One of the things I think a lot of people take for granted when it comes to movies and television shows is the sheer amount of concept and planning that goes into bringing these stories to the big and small screens. I believe that this goes double for a successful cartoon series, simply because you are not just building this world for a 2.5-hour movie. The world has to sustain itself over the course of several seasons. The Legend of Korra and its predecessor, Avatar: The Last Airbender, are shining examples of how much talent, imagination, and hard work go into the 30-minute cartoon shows you watch or that you watch with your kids.
The Legend of Korra just wrapped up its third season, “Change,” on Nickelodeon, and while I have not binged on this season yet, I will be just based on an artistic principle. If you are into animation or concept design and have not given any of the Avatar-verse art books a look, you should definitely reconsider some life choices, because I am continuously amazed by how much detail show creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Di Martino, as well as the amazingly talented creative team behind them on both series, put into not only each season as a whole but each episode. Now, to jump to the review of the most current art book for The Legend of Korra: Book 2 – Spirits.
Like the first LoK art book, Spirits is broken down into the concept put into individual episodes. This is where I think people take cartoons for granted. Each episode, while set in an overarching world, is different. They require different characters – main, minor, and background (Yes, background . . . those dudes and dudettes need to be designed, as well.) – environments, and props. (Betcha didn’t think that EVERYTHING inside a room a character interacts with goes through a design process, huh?) The LoK art books do a fantastic job of highlighting each of these key animation features by not only showing early concepts for newer characters, but also expressions, movement doodles, and insight commentary from those working on the show. This gives fans and aspiring artists/animators a look behind the curtain into the creative process behind such a successful show.
One of my favorite things about this art book, besides it just dripping with gorgeous environments that can be seen in the show, are the storyboards, because not every art book includes them. A:TLA and LoK do an incredible job with dynamic action animation, as well as expressive emotional scenes, and seeing the process drawings behind those sequences gives me a whole new artistic respect for this show. Getting a closer look at how the spirits moved in the environment versus each style of bending is always a reason for me to purchase these books. Well . . . that and there are 2 whole chapters dedicated to my favorite 2-part episode of the season, “Beginnings,” which had an ENTIRELY different art direction from the rest of the series. Seriously, check that out if you love traditional Asian art used in a new way.
Even if you aren’t a fan of the show, the books are absolutely worth a look and purchase for any animation or art lover. On top of the commentary, your eyeballs with bleed rainbows from looking at the gorgeous color palettes and environment paintings. Personally, I think that’s worth the price of admission.