Avatar: The Last Airbender ๐ŸŒŠ ๐ŸŒŽ ๐Ÿ”ฅ ๐Ÿ’จ 15th Anniversary Panel Discussion


(upbeat instrumental music) – [Voiceover] And now the moment
you’ve all been waiting for I turn you over to today’s moderator, Nickelodeon’s VP of animation
originals development, Kari Kim. (audience applause) – Wow, this is exciting. 15 years, holy moly. This is great. Well, I’d like to introduce
you to Dante Bosco, as you guys all know who he is. Voice of Zuko, author of “Rufio to Zuko.” We’ll talk a little bit about that. And Angela Song Mueller,
who’s a character designer. (applause) And Giancarlo Volpe, who’s a director. – Hello. – And we have in the
audience, the creators, wave. Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino we’ll be outside, as you guys know, the signing’s soon. But they are here to support us all. Really excited to have you guys here. So, I thought we would just dive in with some great icebreakers. (laughing) Um, okay, are you Kataang or Zutara? – Oh, right in, right now? (audience laughing) Right off the bat? – We’re just gonna rip the band-aid off. – [Audience member] Zutara! (everybody laughing) – Zutara forever. (cheering) I don’t know, what do you guys think? – I’m Kataang, coz I relate to Aang. I want the nice guy to get the girl. Not the Zuko type. (laughing) – I was Zutara. – There you go. (audience applause) – I actually wrote a poem. – You did? – Yeah, it’s a Zutara poem. Coz I’m– I don’t know. – I feel like you have
to stand up and do it. – No, it’s just really short because, whatever, we talk about it online. I’m like, the fans, in the inter webs, consider me the captain
of the Zutara ship. So I had this poem.
– That’d be accurate. – The poem goes, “Sometimes, the memory “of what could’ve been is so much stronger “than what actually happened “because the memory of
perfection lasts longer. “And even though we
didn’t end up together, “that’ll never change the fact “that you changed my life forever. “Zutara.” (audience cheering) Awesome. – Perfection, absolute perfection. Especially the whispering of “Zutara.” – It’s like a dream. – Everyone, can we just do
that right now, real quick? – [Audience] Zutara. – It’s great! I mean, it’s one of those great things about when
a project like this becomes so big. It’s like, there’s things that are
canon, and canon is great, and there’s things that aren’t canon, and all the fan-picks that follow are just, add to the legend of what the original property was. – Yeah. Have you ever tried that when you’re like, ordering at McDonald’s. Like, “I’ll have a quarter
pounder with cheese. “Zutara.” (audience applause) – No, but I do get
recognized a lot at Starbucks because a lot of time cashiers, they’re just taking your order, and they don’t really listen to you. They’re like, “What do you want?” And I’m just like, “Can I get a grande
white chocolate mocha?” And they’re like, “Are you Prince Zuko?” (laughter)
– That’s amazing. – And then your hands
come up and you’re like, “Yes, I am”
(laughing) – When did you guys realize
how huge this impact, and the fandom, like, was
it in the first season? Like did you know all along that it was just gonna blow up to such amazing love? – Like, I always thought that we were working on something special. Like, I just did– that’s why I quit my job, so I could come over
and work on this show. But I didn’t get that it was big until it was either DeviantArt. (laughing) That was like–
– [Dante] Wow! – That was like a moment where I was like, “Wow, people are really
talking about this show.” And then there was probably, I think it might’ve been
the first Comic Con panel or something where I
kind of realized, like, when we were turning people away, and it was just the first
season or something. – Yeah, I had no clue, you know. It’s very interesting because
when we were doing this, especially the first few seasons, it’s before internet,
none of us had Facebook. Twitter didn’t exist yet. Like, none of that existed, right? And I remember I was up, I was shooting a movie in Toronto, and one of the other actors on the film started freaking out
because I kept leaving the set once a week to do this thing. He’s like, “What are you doing?” I’m like, “A cartoon. Like,
I’m doing this cartoon.” And he’s like, “What is
the name of the cartoon?” And I was like, “It’s like Avatar. “Like, Nickelodeon, The Last Airbender.” He’s like, “What? What are you doing?” He started freaking out and I kind of got hit, like,
“Okay, that’s interesting.” And then I was at Sundance that year, and I ran into Chris Isaak, right? And he was like, “Dante–” We’re, like, in the snow. And he’s like, “That cartoon!” (audience laughing) Can you believe it? I’m
like, “What’s going on? Like, what, what did we do?” and I was like, “I have no clue!” And it was really weird because we were, like,
walking around Sundance, and people were, like, talking about Avatar: The Last Airbender to us. And we were like, it was weird. – Yeah, I think that’s the thing is people don’t realize, like, it’s sort of a slow burn. Like, you find out later that people actually liked the thing
you were slaving over. – What was the, you know, (mumbles) obviously, as it was building, you were seeing all this fan art. Can you guys think of any of the crazy fan art that you really
