Michael Dante DiMartino is an American animation director best known as the co-creator, executive producer, and story editor of the animated TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, both on Nickelodeon.
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I am a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and the co-creator of the award-winning animated Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender and its sequel, The Legend of Korra. Rebel Genius is my debut prose work and it goes on sale tomorrow, Oct 4th!
Thanks for all the questions! Sorry I only scratched the surface. You guys were prolific in your asks! It was a lot of fun, but I have to sign off. I'll try and check in over the next few days to answer a few more.
First of all, thank you for shaping my childhood. My friend once convinced me that she and you were related and wrote me a fake letter from “you.” I was furious when she confessed to her lie. I’ve wanted to be a filmmaker and storyteller since I was eight years old and Avatar helped put me on that path. In fact, I started writing my first script at that age simply because I was so inspired by the show.
MY QUESTION; Avatar, despite being a Nickelodeon kid’s show, is actually quite adult and often valued outside of the kid’s show category. Korra was written for those who grew up with Avatar and because of this, is written in a much darker style. Of course, it can still be enjoyed by children. What made you realize you wanted this show to be for kids as well as adults? Did you and Bryan Konietzko ever consider pitching it as a young adult show?
All of this being said, if somehow our dreams came true and you and Bryan decided to write a third Avatar series, would you go the route of a kid’s show once more or would you transition into something that was for adults and adults only? Possibly a live action series?
Last optional question that I'm really curious about; What are your thoughts on the Last Airbender 2010 movie?
Thank you for doing this. It’s an honor (pun not initially intended) and I can’t wait to see where the future takes you. There are so many other questions I’d love to ask but I’m sure that others will ask them for me! Fingers crossed! I can't wait to read your book!
Edit: Added an optional question that doesn't need to be answered unless your comfortable answering.
Glad to hear the show inspired you to write!
First off, all of the answers I give about a new series are strictly HYPOTHETICAL. There is no new series, as sometimes gets reported...
The evolution in storytelling from Avatar to Korra was a result of me and Bryan maturing as storytellers as well as aging up the main character, so we went from what might be considered "middle grade" in Avatar to "young adult" in Korra. But I didn't feel limited by either series in what we could or couldn't explore. I find that a children's series can delve into some pretty deep social and personal issues.
Rebel Genius (which is categorized as middle grade) definitely deals with some similar themes as far as personal traumas and societal struggles. I would say there is even more freedom in publishing to explore these kinds of topics than in tv, so for now I'm going to stick with novels! Thanks for stopping by.
Hi Michael thanks for doing this AMA :)! (and also for giving my life meaning by making Korrasami canon),
First: how different would have The Legend of Korra been if you knew from the start you would get 4 seasons? What if you guys had been able to be a bit more blatant with the Korrasami relationship? would we have seen them develop any differently?
Second isn't a question but I really need to let you know how meaningful the finale was to me as a gay teenage girl in a somewhat unaccepting household. Gathering around the TV to watch Avatar the Last Airbender, and Korra years later was something we did every week in my family. Having that tradition finish with an LGBT relationship is something I will never forget :)
Thanks for sharing your experience. It's been humbling to hear how Korra and Asami's relationship means so much to people.
It's hard to say if we would have structured the series differently if we knew ahead of time how many season we'd have. We did the best we could with the knowledge we had at the time. Starting out we thought we'd only have a 12 episode miniseries.
But I'm currently writing the Korra graphic novels and we get to see much more of Korra and Asami's relationship develop without any limitations from a TV network, which has been freeing to say the least.
In the book 4 art book, you guys said you wanted to do more with Fire Lord Izumi's character but the story didn't give you a chance to do so. Do you have anything in mind for her and the rest of the Fire Nation Royal Family (like her daughter) in the comics? And if yes, can you give us a hint as to what it is?
Yes, hopefully in the comics, we'll have a chance to go to the Fire Nation and see how it has changed since A:TLA.
Hi Mike! Huge fan here!
One of the many standouts of Avatar and Korra have been its villians. What is the process of writing a great villain?
