READ INTERVIEW WITH DEV PATEL WHO PLAYS PRINCE ZUKO IN THE LAST AIRBENDER
The world is engulfed by the fires of war, and no one has the power to stop the inevitable destruction…until now.
For nearly a century, the Fire Nation has waged its deadly campaign for global domination over its fellow tribal nations of Air, Water and Earth. They offer but one choice to the tribes who fall to their might--complete surrender, or complete annihilation.
As the villagers vainly attempt to defend themselves, they stand behind the chosen few who can command their nation's element and 'bend' it to their will. Backed by enormous armies and weapons of destruction, however, the firebenders have already eliminated every airbender on the planet and now, they turn their attentions to the Water Nation, headquartered in their northern fortress.
One day, young waterbender Katara (NICOLA PELTZ) is out practicing her skills with her brother Sokka (JACKSON RATHBONE) when they discover a young boy named Aang (NOAH RINGER). But as Aang's airbending skills become apparent, Katara and Sokka realize that they have found more than just the last airbender. As the prophesied Avatar--the only one who can control all four of the elements--the young airbender is the lone weapon that can repel the Fire Nation's onslaught and ultimately restore balance to the war-torn world. But can he master his bending skills and become the hero he needs to be before it is too late?
A master storyteller, Oscar-nominated writer/producer/director M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN ("The Sixth Sense," "Signs," "Unbreakable") brings the hit animated series "The Last Airbender" to the big screen, creating an epic, larger-than-life world that explodes with spectacular special effects, great action and exciting adventure.
"The Last Airbender" is based on the series "Avatar: The Last Airbender," created by MICHAEL DANTE DiMARTINO and BRYAN KONIETZKO, who also serve as executive producers.
About the Production
Starting in 2005, Nickelodeon began airing an original animated series called "Avatar: The Last Airbender" from co-creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. The show struck a chord with a wide range of viewers. Soon, "Avatar" fever had spread to become an international phenomenon (the show now airs in more than 120 countries). It soon came to the attention of one of Hollywood's best storytellers--M Night Shyamalan. The double-Oscar-nominated filmmaker comments, "'Avatar: The Last Airbender' fell into my lap. It hit me like an epiphany."
Shyamalan's daughters had fallen in love with the series, particularly the character of the young female waterbender Katara. Intrigued by their unprecedented fan loyalty, Shyamalan decided to watch the television show alongside them, and then he too was hooked.
Clearly, there was cinematic potential in the series. Yet to adapt the 30-some hours of stories into a feature film would not be a task without significant challenge-- including the filmmaker's entry into a genre he had yet to explore in his previous work. "I knew from the moment I put the first words on the page, that to do a movie of this complexity, you have to put work into it. Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, who created the 'Avatar' series, spent six years constructing the mythology.
"It has been a real eye-opener and interesting learning curve for me to do something of this scale, while still wanting to maintain a level of perfection," continues Shyamalan. "I was scared to death every day of shooting, as it could be so overwhelming, and there were so many unknowns. This movie is two-and-a-half times bigger than anything I have ever done."
Since the filmmakers of "The Last Airbender" are devoted fans of the original series, they have one ultimate goal that they hope to achieve. "We want to create a film that will not only live up to the fans' expectations, but also expand it to a worldwide audience in ways that only a full length live-action motion picture can offer," says Shyamalan.
"Avatar" creators DiMartino and Konietzko were extremely helpful with the development of the screenplay for Shyamalan, helping to scale down the many stories to feature film size. "I can't tell you how comforting it was to have them only a phone call or email away when I got in a jam. Their 'Avatar' mythology is so well thought out that they had an answer and a back story for all my questions."
Shyamalan had toyed with the idea of doing a franchise type of movie for many years, but never connected with any material. But "The Last Airbender" seemed to have all of the elements that fascinated the filmmaker since he was young, when he first saw "Star Wars"--epic fantasy, fueled by an inherent spirituality, and featuring martial arts at its core.