loved, or was insane, or couldn’t believe it was created? – Well, I think, I just remember, I think it was a couple years even after the show ended or something, I was rolling up to Burbank Airport to pick up a friend or a family member, and I got behind a very
large, tan mini-van that had a giant arrow on the hood, and it went across the top of it. And I was looking at that, and I just happened to
look at the license plate as I was pulling up behind it, and it said, “Yip Yip” And I was like, (laughter)
Are you freaking kidding me? I don’t know if you’ve seen it around, but it had Calgary plates, and I was like, “That’s pimping” Oh my God, that is such gonna be a new thing.” So I think that’s also when I also realized what kind of a
hit it would have been. And we knew we’d seen, like,
the popularity kind of spiking after the first season and stuff, but that’s where I was really like, “Oh my God, someone got license plates.” You know, the car, committed to it. And I mean, seeing,
obviously, people at Con, at Cons, seeing the
continuation of how much cosplay is still out there after all this time. – [Dante] The craziness of cosplay. – Yes. – [Dante] Tattoos, tattoo. – It’s wild. And being
like, “Can you sign this?” I’m like, “Sure, I’ll sign your, leg.” (audience laughing) Uh, it’s pretty wild. – Okay, more ice breakers. What kind of bender would each of you be? You’ve been asked this before, I’m sure. – Fire bender. (audience laughing) Is that even a question? Fire bender. – Surprise, surprise. (audience laughing) I feel like mine changes with age, like, there was like, a time when
I was more of a water bender, but now I’m more practical, which is, I want to be a fire bender so that I can make pizzas really fast. (audience laughing) – Two fire benders. – I think I was suppose to
be, like, a water bender-ish, then I realized I’m more stubborn, and solidified, like an earth bender. I’m a little bit more set in my ways. Again, with age, in my
time my answer has changed. – Cool, okay here’s one
of my favorite questions. What part of the Avatar universe would you choose as your retirement home? (audience laughing) – Was there a tropical island on Avatar. – I mean, Ember Island. – That’s true.
– Ember Island. – Ember Island
– Yeah, Ember Island – Somewhere warm. That’s all like, I saw the ice in season one. It’s cold. – It’s weird. I’m sort of a big city guy, so I’d probably be, like,
Ba Sing Se or something. And I’d go to all the
museums and the cafes. – Old man Zuko’s just,
like, back on the boat. (audience laughing) Just for old time’s sake. Just wants to travel the world. – Just a lonely…
– Just lonely… – Captain. – Looking for that girl
I went on a date with at the fountain that one time. I’m like, “Where’s she at?” – Jin! Where is Jin? Like,
we had this great date, and then like, she ghosted me, and like– (laughing) What happened to Jin? So cool.
– That’s the spin-off we need. (audience laughing) – Yeah, Old Man Zuko
just back on the boat, trying to capture Jin and reclaim her. – Sipping some gin. (laughing) – Where’s our hip hop
music busting a note? Angela, what are some
animals that you wish you had made and created
and put in the show? – Well, right, I don’t know. Ryan threw all kinds
of great combos at me, and I would have to say he gave me the opportunity to put my
favorite animal in the show, which is my spirit
animal, which is my Sofie, which is my Shiba Inu, and she was kind of the base of the
knowledge-seeking fox spirit. So, she’s still around,
she’s 16 years old. (audience laughing) Yeah, my old lady, so I feel very blessed to have been able to honor
her in that way, too. – Aw, that’s great. And Giancarlo, so when you think about all the episodes that you directed, what, is there a scene
that you’re most proud of? Or, of all the, you
know, that you worked on, that spoke to you and you really enjoyed and you really had the freedom to… – It’s so hard to pick. It’s like asking you to pick your
favorite child or something. But I think one that,
someone asked me this, a few weeks ago, and the
answer that I came up with was, do you remember in The
Firebending Masters, at the end, when they had to go to the
top of the, kinda stairs, and do this dance that
interacted with the dragons. I had a lot of fun drawing that sequence, and it was like, sort
of treating the dragons as these giant ribbons. Coz it was, like, how
do you make dragons move and also look like the way
two humans are dancing? It was very kinda abstract,
but I just sort of treated it like with every
movement they’d make, drag this long ribbon that happened to be two massive dragons. And that scene is highly GIF’d now. – Yeah, the dragon dance. I’ve done that dance with fans. (audience laughing)
– Have you? – There’s pictures of me. – Yes! (audience laughing) – They’re like, “Can we do it like that?” I’m like, “Sure, we can do that.” (audience laughing) – Zutara. (audience laughing) – So as you know, today’s
event is hosted by AMP, which is our Asian American employee research group at ViacomCBS. So I’d love to talk a
little bit more about inclusion and representation, and Dante. – Yes? – You wrote and published your memoir, “Rufio to Zuko”, as your
