Netflix’s live-action adaptation series of Avatar: The Last Airbender is currently filming in Vancouver, Canada. This is our big preview with everything we know so far about Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s live-action Netflix series including cast, production updates, what we can expect, and more.
Co-created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the animated series was one of the most popular cartoons of the mid-2000s. The series spawned an equally popular spin-off series in 2012 known as The Legend of Korra (both of which are streaming on Netflix in the majority of regions around the world but are expected to leave eventually).
There’s a lot to get to below but if you’re looking for just the headlines here is the TL;DR:
- 10 hour-long episodes were expected but it’s been reported that it’ll be 8.
- The series is using groundbreaking new LED technology while filming.
- It’s one of Netflix’s most expensive shows reportedly costing $15 million per episode for a total of $120 million for season 1 alone.
- Filming is expected to run until June 2022.
- The original creators of the Nickelodeon series are not involved in the production
- 13 cast members have been confirmed as of April 2022.
What is the plot of the live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender?
The plot of the live-action remake will retread the same adventures as its animated counterpart.
In the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender civilization is divided into four separate nations. Named after the elements, the four nations are the Air Nomads, Earth Kingdom, Fire Nation, and the Water Tribes. In each nation, only a select few people known as the “Benders” can use their nation’s element by using the regional martial arts and their telekinetic powers. The only user capable of using all four elements is the “Avatar”.
Aang is the latest Avatar of the air nomads. After sleeping for 100 years in the ‘Avatar State’, Aang is awoken by Katara and Sokka of the Water Tribe. Learning of the war ravaging the world by the Fire Nation, Aang with the help of his new friends must master the abilities of the remaining elements so he can bring harmony amongst the nations.
Who is in the cast of Avatar: The Last Airbender?
We’ve had three main waves of cast announcements so far with plenty more to go.
As mentioned above, we’re covering the cast in more detail in the link above but for a quick breakdown of the cast, here’s who’s announced and who’s rumored so far:
Here’s who will be playing the iconic roles:
- Gordon Cormier (Lost in Space) as Aang
- Kiawentiio Tarbell (Anne with an E) as Katara
- Ian Ousley (13 Reasons Why) as Sokka
- Dallas Liu (PEN15) as Zuko
Alongside the cast announcements, Albert Kim had the following to say:
“We’ll be expanding and growing the world, and there will be surprises for existing fans and those new to the tale. But throughout this process, our byword has been “authenticity.” To the story. To the characters. To the cultural influences. Authenticity is what keeps us going, both in front of the camera and behind it a live-action version would establish a new benchmark in representation and bring in a whole new generation of fans. This was a chance to showcase Asian and Indigenous characters as living, breathing people. Not just in a cartoon, but in a world that truly exists, very similar to the one we live in.”
Before their departure from the project, here’s what Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko had to say about casting the series:
“We’re thrilled for the opportunity to helm this live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender. We can’t wait to realize Aang’s world as cinematically as we always imagined it to be, and with a culturally appropriate, non-whitewashed cast.”
Despite rumors up until the official cast announcement, Dante Basco (who voiced Prince Zuko in the animated series) had been pegged for a role in the upcoming Netflix series but eventually confirmed he wouldn’t be returning as Prince Zuko.
In an interview with ComicBook.com in September 2021, Dallas Liu spoke about the pressure going into the first season saying:
“… because it is such a beloved show I feel like there is some pressure to do a great job and not that I’m doubting anyone or the project at all, but this is the biggest project and the biggest role that I’ve been able to take part in now, especially leading with a character like Zuko, who’s so complex and one of, if not the favorite, one of the favorites of the show with his fire bending and his history. I mean, he’s such an incredible character and he has one of my favorite character developments in all of the animated series. So, I mean, I’m just as much of a fan of Zuko as everyone else is. So I mean, obviously I’m excited because this is like a dream, but at the same time, it gets a little nerve-wracking. You know? To do a good job, and I mean, at the end of the day I can only do what I’m capable of, but I hope that people enjoy my performance.
Netflix has also confirmed the casting of three important roles with the roles of Uncle Iroh, Gyatso, and Commander Zhao occupied by Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Lim Kay Siu, and Ken Leung respectively.