Says producer Frank Marshall, who collaborated with Shyamalan previously on "The Sixth Sense" and "Signs," "Night has such a signature filmmaking style and a unique way of telling a story. He has the ability to touch an audience in a way that is very broad. In this film he is expanding his talent and range, which is an incredibly exciting prospect."
Adds producer Sam Mercer, "Night had been interested in and offered other franchise pictures before in his career, but until 'The Last Airbender,' he did not find one that he could make his own--organically, from the first words he put on the page."
Shyamalan offers that his own comfort zone lies within the thriller genre and admits, "It's good to change it up and teach myself something new and do something completely different."
"The Last Airbender" explores Book One of the "Avatar" series that centers around the element of water. The film follows Aang, the Avatar, as he embarks on a quest to master all four elements in order to save the world. As in the television series, "The Last Airbender" journeys from the South Pole to the North.
To begin tackling such a tale, Shyamalan employed longtime collaborator, storyboard artist Brick Mason, and together the two plotted the film on boards for an entire year prior to the start of principal photography. Once cinematographer Andrew Lesnie signed on--who joined for one last pass at the storyboards--the movie was taken to the pre-visualization phase, working with Industrial Light & Magic and VFX supervisor Pablo Helman. At that point, scene-by-scene real-time animatics were rendered, creating a blueprint that enabled the filmmakers to see animated and edited versions of sequences (more than a third of the film was outlined in pre-viz prior to the beginning of filming). Further down the road, getting to watch pre-viz on-set proved invaluable guidance--and viewing them on iPhones was much easier than huddling around a single monitor.
In creating the journey of Aang, Shyamalan not only provided an odyssey for the prospective audience member, but also a trek of a more personal nature. Says the filmmaker, "'The Last Airbender' is intended to be a fun and action-packed entertaining summer movie, but underneath, it does address some serious topics, like the domination of one race over another, and balance, and connection to the planet--and all those things that interest me that you have seen in my other films. This whole process has been such a great growing experience for me, not just as a director, but as a human being--because I am a complete control freak, and when you have as many layers on a movie as we did with this one, you have to surrender controlling every aspect of a scene. Doing that made me go back a little bit and become a student again. And anytime you can become a student again, that is the way to do it."
Concludes Shyamalan, "This film is just the beginning, as this is really one long-form story. Aang has to master all four elements and, in the end, acquire serenity. He
was born into one, Air, but he still has to master Water, Earth, and then Fire, and that will conclude our trilogy. All in all, I deeply felt this was an important movie to be made."
Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies Present A Blinding Edge Pictures / Kennedy/Marshall Company Production of An M. Night Shyamalan Film: "The Last Airbender," starring Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Shaun Toub, Aasif Mandvi, and Cliff Curtis. The visual effects & animation are by Industrial Light & Magic. The music is by James Newton Howard. The co-producer is Jose L. Rodriguez. The costume designer is Judianna Makovsky. It is edited by Conrad Buff,
A.C.E. The production designer is Philip Messina; the director of photography is Andrew Lesnie, ACS, ASC. The executive producers are Kathleen Kennedy, Scott Aversano, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. "The Last Airbender" is produced by Sam Mercer and Frank Marshall, and is based on the series "Avatar: The Last Airbender," created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. The film is written, produced and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
Calling All Benders
Shyamalan was equally forward-thinking when it came time to cast the film. He comments, "I searched for a spectrum of cast members with all different kinds of acting chops. You can't just choose one scale of actors." The filmmakers were also mindful to people the four nations with diverse ethnicities. The epicenter of that world is Aang, the Avatar, and the search for just the right young performer took six months and covered a lot of territory. When filmmakers received a DVD showcasing a young martial arts champion from Dallas, Texas, serendipity and fate collided. Read more
Mastering the Art of Bending