journey as a performer. And so I’d love to hear from you, like, what made you decide to share your story. – Yeah, you know, I think it was just a great time to do it. I really didn’t– it wasn’t something that I came up with. The publishers at Not A Cult Media, they approached me about writing a book, and I was like, “Uh… What?” I was like, “I’m too
young to write a book”, or autobiography, you know,
I’m not that old, am I? But they really, Daniel
Lisi from over there, he said, “I really want your story because I want to tell
a story about Hollywood, through the Asian perspective.” And he’s like, “You’re the kid that we all grew up with.” And I was like, “Okay, I kinda like that.” So I set about writing the story, and for the last ten
years, I’ve been producing, outside of my acting stuff, I’ve been just producing
Asian American films. Out of Hawaii, here in LA, and then also, the last two films, our producer was coming
out of southeast Asia. And so, really kinda sitting down and kinda giving my point of view of what it was to grow up in Hollywood. I came to understand that, it’s my 35th year in Hollywood, and it’s like, it’s ironic coz now, it’s like a new Golden
Era for like Asians, or the first Golden Era
for Asians in Hollywood. And to be a part of that, like, myself, my crew,
but also people like Mako, who’s, I talk about him in the book. He was my mentor, and he was Uncle Iroh. And how this show, and this generation, is part of what Crazy Rich Asians became, what Parasite is now continuing. It’s really a fascinating, fascinating time for Asians in Hollywood. – What do you think
contributed to that, the rise? Do you think it’s just the time, or… – I mean, it’s all of it, you know. It’s wild, I mean, talking to John M. Chu, who directed Crazy Rich Asians, and he does a quote for my book. He was like, “You know, when
you get Rufio in “Hook”, that was, for me as a kid, the first time I saw my likeness on film and thought I could be a part of Hollywood.” And this is the guy that ends
up doing Crazy Rich Asians. And so, these little things
are what kind of like accumulate over the years and
become the wave that happens. And in a lot of ways,
“Avatar: The Last Airbender” was a part of that, even as we were starting to do it. And I was even– When I first came and auditioned for it, I really was like, “This
is never gonna work. “This is not…” (audience laughing) You know coz in your mind,
you’re like, “What is this?” I remember, I came here, and you’re like, you come here in a time,
what year was that? Like, early 2000s, or? – [Audience Member] It was 2003. – 2003. And so it was
a little bit different. This whole, I don’t know if you guys were even almost working here at the time, but the building was all white and had Double Dare
slime on the roof, right? And the big Nickelodeon letters. And you walk through the
gates, and there’s murals, massive murals of Spongebob and CatDog. Great, classic Nickelodeon stuff. And then, they give you this script that is obviously Asian-inspired. Epic. This tale of earth, wind, fire, water. And you’re like, “This isn’t Nickelodeon.” Like, “This is definitely not gonna work.” And it’s a testament to see something that not only worked, but became
you know, a phenomenal hit. And I think, one of those
things about representation, I think it takes everything,
it’s not one thing. You can’t pinpoint one
thing, it’s everybody. And having a great, like
Mako, who’s a prolific, prolific Asian actor for decades. And people always ask me about Zuko and Uncle Iroh’s relationship, and I say the irony is
Mako was Uncle Iroh to me. He played my uncle and my father, I think like, four times in my career, since I was 12, and if you watch– Actually the first time we acted together, he plays my uncle in a
film called Perfect Weapon, and it’s super Zuko-Iroh feels. And so, to kind of do this project, which became his last project, and it’s always emotional to watch The Tales of Ba Sing Se. You know, and they do his vignette and the dedication to
him, so emotional to me. But, we’re a part of
representation, I think. Definitely, wherever
you look in Hollywood, it’s really great to be a
part of a project like this, that I think really
helped the tide come in. – That’s great. Angela, twenty years in animation and art is pretty wonderful. Can you tell me a story or an
example that like a challenge that you faced in your
career as an Asian American? – Not too, I’ve had, I’ve been pretty, I would say, fortunate for the most part. But I think, you know, there’re, more on a female, gender issue for myself, as opposed to,
necessarily, Asian American. But, you know again like
coming onto a show like this. It’s like, I’ve always been… I’m half, being half Korean, I’ve always been, like, somewhat you know, kind of like, trying not to be hyper aware but aware at the same time. But then like, about blending
in, and then not blending in, and you know, me
questioning my own identity. I question myself a lot of times. You know I get a lot of those questions, like, “What are you?” You know. And I don’t get offended by it anymore, but it definitely was a questionable like, It’s kind of a, What am I? I’m a human. Just, I don’t know sometimes
how to answer it, but– – [Giancarlo] A waterbender. (everybody laughing) – [Zuri] Zutara. (everybody laughing) – But, yeah I think it was really good, you know like you were saying, to read about this or find
