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Transcript:The Waterbending Master (commentary)

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Long Feng and Dai Li agents
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Michael Dante DiMartino Hey, this is Mike DiMartino, co-creator of Avatar.
Bryan Konietzko This is Bryan Konietzko, the other co-creator of Avatar.
Aaron Ehasz And this is Aaron Ehasz, head writer.
Mike So, this is the main title of the show, which, uh, took a lot of work and effort by a lot of different artists.
Bryan I was driving back and forth between the Burbank Studio, uh, Titmouse's studio, and Hollywood, and my friend, Andy Dill's house, where he was working on the digital stuff and compositing in some other part of LA and everyday hitting all three, and it was pretty rough, but it came out cool. We're happy with it. That last shot I really like. I like the way the perspective shifts.
Mike So, this is the ... kind of the first in the trilogy of, uh, Northern Water Tribe episodes, where they finally get to the Northern Water Tribe. And actually, uh, I wrote this episode, so it was kind of ... I was really into it and, unlike most of the episodes from the first season, like, this was a story that we, Bryan and I, had from the beginning almost, like, we wanted to have ... we knew that when they got to the Northern Water Tribe that Katara would, uh, you know, finally think that she realized her vision of becoming a waterbender and be shut down by the ... the old waterbending master.
No commentary for a short period of time until Katara states the identity of the approaching men as waterbenders.
Mike And, you know, there was a lot of build up all season to get to this point, so it was, uh ... it was very exciting to finally get to this ... this story and be able to do this.
Bryan I kind of like the ... the way the season wraps up with some familiar things. Zhao in this tent, sort of planning this big attack on the Northern Water Tribe really reminds me of episode 103, when, uh, he first learns that the Avatar is back, uh, with Zuko, and I think it's kind of a neat bookend, um ... bookends for the ... for the season.
Mike Another thing about, uh, this guy, Admiral Zhao, uh, he was voiced by Jason Isaacs, who was in a bunch of things. He was in The Patriot, and he was in, uh, the Harry Potter movies; he's Lucius Malfoy, and he's just a really great ... great actor and a great villain overall.
Bryan That ... we were very lucky to get him. I remember Mike kept saying to the casting department, "Can we just get someone like Jason Isaacs?" And they finally said, "How about we get Jason Isaacs." So ...
Mike I was like, "Yeah, that's cool. We'll take him."
Bryan [Laughs.] We got really lucky.
Mike Yeah, he was ... he was a great actor and, you know, as you will see in the later episodes, unfortunately he is ... he's ... he's dead, but ...
Bryan Not Jason Isaacs.
Mike [Laughs.] No. Yeah, the character.
Bryan [Laughs.] The character.
Aaron Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Isaacs, your son is okay. [Bryan and Mike laugh.] Not to worry.
Bryan Uh, it took a lot of discussion in the boardroom to figure out these water lock systems, and unfortunately a lot of the scenes got cut, but it came out pretty cool, and I think you get the idea that this culture has built their ... their whole ... they built their whole culture around, uh, water, and it's kind of like these veins going through the city and cascading down, uh, from the ... the chief's palace all the way down to the lower snowfields. That's a great character design by Angela Mulder on, uh, Princess Yue. And Aaron was adamant that she have, silvery hair because he knew pretty early on that she was gonna be tied in with the moon, so. I remember you were ... [Aaron makes an inaudible remark.] you like grabbed me in the hallway and you were like, [Imitates Aaron.] "I saw a drawing where her hair was dark; it's gotta be white."
Aaron Yes, there are very few visual things that I actually care ...
Bryan [Interjects.] It's true, it's true.
Aaron ... enough and bicker about, or whatever, but ... [Speaking simultaneously with Bryan.] or am interested in.
Bryan [Speaking simultaneously with Aaron.] When someone is that passionate about it, I just say okay. [Both laugh] No and, uh, it was great; it really made her stand out.
Mike We gotta, we gotta mention uncle's song here 'cause, uh, uncle, who's voiced by Mako - great, great actor - uh, he hates singing, but he's really good at it, so we keep giving him songs to do, [Bryan laughs.] but every time he's like, [Imitates Mako.] "No don't make me sing another song. I don't want to do it."
Bryan But I think he was on Broadway.
Mike Yeah.
Bryan That's what I heard.
Mike No, he was great, so, uh ... we, we love to have uncle sing. It's very hilarious, and I think that was the ... that was the first official song we had him do.
Bryan So, so if you ... if you haven't noticed before that ... that love theme that he sings becomes the theme for Sokka and Yue's love story in ... in this trilogy of episodes, so, um, you'll hear that melody woven into the score by Jeremy Zuckerman throughout, uh ... eighteen, nineteen, and twenty.
Mike Oh another good actor note, this is, uh ...
Bryan [Interjects] Jon Polito.
Mike Yeah, Jon Polito does the chief's voice, and uh ... he's, you know, he was in the Coen brothers movies, and he's just a great character actor
Bryan I ... I was starstruck for the first time when I ... when I got to meet him. That was really cool. [Brief pause.] Yeah, being a Coen brothers' disciple in art school definitely ...