Once Noah Ringer was cast as Aang, he only had about one month to train--as an actor, that is. He was surprised at how much the discipline of acting and the practice of martial arts had in common. Observes Ringer, "In Taekwondo, you listen to your instructor, and then respond. You do the same thing in acting with your director." Ringer trained with the stunt department for a couple of months prior to filming, incorporating his martial arts moves in complicated, choreographed fight sequences. Says Shyamalan, "Noah has a way of adding poetry to his moves, and at the same time, never losing his 'Aang sensibility.' On set, we had to pinch ourselves that this is not only his first movie, but also his first time ever acting. I challenged him everyday on the integrity of his acting, and he would come right back at me with ideas and interpretations of his own. He has a competitive instinct that makes him want to be the best he can be at everything he does." Read more
Four Cinematic 'Nations' Combine Forces: Martial Arts, Stunts, VFX and SFX
In the television series, bending was accomplished through the magic of animation. But for a live-action film, many elements would need to work in harmony in order to cinematically conjure the onscreen control of fire, water, earth and air. These four movie elements were martial arts, stunt work, visual and special effects. Shyamalan has always been a big fan of martial arts and martial arts films. "I am a huge martial arts freak. I am one of those guys that has a statue of Bruce Lee in my office and has seen 'Enter the Dragon' dozens and dozens of times." Read more
Designing "The Last Airbender"
The design transformation of "Avatar: The Last Airbender" series into feature film began in November 2007, when executive producers (and series co-creators) DiMartino and Konietzko handed over all of their sketches and designs from the show to production designer Philip Messina. In seeking to blow up this world from the small screen to the big, Messina and his art department began gathering references. Looking at everthing from travel and history magazines, to sociology journals, to tomes dedicated to dead languages, they slowly began to complile a bible of their own concept illustrations. From China to North Africa to India, even Medieval times, Messina ruled nothing out to inspire him during the design process. Later, Messina's original conceptual art for every set stood as the ultimate reference throughout production. Read more
Four Nations, Many Worlds
Perhaps Messina's biggest design challenge lay in the fortress of the Northern Water Tribe (NWT). The impressive structure--which needed to appear is if made entirely of ice--is the setting for the last third of the film, which features the siege of the fortress by the soldiers of the Fire Nation (employing more than 400 performers in the battle sequences). Says Messina, "The NWT set was the hardest to design. You essentially have an environment that exists in a polar ice cap. You have to start questioning, 'How do these people live?' We took the conceit that they were one with their environment, and that they lived in this extreme climate by choice." Read more
On Location: Going Greenland
Despite its pastoral name, most of the continent of Greenland is an icy landscape. With the commencement of principal photography, production traveled to the tiny, already scouted coastal town of Ilulissat, Greenland (the town's literal name means "iceberg"). There, all scenes of Katara, Sokka and the village of the Southern Water Tribe would be filmed. Read more
M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN (Writer / Producer / Director) directs his ninth feature film with "The Last Airbender," following "Praying with Anger," "Wide Awake," "The Sixth Sense," "Unbreakable," "Signs," "The Village," "Lady in the Water," and "The Happening."
The astronomical success of his chilling psychological thriller "The Sixth Sense" catapulted Shyamalan into the stratosphere of being one of the most sought after young filmmakers in Hollywood. "The Sixth Sense" has become one of the highest grossing films of all time and continues to break records in home entertainment. The film received a total of six Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture, and two for Shyamalan for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. Additionally, the film was awarded three People's Choice Awards for Favorite Motion Picture, Favorite Dramatic Motion Picture and Best Actor for the film's star, Bruce Willis. Shyamalan re-teamed with Willis for "Unbreakable," which also starred Samuel Jackson.
Following "Unbreakable" Shyamalan also had tremendous worldwide success with the supernatural thriller "Signs," starring Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix. He followed with the critically acclaimed "The Village," "Lady in the Water" and "The Happening."