out about a show like this, and be like, “Oh”, like,
to see some representation, and knowing that I could
bring a little bit of that recognition to our cultures,
and especially Bryan being so adamant and insistent that we research everything, and not just kind of blindly,
just kind of stereotypical, you know, Asian culture
stuff, this and that. He was like “No”, we did a lot of like research
on these mangrove tribes throughout Asia and China and stuff. And based a lot of like, all the little cities and little details, and stuff like that, so that was kind of a great way to kinda delve deeper. I do feel like, in this day and age it would be even more so because again, we were kind of limited to internet access even though that time, we were kind of dealing
with books and stuff, too, trying to find as much
research as we could. But, I felt like the show
did a really great job of representing that stuff too. But I felt, myself, I was
really proud to be able, to be a part of that and have that kind of
acknowledged a little bit more. Like, we’re trying to be
very aware of that stuff in this kind of a show. I don’t think I saw that as often on some of the other shows. I’ve worked in prime time,
worked on other shows, and it’s been a little
bit more glossed over. Again, kind of, Asian representation is kinda just glossed over as like… Okay, it’s just a
stereotypical Asian American. It was nice to be a little
bit more pin-point on things and focus on different cultures and stuff. – So great. So this is for all of you guys and you can jump in at any time, but I think, being part of the animation and entertainment industry today, I’d love to hear from you guys on what, as creators, producers,
and talent can keep doing to strive and to give
more equal opportunities. So any recommendations? – I think that, I’ll try to answer that. I think that it really
does start with intention because you have to
literally have the thought about representation when
you’re coming up with the ideas, when you’re writing, when you’re casting. And if you’re not even thinking about it, it’s easy to sort of
default to the go-tos, which is, you know, in
some cases, it’s just, “Get me this person, who
always does a great job.” But are you giving,
you know, opportunities to new, young people
with fresh, cool ideas and stuff like that? So, intention. It starts
with the intention, really. – I mean, I think, you know, it’s just, that our stories matter and count, and always, always give
back to the community. As I do indie film and Asian
American in Asian circles, even, the new thing I’m doing now is, I’m calling new Asian media, which is border-less Asian media. So the last two films I’ve done going into Asia and connecting to Asia. The financial systems of Asia, the celebrity systems that are in Asia. And connecting them with
notable Asian Americans in front of and behind the camera here. It’s really, just kind of like, knowing that our stories
are worth being told. There’s value in it. Hopefully in a hundred
years, it’ll be a moot point where it’s like, of course,
you know it makes sense. For as far as Asians in Hollywood, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it kinda of happened now and kind of, like Avatar and anime, all
that stuff led up to it. When I was talking a few years ago, and I do keynotes about Asians in media, I tried explaining to people, especially Asians in the community that
don’t really see themselves, I’m like you need to see where we are and where we kind of scale. In the world of animation,
like when Comic Con blew up, you’d go there like ten years ago, right? And it says, “This is the festival “or the convention for the popular arts.” Like, popular arts? Like what is that? And then you realize how many, how big Asians are in the Comic Con world. And how, things like this are– nearly every artist is influenced
by Asians in our industry that go that way, right? And we go into Comic
Con, even to this day, it’s the only subculture in pop culture that Asians are dominant. Whether you’re white,
black, Latino or anything, they’re talking to Asians. Everyone speaks a little
Japanese or Korean, everything is kawaii,
everyone eats Asian food, talk about Asian things, all the artists know about anime and know about the great Asian masters, and it’s like, this is the like only
culture that is like this. Where in America, whether
you lean more towards a white culture or a black culture, that’s just how it’s been, but when you go to the Comic Con culture, everyone leans into the Asian
perspective of the world, and it’s really
fascinating to really study what that is and what comes of that. And I’ve had these crazy,
crazy conversations, right, in the Comic Con world, even with the last Star
Wars, last year’s Star Wars, I get all, “You see how much
this is inspired by anime?” People didn’t understand the sides, didn’t understand the love triangles, I’m like, “That’s anime” (everybody laughing) You know, you talk to them,
and they’re like, “Oh my God.” So, it doesn’t surprise me that now, like Hollywood is catching
up to kind of a perspective that was actually really led by the nerds. – Yeah, catch up, Hollywood. – Catch up, Hollywood.