I see that you wrote the Korra Free Comic Book Day comic "Friends for Life," which was utterly adorable. The Avatar comics have been getting better and better. Smoke and Shadow was fantastic, and now North and South has released. How much involvement have you had in helping to craft the story for the graphic novels and the upcomming Korra comics?
One lingering question I've had since Korra ended has been about Sokka. We know that he had been the head of the Republic City Council, had fought against the Red Lotus, and that at some point he had passed. His legacy remains quite mysterious. What have you imagined Sokka's life was like?
Finally I just wanted to comment on how much I loved the episode Korra Alone, which you wrote. It's one of the best episodes of television I've ever seen and I feel it's the most powerful single episode of Avatar ever. It's just that amazing.
Thanks so much!
As far as villains... One of the keys to deciding who the villain should be is to figure out what your hero is dealing with and exploit that. Who is the one person that can get under the hero's skin the most? For example, when we were trying to figure out who the villain of Korra, Book 1 would be, once we had decided that Korra's character was going to be all about bending and how great it was, Bryan and I hit upon the idea of a guy who can take bending away permanently and was the leader of an anti-bending revolution -- Amon.
And as far as the comics -- Gene Yang has been leading the writing, but I consult with him, give notes on outlines and scripts, so I'm still very much involved, but Gene really does the heavy lifting!
Thanks so much for doing this AMA. I've been a fan of your work since ATLA came out (loved LOK too) and I can't wait to read Rebel Genius! My question is: what does your writing environment look like? (Do you have a special area where you do a majority of your writing, do you have white boards or bulletin boards hanging up, what is hanging on your walls for inspiration, etc.)
Thank you again and please keep writing! :)
I'm now working at home in my own office. It's a pretty simple set up: Desk, computer, wacom (for drawing), shelves of books and chair for reading! I have a nice view out my window which helps when I'm at a loss for words... And a few Avatar bobbleheads cheering me on ;)
Mr. DiMarinto. I would love to start off by first thanking you and Mr. Konietzko for all the remarkable work done in the Avatar Universe since 2005. I've had the pleasure of waiting in-line for almost 18+ hours every San Diego Comic Con with amazing fans just to get a first glimpse into Avatar Korra's journey. I've also had the pleasure of meeting some very talented artists and animators from Studio Mir at conventions and they've had nothing but praise for the world they helped animate.
My question for you is, will we every see you return to the world of animation? Whether it be with Rebel Genius, a return to the World of Avatar or a new project all-together? It would be a shame to see a creative mind like yours absent from the small screen.
Thanks! I'm definitely focused on publishing right now. Honestly, I don't have a huge urge to get back into TV, but I could change my mind at some point in the future.
What inspired you to go with a female lead?
For the record, I, and more importantly my daughters, are extremely happy that you did. While the landscape is improving, there aren't nearly enough strong female characters in children's media that aren't "girl power!" cliches. We appreciate you for planting fresh seeds.
The choice came out of a desire to have a different kind of hero than Aang was. I think Bryan was the first one to pitch that the next Avatar should be a girl and there wasn't much discussion or argument about it. It made perfect sense to me! We just tried to create interesting, strong, but flawed characters, male and female.
Hi Michael! You're excellent at world-building. Where do you draw inspiration for the fictional worlds you create? How do you determine a plan to introduce your audience to the world in an effective manner?
Thanks so much.
My inspiration comes from so many different places -- books I read, places I visit, art, music, philosophy, different cultures... Pretty much anything I absorb has the potential of finding its way into my work.
As far as introducing the world, it's a balance of being clear about what the world is, and not overwhelming people with too much information. I picked up a piece of advice years ago (I can't remember from where) that said essentially: introduce one new character or concept at a time. So in Rebel Genius, I tried to follow that "rule." So with each chapter, you meet a new character or learn about a new aspect of the world or the magic. I guess pacing is the key.
Hello! Avatar/Korra are my favorite shows of all time. Thank you for everything! Can't wait for Rebel Genius!
Now my question.. Do you have any tips on creating a great story? What is your process when it comes to planning it out and things to avoid?
