THE LEGEND OF KORRA: The Art of the Animated Series
By M Glenn Gore | Contributor Published: 07/16/2013 10:05 am EST
Publish date: July 17, 2013 Publisher: Dark Horse Comics | Buy Book
Animation is my first love. So when I was asked to pen a review for The Legend of Korra: Book 1–Air, The Art of the Animated Series, Dark Horse’s upcoming coffee table gallery of all things Avatar, I leapt at the opportunity. And those who know me will tell you: I seldom leap.
In February of 2005, showrunners Brian Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino forever altered the landscape of television animation in America when they created Avatar: The Last Airbender. This beautiful and oftentimes haunting series would run for sixty-one spellbinding episodes and pave the way for a ravenously-anticipated 2012 spin-off titled The Legend of Korra. Set 70 years after the earth-shattering events of Avatar’s four-part series finale, Korra would, like its predecessor, take its stunning visual cues from Asian culture and architecture alike, this time adding the distinctive look and ambience of the Industrial Revolution and Hollywood’s Golden Age to its already impressive catalog.
You can abandon any hope of objectivity from me right about here. Believe me when I say that Dark Horse and the vast wealth of talented artists behind The Legend of Korra have compiled every conceivable shred of pertinent artwork for this gorgeous collection. Coming in at over 140 full-color pages, this hardcover edition boasts everything from hand-painted backgrounds to storyboards and animation key frames. Here are just a few of the highlights:
The aspect that surprised me most was the art book’s layout. Each of the First Season’s twelve episodes is given its own chapter, consisting of model sheets for any characters who made their first appearances in those episodes, background paintings of all structures and locations used, and, my personal favorite, intricate technical illustrations of vehicles and/or machines featured. This includes blueprints for the United Forces battleship helmed by General Iroh, which I swear are so detailed you could use them to build your own!
There are model sheets for every major player, and designs for quite literally everybody else. Even characters that appeared momentarily in the backgrounds of locations visited just once and only for a fistful of seconds have entire pages devoted to them. As an artist, the creative road not taken is always of interest to me. The number of “trial” sketches chronicling the visual evolution of characters from rough concept to finished model is a marvelous glimpse into the organic, sometimes daunting character design process, particularly series director and collaborator Joaquim Dos Santos’ (Justice League Unlimited, G.I. Joe: Resolute) mesmerizing early swings at the eponymous heroine. But just in case that isn’t enough for you, models for any alternate costumes worn by the characters throughout the season are also pictured. There are even examples of “battle damaged” and “wet” designs, which is exactly what it sounds like.
And while there isn’t a chapter specifically dedicated to the phenomenal background paintings of Eun-Sang Yang, Frederic Stewart, and Emily Tetri utilized throughout the show, the book is absolutely populated with them. In fact, I don’t think a single location was left out. Here, the backgrounds are presented “clean”, meaning there are no characters, props, or elements present, allowing you to see them in their full, unobstructed majesty.
Perhaps the most gratifying items in this collection are the annotations by the series’ creators and artists, which provide a welcome look into the rabbit hole that is television animation. Each little note is a gift. You learn the real-life inspirations for certain characters, which ones were originally slated to appear in Avatar: The Last Airbender but were cut or moved for any number of reasons, and even small but amazing story notes that were never revealed in the show. Pema was an Air Acolyte before she married Tenzin, you say?
The book rounds out with an ancillary art section, just in case your thirst hasn’t yet been slaked. Featuring a slew of works ranging from convention pieces to the recently-released Season One DVD and Blu-ray cover, this section illustrates (quite beautifully, I might add) that, when it comes to animation, nothing is wasted. Every piece counts. Every sketch matters. Every idea has value. Even the ones that don’t make it to the finished show can be stepping stones towards the ones that do.
I searched this thing from cover to cover in an effort to find a complaint or a suggestion that could have made it better, a more comprehensive experience, but it is simply put together so well I’m afraid I’ve come up empty. I guess I wouldn’t mind if it came with a copy of the soundtrack, or maybe the teleplay to its pilot episode, but that’s probably splitting hairs. I will say this, though. If I’m disappointed by anything, it’s that there isn’t an art book for Season Two. Yet.
M. Glenn Gore has been an informal student of storytelling since his youth. He is a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design and is a lover of film, score music, and design work, although his passion lies in screenwriting. A viewer with a deep respect for quality storytelling and craftsmanship, he often likes to point out that he's not a fan of "cartoons," he's a fan of "animation." He also enjoys Belgian waffles.
Summary:FLAWLESS: Outstanding! Meticulously executed and impressively comprehensive, The Legend of Korra: Art of Book One is a must-have for fans of the stellar animated series and of animation in general. A handsome addition to any library.
Author:Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko