MD: Following in Avatar Aang’s footsteps is a hard act to follow, but as soon as we started talking about ideas for Korra’s character, we knew she would be a worthy successor. We wanted her to be headstrong and aggressive, someone who would never back away from a fight. But we gave her a vulnerable side too. BK: For Korra’s final design recipe, Joaquim provided the majority of the ingredients, Ryu added the spice, and I merely baked it all together. Korra concepts by Joaquim Dos Santos, Ki-Hyun Ryu, and Bryan Konietzko. Color by Bryan Konietzko and Sylvia Filcak-Blackwolf.
BK: Noatak and Tarrlok at their different young ages. I was expecting the task of designing young Noatak at all of these ages to be a real challenge, but Il-Kwang and Jin-Sun hit the nail on the head from the get-go. I was so relieved that I happily approved the designs and moved on to the next task, never noticing until the animation came back that he had the exact same hairstyle as our hero, Korra! I decided it was a kind of interesting and unexpected connection between Korra and Noatak/Amon, showing that despite how different they are in the present, the come from very similar cultural backgrounds. Tarrlok apparently sprouted an additional ponytail every few years. Expressions by Ki-Hyun Ryu and Il-Kwang Kim. Designs by Il-Kwang Kim and Jin-Sun Kim. Color by Sylvia Filcak-Blackwolf.
Mike and I received an advance copy of the first Korra art book from Dark Horse today! Looks great. There’s Ryu flipping through the pages, walking down memory lane. It is breaking my heart that this won’t be available until something like *one week* after this year’s San Diego Comic Con. ARGH!
BK: Villains are always fun to create and write for, so Book Three was a blast in this regard. Mike, Tim, Josh and I got to dream up a team of baddies who represented each of the four elements, but with rare and deadly skills. The designers and I hastily cranked out concept designs so the storyboard artists would have at least rough materials to work with at the start of the new season.
Designs by Bryan Konietzko, Christie Tseng, Angela Song Mueller, and Ki-Hyun Ryu. Color by Sylvia Filcak-Blackwolf.
Ki Hyun Ryu (supervising producer) is another major pillar of the Korra production. I first met him in 2003 when I was living in Seoul, working on the pilot of Avatar. A year later, he took the lion’s share of key animation on the premiere episodes, bringing to life some of the series’ most memorable scenes. I’ll never forget when Mike and I first saw the pencil test of Aang sliding down the iceberg and floating up to hug Appa’s head… we were completely blown away. Ryu can make the most mundane scene shine, like Aang’s marble trick and the now-legendary “Foaming Mouth Guy” bit (the latter of which was 100% his crazy idea). After his involvement in those early episodes (including designing Jet and his gang), Ryu moved on to other projects, and eventually moved the U.S., where he’s been working for several years now.
We are incredibly lucky to work with him again and to have him be such a fundamental contributor to the new series Korra and its style. I can comfortably say that he is the most talented artist I’ve ever known, and it is humbling and inspiring to work with him every day. And though he is a kind, hilarious, and humble guy, he draws the meanest caricatures. Of me. And everyone else on the crew. I’m sure I’ll share plenty of those scathing and wicked sketches in time, but for now, let’s enjoy some of his beautiful and seemingly effortless storyboard panels.
Michael Dante DiMartino: Because the finale had some tremendously challenging staging in it, we relied heavily on Ryu, Lauren, Joaquim to help with the most difficult and important sequences. These panels are primarily Ryu’s drawings, with a few panels of Lauren’s and Joaquim’s interspersed, showing just how collaborative some of these difficult storyboards can be.
Joaquim Dos Santos: This sequence was revised a number of times before we got it right. We knew this was it, the big finale, so we wanted to make sure we all did our part and put our best foot–or in this case feet–forward.
Storyboards by Ki-Hyun Ryu, Lauren Montgomery, and Joaquim Dos Santos (The Legend of Korra: The Art of the Animated Series, Book 4: Balance, pp. 156-157).
MD: Ryu’s fantastic homage to Henry Rollin’s punk days as part of Black Flag. I would love to rock out to the Red Lotus band! Zaheer probably sings about freedom, heartbreak, and tearing down the establishment, like most punk singers. Illustrations by Ki-Hyun Ryu.
MD: For our fourth and final antagonist, we were looking to have a female character who was physically similar to korra. We wanted our hero to have to face the shadow version of herself-a woman who was fierce, uncompromising, and a bending heavyweight. Kuvira brought a lot of new story and character possibilities to the table, and I really enjoyed writing the female hero/villain dynamic. There was a lot of talk in the first storyboard meeting about how Kuvira’s metal armor could be used in battle. To give her lots of ammo, we decided she should have thin strips of metal stacked on her back and upper arms. As she bends one piece of metal, another strip is revealed, ready for the next strike. I cannot remember if it was written into the script, but Kuvira’s arm blade and whip seemed to be natural extensions of her impressive ability to manipulate metal.
BK: Above is one of the first concepts I did of Kuvira, back during Book Three when we knew we were going to weave her into the story as a background character. I had been wanting to do a military dictator as a villain for a long time, so it was fun to finally play around with what the uniform motifs would be. When we were casting the character, we had a couple of pieces of concept art to show the actors. Zelda Williams, who ended up getting the part and played it wonderfully, said, “Hey she looks like me!” I thought the exact same thing when she walked into the studio. Later she told me her mother even has the same beauty mark under her eye. I really liked how Kuvira looked with her hair down, and it helped to sell this hallucination where Korra once again sees the “Dark Avatar” version of herself in her opponent. Kuvira expressions and concepts by Ki-Hyun Ryu, Lauren Montgomery, and Bryan Konietzko. Designs by Angela Song Mueller and Joseph Aguilar. Cleanup by Steve Hirt. Color by Sylvia Filcak-Blackwolf. [x]
MD: It was fun, and also a little surreal, to imagine the characters from the old series all grown up. Everyone always assumes my bald head was the inspiration for young Aang, so when it came time to draw forty-year-old Aang, Bryan took one look at my beard and worked it into the design. Maybe someday I’ll look as tall and buff as Aang. JDS: Sokka and Toph were my absolute two favorite characters in the Avatar universe, and while i had nothing to do with their older redesigns, as a fan I was super excited to see what Il-Kwang and Jin-Sun came up with. You’ll notice Toph wearing the early version of the Metalbenders’ cable harness. I think the designers really knocked it out of the park. How cool was it to see all these characters you know and love as adults?! Designs by Ki-Hyun Ryu, Il-Kwang Kim, and Jin-Sun Kim. Color by Sylvia Filcak-Blackwolf.