Man... that could be a long answer. Longer than I have time for here. I'm still struggling to figure out how to tell a good story... I'm definitely a planner, in that I write rough outlines. I think this is in part from working on Avatar and Korra where we had to submit outlines for approval and so we were all on the same page about what the episode was about. So for Rebel Genius, I had about at 20,000 wrd. outline that broke down each chapter. Then I used that as reference as I wrote the manuscript, so I didn't get too far off track.
A couple great books for story plotting are: Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne
Hey Mike, love both your shows and looking forward to your book series!
1) How different was it writing a novel vs. writing for television? Was it a difficult change to get used to?
2) I know you've also been writing the post-series comic continuation for Korra. Since the show's finale was written knowing it would be the finale of the show, was it difficult at first to figure out a natural place to take it from there or was it similar to simply writing another season?
There are a lot of similarities as far as how I broke down the story and outlined it before writing the manuscript. But the actual writing of the novel is so much different than writing a script for TV. The part I like the most is that the novel is the finished product, whereas the script is just the starting point/blueprint for the show.
You also really get to delve into more of what's going on inside a character's head in a novel.
The biggest change, though was working alone. On Avatar and Korra there was always Bryan and the other writers to bounce ideas off of. But with Rebel Genius, it was just me, talking to myself, trying to figure out what the story was.
For the comics, it is a bit similar to writing another season (though a very short season...) But I knew exactly where I wanted to start -- moments after the finale ends, with Korra and Asami entering the spirit world...
Watching ATLA and LoK, it seems like you (and/or Bryan) have a penchant for complicated/fractured familial dynamics. Is that something that was an intentional theme in the Avatar series, or was it something that happened more organically in the writers' room? And can we expect this type of tension explored in "Rebel Genius"?
I think the more personal the conflicts are, the more you (as the reader or viewer) relate to the characters and their struggle. So it wasn't specific to Avatar, it's something that happens through developing the personal conflicts.
And yes, Rebel Genius has plenty of fractured family dynamics! There is a different kind of father/son dynamic in the characters of Ugalino and Zanobius, that I think people will find intriguing.
Hi! I'm a college student of a third world country. I'm just a simple guy with big dreams. I'm willing to pursue my studies on CSE, but also have a lot of passion for graphics designing and am looking forward to extending my skills to work with animation. One of the problems I'd most likely face is the lack of a proper workspace. Plus, we don't have much skilled voice actors here either. MY QUESTION : I was wondering if animation could be a one-man-army thing. Is there any possibility that I can craft quality animation just by myself? Or does quality animation stand for 'A big budget + a huge support team."? I've really been a fan of your shows, man. ATLA had influenced my childhood more than any other TV series had. While it saddens me that the avatarverse has most probably come to an end, I also respect your decision of not doing any other continuations for now. Looking forward to supporting your latest project. Kudos.
There are definitely plenty of talented animators out there doing their own thing! Now, you probably won't be able to make a big-budget animated feature alone, but short films are definitely doable, even with limited resources these days. Good luck!
Michael. Michelangelo. Mikey Mike and the Funky Bunch. On a scale of 1 - 10 (1 being SUNSHINE & RAINBOWS and 10 being THE DANG APOCALYPSE) how intense and #dramatic would you say the Legend of Korra comics are going to be?
Ha. Maybe a... 6?
The thing about the comics (which I like) is that we are able to do smaller stories that don't require a huge world war or invading army as the climax. There is definitely some dramatic stuff going down, but it's not the apocalypse. ;)
I'm one of those rare people who hasn't seen any of Avatar, and actually doesn't know much about it at all.
What can you say to me in a few sentences that is going to make me start watching right away?
Uh... I'm the worst salesman for my work. I bet anyone else here could give you a million reasons. Considering the fact that the series is over a decade old now and people are still passionately talking about it should tell you something. Hope you check it out!
What was your favorite book of either LAB or LOK?
I would say book 3 of both series!
I've been a fan of Avatar since the very day it premiered. Like other people I'm sure, it also inspired me to take on my own fantasy series. As a writer yourself in both TV animation and now novels, what tips of the trade do you have for inspiring writers?
