Avatar: The Last Airbender director on recreating the pilot for live-action

Concept art by John Staub
Concept art by John Staub /

Michael Goi, a cinematographer who’s directing the first two episodes of Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender live-action remake, wrote an article for StudentFilmakers Magazine where he talked about getting the opening shot of the pilot. “Much of the show is shot on the largest virtual production stage in the world,” Goi wrote. “The visual effects artists working on the volume images are the top in their field, and the reality that they can achieve is truly astounding. But I felt it was important to keep an element of unreality to make the results more organic.”

In the original Nickelodeon animated series, the story begins with Southern Water Tribe members Katara and Sokka finding the Avatar, a kind of messianic figure who disappeared from the world long ago, frozen in ice. This time around it’s an Airbender (the last one, incidentally) named Aang.

Goi described how he used a combination of special effects, practical set pieces and a trough of water to shoot Katara and Sokka crashing their canoe into an ice shelf. “The ice walls were in virtual production, the ice shelf was a practical set piece, and the wave of water was a four-foot trough placed in the foreground of the camera with a split diopter filter in front of the lens,” he wrote. “The resulting image combined the elements of different specialties to create a new reality that enhanced the fantasy of what was happening.”

Netflix is remaking Avatar: The Last Airbender in live action

It sounds like Goi is thinking outside the box with this scene, which is reassuring considering the expectations on this show. If you’re a Last Airbender fan, you probably already know that the last attempt to adapt the story into live-action — M. Night Shyamalan’s 2010 movie version — was a complete failure. So Netflix has a lot to prove.

The only concerning thing is that Goi lied about doing this kind of shot before, which is both amusing and unsettling. “In an early production meeting, I proposed doing the shot this way with the assurance that I had done it before. I had not done it before,” he confessed. “It just seemed like it would work in theory. And it seemed like it would be fun.”

While getting the iceberg scene right is important, unconfirmed information from Avatar News says that there will be prologue scenes as well. We know that previous Avatars before Aang have been cast, including Kuruk (Meegwun Fairbrother), Kyoshi (Yvonne Chapman) and Roku (C.S. Lee). We could see brief images of them while the show acquaints us with its universe. Another possibility is scenes of Aang at the southern air temple before he is frozen. Aang’s mentor Monk Gyatso is also on the cast list, and will be played by Kay Siu Lim.

The release date for Avatar:The Last Airbender is yet to be announced, but we should expect it this year.

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