In December 2021, four more roles were filled including:
- Elizabeth Yu cast as Azula the daughter of Fire Lord Ozai and sister to Zuko
- Maria Zhang as Suki the leader of an elite female fighting force known as the Kyoshi Warriors.
- Yvonne Chapman as Avatar Kyoshi legendary warrior revered for her bravery.
- Casey Camp-Horinek as Gran Gran the compassionate matriarch of the Southern Water Tribe and Katara and Sokka’s grandmother.
We’ve also had a look at the cast at the new state-of-the-art set that Avatar: The Last Airbender will be filmed on courtesy of Netflix.
Among the rumored cast for the series thanks to casting calls and the eagle eyes of KnightEdge Media we’re expecting the following actors and actresses to appear but as of April 2022 in unknown roles:
- Jayden Zhang
- Arden Cho
- Ryo Hayashida
- Momona Tamada
Characters we know have been cast in season 1 of the show include:
- Avatar Kuruk
- King Bumi
- Master Pakku
- Chief Arnook
- Princess Yue
- Mai Lee
- Ty Lee
Who is involved with Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix?
The most exciting news early in the project was that the original creators of the Nickelodeon series would be involved.
That’s unlike the previous live adaption of Avatar: The Last Airbender that was released in 2010 by Nickelodeon and largely panned.
Unfortunetely, the original creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko who were going to serve as the executive producers and showrunners departed the project in mid-2020.
More on their departures in a second.
Composer Jeremy Zuckerman was also believed to be returning to compose the music for the live-action remake, however, in an interview, he says he’s not officially signed on for the project saying:
“No, there was never a contract. It was just like “obviously you’re doing the music”, you know, but now that they’re not there, I don’t know what they’re gonna want. I’m not super pumped that they’re not gonna be there, so I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know what the future holds for that, it’s a big question mark. Yeah, sorry to not have a happier, more straightforward answer.”
On July 21st, 2021 he further added that he would not be involved in any capacity with the project.
To those who are wondering, I will not be working on the Netflix live action ATLA adaptation. However, I'm beyond excited to further explore the Avatar universe with Mike, Bryan, and everyone else at Avatar Studios.
— Jeremy Zuckerman (@jeremyzuckerman) July 21, 2021
Dan Lin is listed as an executive producer alongside his company, Rideback. Rideback is responsible for some huge movies (predominantly for Warner Brothers) including the Sherlock Holmes movies, the Lego Movies, and IT films.
Albert Kim has taken over the showrunning duties for Avatar: The Last Airbender. Kim is known for working on TNT’s Leverage and Nikita. In addition, Ryan Halprin and Lindsey Liberatore are listed as producers with Rideback Productions being the primary production company behind the project. Rideback recently sold off another project to Netflix in the form of Parallel.
Jang Chol Lee will serve as a concept designer on the series according to IMDBPro with his previous credits including Big Hero 6, Tangled, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and Beowulf.
Marc David Alpert was at one point producing the series too. Marc’s impressive credits span decades with him working on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lethal Weapon, and Nikita.
Our friends at AvatarNews.co revealed on July 1st that Michael Wylie would be on board as a production designer. His impressive resume includes Pushing Daisies which was released on Disney+.
In June 2021, we’ve learned that Michael Goi is set to direct in the new Netflix series. Although yet to be officially confirmed, the accomplished cinematographer has worked previously on projects such as American Horror Story, Swamp Thing, Mary and Megan is Missing.
Alongside the cast announcement, two more directors were announced for Avatar: The Last Airbender series including Roseanne Liang and Jabbar Haisani.
In October 2021, AvatarNews caught wind of a huge recruitment process looking for “Asian & Indigenous performers with martial arts or dance backgrounds” citing that the first book features lots of key battles with heavy choreography.
Why did the original creators leave Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender?
Returning back to the original creators now. As you may recall back in August 2020, we learned that the two original creators had departed the project over what is thought to be creative differences.
In an open letter, Michael Dante DiMartino penned his thoughts on their departure from the project.
The key paragraph is as follows (although the whole letter is worth reading):
“When Bryan and I signed on to the project in 2018, we were hired as executive producers and showrunners. In a joint announcement for the series, Netflix said that it was committed to honoring our vision for this retelling and to supporting us on creating the series. And we expressed how excited we were for the opportunity to be at the helm. Unfortunately, things did not go as we had hoped.”