Mike Yeah, and it's ... it's, you know, in our show, it's kinda hard to find ... actors who can really bring like a realism to it, but also be funny and dramatic and all the things you need to be to be a great actor, and uh, you know, we try to balance it out with, with actors who can ... can bring a lot to the table. So like, Jack DeSena does a great job with Sokka and Mae Whitman, Mae Whitman is Katara; she's really wonderful.
Bryan There's some great animation by, uh ... animation director Yoo Jang Young, and uh ... from JM Animation. He just, he ... ever since the pilot, he has taken to Sokka so well, just like Jack has, and um ... the two of them together just make a great, lively combination. I really like this uh ... that background; the lighting's really cool and that kinda glowing fountain, but the characters are in shadow, I thought that was nice. [Brief pause.] Pakku, this character, is one of our favorites. He just came out really well. If you'll notice, he is the first character in the, um, ope-, the main title sequence; the waterbending character in the red silhouette is Pakku, so ... like Mike said, we had plans for him very early on, so we put that design in. [Brief pause.] I just love any scene between Zuko and Zhao; it's just awesome. These guys are ... their egos are sooo big and, uh, so much tension, and they both kinda want the same thing; they both want the Fire Lord's approval and ... it's just a great clashing of ... of egos.
Mike This is like the first moment where, [Clears throat.] Zhao recognizes that Zuko is the blue spirit.
Bryan I really was happy with that, the color correction in those flashback scenes. I thought it looked pretty ... pretty cool.
Pause in the commentary until Zhao hands Iroh the broadsword.
Bryan That was a really hard move to do in the acting reference, to flip the sword over and catch it. I didn't know if I could do it [Mike laughs.], but actually I got it the first time. The second time I dropped the sword and it bounced all over the room, which was pretty scary, but ... I should've just stuck to the first take.
Mike So, do you ever see yourself in these, uh, in the animation, 'cause I ... 'cause a lot of times you do the reference for the act- ...
Bryan I do
Mike ... for the acting or the ... or the kung fu, do you ever see your ...
Bryan Oh, definitely. I think you can recognize the hands most ...
Mike Yeah
Bryan ... um, and I definitely recognize Sifu Kisu, our martial arts consultant, in a lot of the ... the action. [Brief pause.] That ... just great character animation on Pakku. Got really, really lucky on that one.
Pause in commentary until Katara approaches and confronts Pakku about not teaching her.
Bryan I love this part [Refers to when Katara says that she did not travel the distance just to be told know and waits for Pakku to respond, "No". All laugh.]
Mike Yeah, he's just a ... he's not a nice guy. [Chuckles.]
Bryan Great ... [Begins, but interjects to add to Mike's comment.] jerk.
Mike Jerk is a good word.
Bryan Great voice acting. Who ... who was the voice actor?
Mike Uh, Victor Brandt did the voice of this, uh ...
Bryan Fantastic, it just matched with the character design so well.
Pause in commentary until Katara runs after Aang.
Bryan I like those little spirit animal heads on the ... it's sort of a motif throughout the city. There's like totem poles with the various animal heads.
Mike Yeah, there's a lot of details like that that are in the background designs and stuff that ... you know, are in the backgrounds if you look closely, so there's a lot of great ... great detail and kind of stuff that has been thought through by the background designers and ... and Bryan in the art direction, so ...
Bryan A lot of moon motifs for the Water Tribe, um, the idea that the moon moves the tides and is sorta the first waterbender, which Yue talks about later. [Brief pause.] I think Bobby Rubio had storyboarded most of the romance stuff in this ...
Mike Yeah
Bryan ... Right?
Mike Yeah
Bryan He did a great job. A lot of personality in his drawings.
Aaron I'd like to observe that the canals and ... and sort of gondola-like sequences are, uh, based on my recent trip to [Bryan and Mike laugh.], uh, Italy and that, uh, is a note directed at the IRS, so ...
Mike Oh, wow.
Bryan Yeah, there you go.
Mike Alright, here's a little ... little fun fact for you, the ... the, uh, pirate barker that we just saw biting the gold is actually, uh, Bryan's voice, and he is, uh ... another tidbit, is the, uh, all the pirates are based off ... our character design is based off the, uh, animators in Korea, a lot of the animators we work with, so it was fun. They first appeared in, uh, "The Waterbending Scroll" episode, and uh, are reapp-, are reappearing here.
Aaron Kids are always so cute on Avatar, that's another note [Bryan laughs.] ...
Mike There are a lot of very cute ...
Aaron ... Especially Water Tribe kids.
Bryan An- ... another batch of great character designs by Angela Mulder. She did a great job on all the Water ... Water Tribe kids; they're really cute. Some great drawings by Chris Graham, the storyboard artist here. He handled most of this Pakku-Aang stuff.
Aaron What ... what was Pakku just slurping?
Bryan We thought instead of just noodles, he'd have some like tentacles mixed in there.
Aaron K
Mike Yeah, they're like octopus/squid tentacles, or something.
Pause in the commentary until Yugoda states her recognition of Katara's necklace.
Bryan Famous voice actor there.
Mike Lucille Bliss. She was, uh, she's Smurfette ...
