)
Footage screened: After introducing the cast — and special guest Yeun of The Walking Dead — to a roaring packed crowd, Konietzko screened the first half of the upcoming one-hour episode, “Beginnings Part 1,” ahead of its Oct. 18 air date. The panel ran off the stage to watch the episode from the audience. (Yeun sat on the floor near my seat!) “Beginnings Part 1″ starts off where the last episode left off — Fire Sages whisk an injured, amnesiac Korra off the shore. She mumbles the name “Rava” over and over again before a Fire Sage elder starts to heal her using fire in a similar way to waterbending healing. Within herself, Korra struggles to connect her two sides — the physical and the spiritual. Her spiritual self cycles through some notable past Avatars (Adult Aang! Roku!) before settling on Wan. Wan, the first Avatar, promises to help Korra find the mysterious Rava, once he shows her his origins. The rest of the episode continues in a vastly different time, before the Avatar brought balance between the spiritual and physical worlds. I won’t spoil Wan’s journey — at least the first part of it — but I can say some old fan favorites make appearances–including a closer look at the Lion Turtle. Some new characters introduced are sure to be popular. Hint: One might be a human-size carrot spirit, accompanied by a tiny radish companion with a fondness for tea.
Snap judgment: If you thought the animation of Avatar and Korra is beautiful, then prepare yourself for the epic artistry in “Beginnings Part 1.” Inspired by Chinese ink wash and Japanese woodblock, the art of Wan’s time period suggest the “mythical” vibe the creators envisioned for their story. The admitted nods to Spirited Away are evident — and welcome — for they bring back the charm and whimsy fans loved in Avatar: The Last Airbender to the newer, darker series. While fan reactions to this season so far have been mixed, the introduction of Wan clarifies and centers Korra’s story and hints at new challenges to come. Think less politicking and more communing and battling with spirits.
Best movie pitch from the pre-panel interview: The producers and voice cast spoke very highly of Yuen’s dedication and execution of his performance. On Yeun as Wan, Konietzko raved, “He just knocked it out of the park. I love it. I want to do the live-action movie with him starring Wan. He didn’t just do it like ‘Oh yeah, sure.’ He embodied it so well.” Maybe an Avatar Wan movie would ensure that no one will ever remember the train wreck that is The Last Airbender.
Most incisive Korra Nation question: Instead of taking queries from the audience, Konietzko and dos Santos read questions sent in from the Korra Nation Tumblr to the cast. Yuen addressed his previous animation background. Although this is his first animated series work, Yuen has contributed voices for video games. “All I did was like Choke No. 5, Choking 7. How many different ways can you choke?” Yuen said.
Funniest line of the panel: Byrne and Yeun discussed knowing each other prior to working together, having met through mutual friends. Byrne quipped, “The world is tiny. We’re all ‘Wan.'”
The biggest revelations: Besides hinting at new goals and future storylines for the rest of the season, the panel also gave an illuminating behind-the-scenes look at the complex process of creating The Legend of Korra. Konietzko and dos Santos took the audience through the creative process of a scene snippet from episode 10 featuring Korra and Jinora (Kiernan Shipka). The process goes through writing, dialogue recording, design, storyboard, animatic, color and background painting, lighting imageboards, layout, key animation, color animation, sound design, music, and final mix. Konietzko stated each episode of Korra includes an average of 15,000 drawings — emphasizing that such attention to detail is why fans should be less impatient for new episodes.
The Legend of Korra airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on Nickelodeon. “Beginnings Part 1 and Part 2″ premieres Friday, Oct. 18 at 8 p.m.