I've also been having a hard time of what exactly I want my series to be: a comic series, a book series, or maybe even a television series. Again, since you have experience in both TV and novels, how do you know what kind of media is right for a particular story?
And people on here, Mike and Bryan already expressed their thoughts on the live action movie on a podcast for the Nerdist. Check that out if you haven't.
Side note: I've been going back and listening to all the commentary tracks on the Avatar and Korra DVDs. They're amazing. Thanks :)
One piece of advice is to decide exactly what genre your story is in -- are you writing an action story? A romance? A mystery?
As far as the format... Sometimes the genre might suggest what the most appropriate format is. But that has more to do with your interests and experience.
Thank you so much for doing this AMA. This was such a pleasant surprise to see. I hope you know how many people's childhoods that you've positively influenced. Your shows have helped me find my best friend, gotten me through depression, and made me so excited that I threw my phone at my roommate's face. You and Bryan are the best, especially for enduring our silly moments on tumblr.
What advice would you give to your past selves at the ages of 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30?
Ha. That would be a lot of advice!
But overall, to trust that things are going to work out okay, to follow your passions, and know that the tough life experiences will make you stronger.
Hello Mr. DiMartino. Here is my submittance:
The ATLA comics have been able to have more focus upon supporting characters of the series than the main character. It is also common for you and Bryan to keep back ideas and details in case they would be a better fit for future use. Could fans look forward to seeing more background details for any supporting characters from TLOK that you were not able to before? Asami, in particular, seems like a prime candidate for this.
Also, with Rebel Genius being a new direction for you, it was stated that you had felt a good amount of anxiety with the change. Now that you are so close to having it released, has the anxiety ameliorated a significant amount? From what little I have seen, I think you are going to do great...though, as stated, there are no shortcuts around anxiety ;).
I have been one of the fortunate many fans who was able to personally meet you and shake your hand at the gallery exhibit last year (I asked about running around Griffith...I wasn't very familiar with the area). To anyone who wants to know, he and Bryan are just as awesome in person as can be assumed. Keep up the good work!
The comics will definitely give us a chance to explore more about the characters -- stay tuned for that!
And the anxiety around Rebel Genius is always there -- now it's going out into the world where people are actually going to read it and judge it... I try not to focus too much on that, if I can. But I'm now writing the second book in the series, and I wish I could say that the creative anxiety goes away, but I don't think it does! And maybe that's okay.
I've gotten my first work published and been told that the amount of lore and history is way too much for the book as is. How did you manage to balence the history of the Avatar universe in the writing room while putting it all together as well?
Not knowing the story, it's hard to say. If people are overwhelmed by the amount of info, it's worth taking a look and seeing what world building is crucial to the story and what is more "set dressing". In other words, is there some info you could cut out (even though it might be really cool) and the story wouldn't be affected? If so, I'd cut it or save it for the next book!
Like everyone else, I thank you for your great work. Yay and stuff. Everyone else is asking very cool questions, but I just want to know what you think of Voltron: Legendary Defender?
I've only seen a few episodes, but Voltron is fantastic. I'm a bit biased since many of the Korra artists and writers (as well as Studio Mir) are working on it. But from what I've seen they are pushing the bounds of TV animation even further than what we did on Korra.
After the events of "The Search", Azula ran off and was not seen again or even made an appearance in LoK.
So my question is: Did Azula ever find peace? What happened to her in between "The Search" and LoK?
Azula's fate is currently unknown...
Hi Mike! Thanks for all of your hard work and amazing stories. You've been a huge inspiration for both my creative and personal endeavors!
QUESTION: Did you have to completely change your writing process to work on Rebel Genius? What are some of the differences between writing for Animation, Comics and Novels?
EDIT: Since a similar question has already been answered, are there any adjustment periods you go through when writing for different forms of media? Do/did you just make the switch or were there exercises that help/helped you transition between different writing forms?
It is a different mind set. Sometimes I'm working on the book, then having to switch over to the comic script. It usually takes a couple hours to transitions. But I don't have any special exercises, but if you hear of any, let me know!