Bryan I think so.
Mike ... I believe.
Aaron No kidding.
Mike She is classic ... classic. Very nice lady.
Aaron This ... what's happening right here is something that I love about Avatar, which is that this necklace that we've known about for so long and that sort of had its own kind of mini-plot where it got lost and Zuko had it, now we're finding out kinda this deeper history behind it, and like, there are so many things in this show that ... that, uh, start off seemingly so innocently that pay off with such depth and ... and, uh that's one of my ...
Bryan That's true, even what ... the class that, um, Yugoda's teaching is a healing class ...
Aaron [Interjects affirmatively.] Yeah.
Bryan ... of waterbending and that ... that plays a really important roll ... even in before that sequence and ... and, uh you know, much ... a lot after ... after that sequence in other episodes, um, and basically she's ... she's moving the water along the, uh, acupressure points in the body.
Mike So this is another ... this is one of my favorite sequences, I think we've done is ... it just came out great. It's great staging.
Bryan I love that rope noise ...
Mike Yeah.
Bryan ... by Ben. That was great.
Mike Um, the pirates again are back. [Refers to Oh voicing the caution to be taken while handling the blasting jelly.] So, that was Bryan right there. [Laughs with Bryan.]
Bryan Terri- ... terrible voice acting. It was really hard to im- ... imitate my friend Seung Hyun [Aaron laughs.] and whisper. That was difficult.
Mike Nah, it's just really great to do sequences where there's, you know, as much as we like to write jokes and do great dramatic scenes and stuff, to do stuff that we can rely on the animation and the acting and the staging and stuff to sell the story and this was ...
Bryan Yeah, great ... great storyboard by Chris Graham here. I love this ominous bird with the glowing eyes. [Brief pause while Zuko's ship explodes.] A lot of shots of this ship blowing up.
Mike Yeah, we wanted to kind of ... or Chris had the idea I think, to kind of stage it like ... like a live action explosion, where they shoot it from a bunch of different angles and then we edited it all together.
Aaron All the coverage.
Mike Yeah.
Bryan That probably comes from the fact that it ... it costs a lot of money [Mike chuckles.] to get all those cameras because you can only blow up the prop one time, so ...
Aaron Yeah, yeah.
Bryan ... That's probably why [Mike laughs again.], the ... the directors are like [Imitates a director simultaneously with Aaron.] "We gotta put ... we gotta put more shots in there."
Aaron [Imitates a director.] "We gotta get it. We gotta get it."
Bryan Yeah. I love ... I love coming out of that really dramatic, you know, intense scene to this romance scene that at first seems innocuous, and then has its own drama.
Aaron [Commenting on Sokka's self-whittled fish.] I love this little thing he made for her. [Chuckles.]
Mike This was, uh ... I remember writing this joke and thinking, "I don't know if this is gonna work." [Aaron laughs.] But then in the storyboard, I think it was Bobby ...
Bryan Yeah.
... Rubio did the storyboard, and he drew that ... the ... the bad little ...
Bryan [Jumps in.] ... fish bear.
Mike ... fish bear design, and we're like, "That's the design. Do not change it at all. That's ... it's gotta be exactly that." He just captured the ... the terrible Sokka carving.
Aaron I hope that will be coming to stores.
Mike [Bryan and Mike snicker.] Yes.
Aaron Oh Sokka. [Mike laughs]
Bryan I love ... I love when Katara, this little bit of acting, how her hood flops over her head. I thought that was nice.
No commentary for a brief period of time until Katara stands and begins speaking.
Bryan It's so cute how Momo tries to pay attention to what people are saying. [All chuckle.]
Aaron I love how quickly Katara dismisses Sokka's ... [Laughter from Mike and Bryan.]
Bryan [Referring to the scene in which Aang is teaching Katara waterbending.] I love this background.
Mike [Adding to Bryan's comment.] This is what ... really beautiful.
Bryan The ... the reflected ... the reflected light on that wall is just gorgeous. Beautiful. The ... everything ... the stairs kinda fading into the water. It was really cool. It really feels like moonlight on a ... luminous, reflective surface, really cool.
Aaron And also, if you notice, the phase of the moon in the background, that was carefully ...
Mike [Adding on.] ... planned out.
Aaron ... planned.
Bryan [Discussing the background design of the next scene.] That's a cool design. I think Dean Kelly, astoryboard artist, did some background design on this. I think he did that alter piece thing.
Mike I think, uh ... Giancarlo Volpe storyboarded this part, and he also directed this episode.
Bryan I love this scene. [Pauses in commentary until Pakku instigates Katara.] Ooo, too far. [Mike laughs.] I love the cracks. They look really beautiful.
Mike And this kinda calls back to episode, uh ... one where she was getting all mad at Sokka for being ... [Chuckles.] being a little sexist about his attitudes, and she bre- ... ended up breaking the iceberg that eventually freed Aang.
Bryan Maybe that's why Sokka says, "Yeah I think she did." He remembers. [Laughs.]
Mike Yeah
Bryan [Addressing the scene involving Iroh and Zhao conversing about the incident with Zuko.] This is a cool scene too.

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"The Waterbending Master"

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