– Catch up, Hollywood. Okay, most underrated episode. – Was Ba Sing Se that bad? (everybody laughing) – Underrated. I love Ba Sing Se.
– Underrated, though. – I don’t know, I mean there were– – Sorry, I meant Great
Divide, that’s what I meant. Was The Great Divide that bad? I totally flubbed that joke. I directed that episode. (everybody laughing) – I never think underrated– – Because we always
ask, “What’s the best?” – What’s the best, right? – Well great, well what’s the best? and maybe you’ll come up with
the underrated after that. – I mean, Ember Island Players is probably one of my favorite, favorite, favorite. I mean, there’s no better way to recap. I mean, it’s so innovative,
the way they recapped. – That was so much fun
to do the designs for because you’re literally mocking what, in a way, like what we were doing for the last like three years. – Just trolling ourselves in that episode. But it’s interesting too, though, because I feel like that episode pops because it’s so wacky compared
to the rest of the series. Whereas if we’d made a really wacky show, maybe that one super
serious one would’ve been, like, the fan-favorite. You know that everyone was like, “That episode was, like, real, though.” (everybody laughing) – Dante, do you remember
any lines or scenes that you loved doing and yelling in? – I mean, there’s always the lines that the fans always want me to say. – Go for it. – Those lines, okay… Of course, “I must capture the
Avatar and regain my honor.” (everybody laughing) All day, every day. Other lines, simple lines that kinda became memes and craziness is, “Hello, Zuko here.” (audience laughing) For some reason. And then of course, – “My girlfriend’s the moon” – “That’s rough buddy” (audience laughing) Like, those lines. Those are the lines. Also, I love, like, – “Why am I so bad at being good?” – “Why am I so bad at being good?” – That is a great one. – I think I ask myself that every day. – Speaking of the moon, would you rather date Kyoshi warrior or the moon? – Now, those Kyoshi warriors, if you’ve never seen a troop
of Kyoshi warrior cosplayers come into a con, that’s the most, it’s still the most amazing cosplays. It’s like, I’ve been to
cons where it’s like, a dozen just walked in the door, and you’re like, “Oh my God.” (audience laughing) But, I mean, dating the
moon’s pretty cool, too. (everybody laughing) – Are you talking about Yue
or just straight up the moon? (everybody laughing)
– I guess, Yue. Still don’t know how it all works out, but it’s a bummer. – Okay, let’s see. Okay, here’s some quick,
we’ll do speed rounds. Sky bison or dragon as
your animal companion? – Dragon. Although I mean, sky
bison are cool but dragon! – Sky bison. – What is this for? If I’m going to war, or am I just like vacationing in you know, Vietnam? (laughing) Coz air bisons are pretty cuddly. – Appa’s a better ride, more comfortable. – That’s great. Okay, and then, what’s your favorite Avatar and why? – Which is your favorite Avatar? – That’s a tough one because, to me, it’s either Aang or Korra, for me. I mean, as much as I like the others, You know there’s, I don’t know. – Roku. – They’re the cool, you
know they’re the stars. – Yeah Aang, so Aang, I
love Aang. Aang’s great. – I like Korra. – I love Korra, too. I mean if Janet was here, I was like, “Varney, Korra, for sure” (laughing) – Well, thank you guys. This was really amazing, and thank you Bryan and Mike, for creating such a beautiful series. We’re so proud of it.
(applause) And they’re working on a live action film, so I guess they’re warming up. We’re excited to see what more evolves. (Nickelodeon theme song)

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Comments

  1. Definitely a Waterbender yet I lean more towards the Earth….definitely change with Age for me too

  2. Did anyone notice at the end the interviewer said they were working on a live action film? Couldโ€™ve easily been a mistake but I hope itโ€™s still a series!

  3. I thought avatar whas dead i watched it as a kid and recently i re-watched it on Netflix it whas so much fun. I thought people didint talk about it anymore but wow

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