Bryan Konietzko also posted a statement on Instagram. Here are some of the key highlights from the statement we’d like to touch upon:
“Though I got to work with some great individuals, both on Netflix’s side and on our own small development team, the general handling of the project created what I felt was a negative and unsupportive environment. “
Since their departure, the duo has announced they would be helming new animated projects over at Paramount+ within the Avatar universe under a new studio called Avatar Studios.
Since the departing creators, more criticism of Netflix’s vision for the series has materialized. As Winter is Coming reports, Dee Bradley Baker (who voiced Appa and Momo) didn’t mince his words about Netflix’s vision to essentially recreate the Nickelodeon series saying:
“I just don’t know how you fulfill that any better than this show did. I’m open to whatever they do with the live-action series, which I know nothing about, but it’s like, ‘Well, how do you do this better than the way that it was rendered on this show?’ I don’t know how you do that! I hope you can.”
Where is production up to for Avatar: The Last Airbender season 1?
It was originally reported back in late 2018 that full production would begin in 2019. However, two years later that didn’t happen for various reasons (one being the departure of the original creators and the second being COVID-19).
The first release production update for the series came in late May 2019. Bryan Konietzko shared an update on the production of the show saying:
“We’re moving into a new office space, transitioning into the next phase of production. Our core team is growing. We’re writing, planning, and testing. Though there’s plenty that’s new for us in this live action process, we’ve been on this long rollercoaster ride twice before and a lot of the climbs and twists and turns feel familiar. Right now, everything seems slow, and we’re itching to speed up; before we know it, everything will be moving too fast and happening all at once. For those who are eager to see this new series and are asking if we have a trailer yet: thank you for your enthusiasm, sincerely, but you wouldn’t want to see a version of this series that was made within 9 months. Too much Hollywood fare is fast-tracked and the results speak for themselves. Thankfully for us and this series, Netflix is committed to doing it right.”
In September 2019, Bryan Konietzko shared some old storyboard pictures which are from the original animated series but maybe going through them for inspiration for the upcoming series.
Among the other announced crew members include Jan Chol Lee who is working as a concept designer on the series. His previous roles have included working on Disney’s Big Hero 6, 2006’s Beowulf, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
Some pictures were circulated in early September 2019 with concepts and early filming pictures but those have since been debunked.
In October 2019, ProductionWeekly stated that the show was still in active development, and production is scheduled to start in 2020 (it’s unclear as of January 2021 whether this is still the case).
In March 2020, Bryan shared a small (and rather empty) update regarding the live-action series saying:
“In other news, sorry for the lack of updates on the live action adaptation of ATLA. It’s been a slow process, slower than expected. But VERY exciting things are in the works on the project… Hang in there. We’ll share some info as soon as we can. 💙⬇️💙 But there are more important things going on in the world… It is surely going to be a rough ride for the next few months, at least. 💙 So, again, let’s all try to take care.”
Of course, in August 2020 (see above) the original creators departed the series so production is still up in the air which we can assume means the production is still early on.
Production will go ahead in Vancouver, Canada and although has been listed to get underway multiple times, it’s now believed through multiple sources that production is set to get underway in November 2021 and run through April 2022.
The show is being filmed under the working title of ‘Trade Winds’.
As of the 16th of November, the production of Avatar: The Last Airbender is underway. The confirmation that production underway also comes with further casting news which sees the roles of Gyatso, Uncle Iroh, and Commander Zhao now filled.
In January 2022, journalist Caleb Williams stated that production is currently now set to run through to May 2022 and that they’re seeking extras “for the 2-part finale”.
Filming on the series is now currently expected to end in June 2022.
When is the release date for Avatar: The Last Airbender?
No word on this. Given the fact the show isn’t due to start production until at least November 2021, we’re expecting a late 2022 or even 2023 release date at this point.
Before we leave you, we’d highly recommend following AvatarNews on Twitter and its website. They remain one of the best resources for news surrounding all things Avatar and even created this incredible concept poster art for the Netflix series:
— Avatar News (@AvatarNews_) September 18, 2018
Are you looking forward to the live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender? Let us know in the comments below!