Thanks for doing this AMA! I was wondering if there were any surprises or challenges that you discovered from switching from writing for television to writing prose? How did the writing process change for you?
I answered another similar question, but I would also add to that earlier response that in Rebel Genius, there are several action scenes. And on the show, you would write a short, basic description of what the action would look like, then the artists, directors, and kung fu consultants would turn it into something awesome (plus the amazing animation and music). So it was hard to try to replicate the excitement and peril of an action scene with only the written word and oftentimes I was too wordy with what was going on. My editor wisely suggested to focus on shorter sentences with clear action and leave more up to the reader's imagination.
Hi Mike! Thank you for Avatar - it was my whole life from premiere to finale - that is, ages 11 to 16 of my childhood! I used to own a little website called airbender.net and poured my heart and soul into it. (I don't own it anymore.) My social life revolved around Avatar - skyping with "online friends" after episode premieres, going on deviantart and livejournal and forums and reading and writing fanfiction and theorizing about what would happen in the next season... It's hard to explain just how profoundly your show influenced my formative years!!!
I can't wait to read Rebel Genius! You've done animated TV, comics, and now kids' lit - what are your favorite or least favorite things about the different mediums you've worked in? What was exciting about writing Rebel Genius?
Bonus question - what has been your favorite interaction with TLA/LOK fandom? Any particular memories of fanart, cosplays, or just interactions with fans at cons that stand out to you? Were you surprised by the intensity of the Zutara shippers back in the day?!
For Rebel Genius, it was exciting to delve into a new world and come up with a new set of characters and magic and world building. Writing a book has always been a dream of mine, so to finally have the time to work on it was great.
And the fans have always been so great! I'm always impressed and amazed the creativity of the cosplaying.
Mike, you and Bryan have given as a series, a WORLD, the likes of which I don't think we may never see again. The stories that have been told in this rich, living world were some of the best and in many cases THE best I have ever seen. Because of you, my childhood was given fond memories during what was a time of great struggle and tragedy.
I guess you could say you prevented me from becoming much less of a person then I am today. Thank you for that. Thank you for pretty much saving me.
Now that mussy stuff is out of the way, on to the QUESTION. I know this is a waste of my only chance to ask you anything but here it goes:
How do you feel about some of the dark fan-made content out there? The content made by the fans that took your world and made it a much darker place. By which I mean, works that contain violence and language.
The reason I'm asking this is because I am currently creating a fan made work that contains such things. It's a comic that takes place during a different Hundred Year War to the one we know.
It will contain blood, people will die horrible and in some cases meaningless deaths, as is usually the case in war. There would be strong language during some points in the story and more minor language through it.
It would contain concepts that were never really explored in my eyes during the run of the two series and would even have some concepts that would never of come up, such as bending and how these arts would fair against firearms.
I wish to complete this comic sometime next year, however my greatest fear is that it would upset you and Bryan, the rightful owners of the places, concepts and characters I would use.
So I am asking you, the person who would know the most about the Avatar world, how you feel about such works.
I thank you for your time and hope to wish you luck in your future and with your new work, Rebel Genius.
To be honest, I don't read fan stories. And I only see the fan art that pops up on Tumblr once in a while, so you won't offend me, since I'm not going to be reading it (no offense.)
If writing fan fiction is something you enjoy doing, then by all means explore your creativity that way.
I'm heavily drawn to the Avatar story because it captures so many aspects of the human condition and portrays them in creative ways.
What was the most important human condition or philosophy that you wanted to articulate and portray?
Are there any philosophies or "ways of viewing the world" that you learned while creating Avatar and still try to incorporate into your daily life?
Thank you for creating such a beautiful and moving story.
Thanks. I would say that the theme of balance that is the backbone of the Avatar universe is something I've always been attracted to and a philosophy I try to keep in mind through my life.
Hi! Thanks so much for this!
Legend of Korra Comic related //
Is there going to be explicit and rich development on korra and asami falling in love?
Not sure what you mean by "explicit" but their relationship will be a focus of the comics, for sure.