PART THREE of the interview with Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko earlier in April
RM: Some have theorized Momo is the reincarnation of Monk Gyatso. Anything to that?
BK: (to Mike) You told me that once...
MDD: We theorized that once, it was an idea that was pitched once...in the writer's room. But we didn't go with it.
BK: He's a reincarnation of another Momo.
BK: Not having anything to do with Momo's reincarnation, but one thing I wish we had put into the show was how those animals became integral to Airbender culture. We had thought that Air Nomads as they were herding these air bison around would often fall asleep on their bison and drop their staves. They might have dropped it a few miles back and couldn't find it. They ended up training these lemurs to retrieve their staves. We're always thinking of how, "cut away 1000 years ago and this Air Nomad's staff falls and this lemur grabs it for him." That was a fun little idea of why they had these lemurs.
MDD: We're also always thinking about how Bumi said, "You're going to need Momo too." Like he thinks Momo is clearly more than he seems to be.
BK: Hey, Momo helped out on "The Drill". Momo has really helped Aang.
MDD: Yeah, he's saved his life a few times.
RM: In "The Swamp", Sokka sees Yue's image twice. One time seemed very different from the other. Was Yue actually one of those, or were they both just the Swamp itself manifesting his own insecurities?
BK: You're talking about the one time he just runs into her in the Swamp, but then later there was that montage? The second time was more of a montage, it wasn't a literal thing. They all didn't really see what they thought they saw. It was more their own brains...
MDD: Yeah, their brains playing tricks on them.
RM: So both times was his own...
BK: Yeah it was his own conscience. You can see when he meets up with Suki again that Yue is weighing on him. That he failed to protect her. She wasn't there in "The Swamp".
RM: Kinda like his guilty conscience?
RM: Even though she did what she wanted to do?
BK: Yeah. I don't think she held any grudges. She's not like, "Didn't you know you were supposed to stop me? Why'd you let me touch the fish?"
RM: Who's idea was it to have Toph accidentally kiss Suki in the "Serpent's Pass"? Where'd that come from?
MDD: It was while we were developing the story, but I can't remember who was pitching it. It was our little recognition of this Toph-Sokka romantic interest. Toph having this little crush on Sokka, and we thought it would be funny to have it happen that way since she can't see in the water. A good comedic gag.
RM: Can you talk at all about the White Lotus Society?
BK: Not really.
MDD: Only that it is...prevalent.
RM: Was Gyatso a member?
MDD: We will neither confirm nor deny he was a member.
BK: He contributed funds [tongue in cheek smile]. You'll learn more about the White Lotus Society in Season Three.
RM: Are there going to be any more anthology episodes like "Tales of Ba Sing Se"? It was great to see the creative energies from folks not normally writing.
MDD: It was great. That was spearheaded by Aaron Ehasz, the Head Writer. We'd made it to Ba Sing Se and it seemed like a good time to try different episodes from what we usually would have done. One of my favorites from that was the Sokka poetry one. The one Lauren wrote. When else in Avatar would we be able to get Sokka into a poetry...a haiku slam? That was great. In the same way the shorts were great fun and a little bit liberating. But there won't be another one in Season Three.
RM: I know you both took a special interest in the last two episodes of Season Two- "The Guru" and "The Crossroads of Destiny". Can you talk at all to why you took the reins, got more actively involved, in those two episodes? What you were working towards?
BK: "The Guru" was an idea I'd had pretty early on and had pitched to Mike and Aaron during season two. Aang's gone through and done some pretty intense things, especially when he's in the Avatar State. Most series might gloss over that stuff and just move on the plot, but I wanted an episode where he had to stop and think though these things he'd been through. See how they were affecting him, his psychology. I just wanted a mid-point break, but Mike and Aaron really liked the idea of using it as a set-up for the big finale. That made it a little more intense. So Mike and I wrote that one, and he directed 220.
MDD: Partially because one of our directors had left, and there was an opening. The workload was also slightly lighter for me because the writing had wrapped up. So I thought I'd grab my chance to direct again. I'd directed before on Family Guy, King of the Hill, and shows like that, so I definitely missed that hands-on approach to making the episodes. A lot of episodes we write, I wish I could direct.
BK: What we can say is we're doing the same on the last two episodes of Season Three. Mike and I and Aaron are very involved in those too.
MDD: We usually get involved for the really important episodes that progress the main storyline. Bryan, Aaron, or I will usually write it. Those are the ones which are very close to our hearts. Not that we don't love all of them, but there are certain ones you want to shepherd. We're planning on doing a lot of storyboarding on those finale episodes and we're going to go to Korea like we did for the pilot and really help out on the animation to personally make sure it's the coolest thing we could make- ever.
RM: Can you say in which episode we'll finally get to see Ozai's face?
BK: Not really. I will share he's really a cyclops... [tongue in cheek smile]
MDD: Once you do see it, you'll see it a lot. You'll forget it took so long before you saw it.
RM: Can you speak at all to Zuko's decision in "The Crossroads of Destiny"? He'd agreed with Iroh that Azula was psycho and had to be taken down, he'd been burnt literally by her, and then 'boom' he betrays his Uncle.
BK: When you study Eastern philosophies, the ego is a really tough enemy or antagonist. Again, we like to treat our characters very realistically. In real life, people have moments of great weakness, usually tied in with the ego. Your siblings can push your buttons. I have four siblings, a brother and three sisters, and no one can get you like your siblings. Azula knew ALL the right buttons to push to play at his weaknesses, parts of his ego which were susceptible to her. She did it well, and it was a moment where he just tasted this thing which he's wanted and focused on, obsessed over, for so long. I think it was very realistic.