Shyamalan began making films at the age of 10 in his hometown of Philadelphia. At 16, he had completed his 45th short film. At age 17, he stood before his parents, both doctors, surrounded by pictures of the other 12 doctors in the family, and informed them that, although he had graduated cum laude and received academic scholarships to several prestigious medical programs, he had instead decided to attend the New York University Tisch School of the Arts to study filmmaking. During his final year at NYU, he wrote an emotional screenplay made up of personal moments entitled "Praying with Anger," about a young exchange student from the U.S. who goes back to India and finds himself a stranger in his own homeland. In 1992, with the funding to make his first low-budget feature, Shyamalan shot the story on location in India and served as the film's writer, director, producer and star. The film was selected to be screened by the New York Foundation of the Arts' prestigious First Look Series, and in July 1993, was named Debut Film of the Year by the American Film Institute of Los Angeles. The following year, Shyamalan wrote another spiritual screenplay, "Labor of Love," which he sold to 20th Century Fox. In June 1995, he was asked by Columbia Pictures to write the fantasy screen adaptation of "Stuart Little," based on E.B. White's beloved children's classic of the same name.
His second feature film, "Wide Awake," starred Rosie O'Donnell, Denis Leary, Dana Delaney and Robert Loggia and was released in 1997. Shot entirely on location in Philadelphia, the film tells the story of the close relationship between a boy in Catholic school and his grandfather.
Shyamalan formed his own production company, Blinding Edge Pictures, which is based in a suburb outside of Philadelphia, where he also currently resides with his wife and three daughters.
Award-winning filmmaker MICHAEL DANTE DiMARTINO (Series Creator / Executive Producer) began his training at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he graduated in 1996 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in the film and animation department. His directing credits include the prime-time animated series "King of the Hill," "Family Guy" and "Mission Hill." DiMartino wrote, animated and directed the short animated film "Atomic Love," which screened at the 2003 Sundance and Los Angeles Film Festivals. The film also aired as part of the Nicktoons Film Festival on Nicktoons.
In 2002, DiMartino teamed with friend and co-worker, Bryan Konietzko, to create the animated Nickelodeon series, "Avatar: The Last Airbender." DiMartino served as executive producer and story editor on the series, which ran for three seasons on Nickelodeon, from 2004 - 2008. "Avatar" has won many accolades, including a Genesis Award, several Annie Awards and a 2008 Peabody Award. DiMartino resides in Los Angeles, California, with his dog, Truman.
BRYAN KONIETZKO (Series Creator / Executive Producer) is a multidisciplinary artist, writer and musician. He graduated with honors from the illustration department of the Rhode Island School of Design. His friend and fellow RISD alum, Michael Dante DiMartino, helped him get his foot in the door in the TV animation industry. Konietzko worked alongside DiMartino at Film Roman Studios on the series "Family Guy," "Mission Hill" and "King of the Hill." In 2000 he joined Nickelodeon to work on the series "Invader Zim" as a storyboard artist. He became the art director on the second season of the show and spent time in South Korea training the overseas animation crews.
After "Zim," Bryan was recruited by Nickelodeon's head of development to create an original series. He once again teamed with his friend Michael DiMartino, and together they created "Avatar: The Last Airbender," pitching the idea a mere two weeks after its conception. On top of sharing executive producer duties with Michael, Bryan worked as the art director of the award-winning series, designing the main characters and drawing from his experience as a landscape painter for their fantasy world's epic scope.
During the six-year production of "Avatar," Bryan released three albums of instrumental electronic music under the recording name Ginormous. His fourth album, the score for a contemporary dance piece by Los Angeles' Oni Dance, was released in the spring of 2010. Bryan is an avid landscape photographer, displaying his photos of Canada, Iceland, France and Japan on bryankonietzko.com. He lives in Los Angeles with his fiancée, Lisa, and his dog, Gunther.
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