In the second part of our week-long series, KidScreen editor Jocelyn Christie talks to Avatar creators Bryan Konietzko and Mike Di Martino about moving their concept from TV to the big screen. The chat took place last month at the Cinekid Film Festival.
Given that there were limitations to what you could do with the concept on a TV budget and timeline, are you thrilled that Avatar‘s now in the pipeline as a live-action movie trilogy?
BK: I’m excited that it’s going to reach a whole new audience that may have heard about the show, but may not necessarily watch cartoons or watch Nickelodeon. Now they’re going to get to see this story realized on a much grander scale. For the last six years, we’ve been striving to make something with cinematic scope and depth for TV, and now we have Andrew Lesnie, one of the world’s greatest cinematographers, and he’s going to be shooting in Greenland and all these other fantastic locations. It’s going to be amazing to see our story and our characters living in a world as big as we had imagined. I’m really excited about that.
How does it feel to have M. Night Shyamalan directing?
BK: The thing that’s really cool is that M. Night is a fan of the show first and foremost. His daughter introduced it to him, not his agent. It came to him in a very organic way. The first producer who got the movie going before M. Night came on-board, same thing. He saw it on TV while on vacation with his family. That’s been a recurring story for Avatar. Once people see it, most of them really connect with it.
What do think are the keys to running a creative team?
BK: Try to squeeze in some management training to go along with your art school education (laughing). We had to learn it on the fly, usually in 20/20 hindsight.
MD: You’ve got to be patient with the people and the process.
BK:The second thing is sticking to the core of your idea and not getting so bent out of shape about the details. I’ve seen people waste a lot of time and emotional energy fighting over the smallest detail on other shows I’ve worked on, which in the end can hurt the show because it’s a bad use of time.
MD: You’ve also got to find the right people for the right job, and then trust in their expertise.
BK: That’s what we did with the Korean studios. We used Jam Animation, a really small company, and Moi Animation. In both cases, we handed over the reins and said, ‘you guys are in charge of the animation. Usually in North America, they do these timing sheets that specify exactly when characters should blink, and if you don’t animate it that way, you’re fined. We cut the animatic, and sent over the materials and said, ‘OK, keep the scene that long and follow the storyboard, but the rest is up to you.’ That’s why the show looks like it does.
MD: We almost always got back animation that surprised us and that was better than what we were expecting.
BK: Most studios use their overseas studios as factories, but when I had the opportunity to train some crews in Korea in 2001 on another show, I realized that they were a community of artists. They weren’t financially motivated – in fact they’d get penalized for making changes – and there was no creative incentive for them. So Mike and I tried to give them both of those things on Avatar.
The series wraps up this Friday on www.kidscreen.com.