MDD: A lot of people were not happy with his choice. Actually, I thought that made it an awesome episode, that people felt that betrayed by him...which is how the kids felt.
RM: I've seen the letters posted on your wall asking for you to rewrite it.
MDD: You know it's done for a reason. I think Zuko just had to go through that to eventually come out where he's going to. He's got a good side in him, we've seen it. It's just this other side is still banging on the door. Keeps getting in and messing him up.
BK: Mike and I and Aaron and the writers...everybody...we want this to be entertaining. We want it to be fun to watch and exciting and emotionally engaging. But we certainly try to stay away from just being tricky, just for the sake of crazy twists to fool people. We really talk about these decisions. Even though we're trying to be entertaining, sometimes there are different perspectives. Sometimes you have to take your medicine. There are great movies I love where something harsh happens that upsets me, but later you come to understand it really needed to happen for the story they were trying to tell. It wasn't easy to swallow, but it makes for a better story. That's the case here. You know, people have big reactions, but we're unrattled. This is the story we're telling.
RM: Aang was badly injured at the end of Season Two. There have been a lot of theories he was in the Avatar State and that he died.
BK: Luckily, Sokka and The Mechanist have been working on a robot Aang. He's exactly the same except his skin is blue and his arrow is orange. Pretty awesome. That thing's up and running by, like, 301. [tongue in cheek grin]
MDD and RM: (laughter)
MDD: We made a point at the end of 220 to show that he woke up and he wasn't dead. The rest of your question will be answered with Season Three.
BK: (spooky voice) Roboooot...
RM: You're having flashbacks to a previous show?
MDD and BK: (smiles)
RM: Are we going to see the hippies again? I love the work Dee Bradley Baker did to bring Chong alive.
BK: Yeah, Josh and Jeremy did great work on the songs. That was a very fun episode to make. We had a really good time.
RM: Is Mai going to get any more opportunity with Zuko? Any more Mai on Zuko action?
BK: Definitely stay tuned for that one.
RM: Ty Lee's still sweet on Sokka?
BK: She's kinda like a puppy.
RM: Like in Schooltime Shipping? Whomever will reciprocate?
MDD and BK: Right
RM: The Blue Spirit Mask. Is that something really common in the Avatar world? Was there like some mythological Blue Spirit? It seems that some people seemed to know who the Blue Spirit was.
BK: The Blue Spirit mask in our real world is a wizard mask in Chinese opera. We used the traditional design almost verbatim, except for coloration differences which we took upon ourselves. The idea is that it's not a unique mask in the Avatar world. There's a carriage that passes by in another episode where you see how he gets it the second time, I think in 204. The calligraphy says, "Happy Traveller's Opera Troupe," or something close to that. It's a little Easter Egg that shows a connection to our world. The Blue Spirit as a criminal personality came about with Zuko's actions in 113.
RM: Okay, so turning it into a persona for actions like that was Zuko's idea. It's not like there was some Robin Hood-like figure he was drawing on?
BK: It wasn't a pre-existing thing. Although that's actually a pretty cool idea. Maybe it was...
MDD: I like that idea. Some sorta historical...
BK: Yeah. Maybe we'll change it, Bob.
RM: I'm being told this is the last question. I'll ask a practical one. Some purported episode names are being spread around the internet through a source many deem reliable. I have information to deny, confirm, clarify, or even expand on this information. I've promised not to speak on what I know, however. Can I share just episode name info, or do you want to keep that still officially under wraps?
BK: I'd rather you didn't, at least until Nick releases them. The internet is unfortunate that way. We appreciate people's appetite for the content we're creating. We really do.
MDD: I've been really amazed how people go crazy about entirely made-up stories and names.
BK: We do appreciate that and we know they have a long wait for Season Three.
MDD: If we confirmed or corrected them, they wouldn't have anything to do in the meantime.
BK: While we appreciate their enthusiasm and excitement and appetite, if they could just put themselves in Mike's and my position...everyone here. We have been slaving on these shows for like 9-10 months each and crafting the story in painstaking detail, everything so they get the absolute best we can do in a story unfolding for them. When you're 8 Â½ months in and then something is leaked out, it's frustrating. It's like, "If you folks would just have some discretion and wait and not spread this stuff around like wildfire." But people get excited and want to share it.
MDD: (whisper) just wait
BK: Yeah, just wait.
MDD: It's like the 'on the next episode of Lost'.
BK: I never watch those. Those creative people spent all that time building the episode so that the story beats happen in a specific order, and then this network person comes on and gives it all away... Seriously, on 24 it's always from like the last 3 minutes of the next show. It's insane to me. So yeah, if there's a movie I want to see and a trailer shows up for it, I cover my ears and close my eyes in the theater. I care about the story. I may have a weird personality with this, but Mike and I had the chance to see Spirited Away premier in the US at the El Capitan and Miyazaki was there and he spoke and answered questions. I didn't have any questions to ask. They were all answered in the film. To me, everything I'm concerned with as an artist, as a viewer, it's in the film. That's not to say it might not lead me to do some research, but that's just how I see it. It's nice to have stuff to look forward to.
RM: No doubt. There is A LOT to look forward to in the Avatar: The Last Airbender world. Thank you both again for your time!
**Interviewers note: I have some photos of Avatar Central taken from the trip to the Annies which I will sort through and post a few in a few weeks. Keep an eye on ASN News for it!***
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