Avatar: The Last Airbender– Why Making Firebenders Was Challenging? Reasons Explained By DP Michael Balfry

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Avatar The Last Airbender– Why Making Firebenders Was Challenging

In the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender, every element bender brings forth their unique challenges and fire benders were one of them.

In an exclusive conversation with The Direct’s Russ Milheim, the Director of Photography (DP) Michael Balfry, shared some reasons why fire bending was a challenging task to bring on Screen.

Making it Look Real

Balfry addressed the inherent difficulty in making fire bending appear natural on screen. He noted, "I would say fire bending. Trying to make it [look] natural... When we're filming a fireplace or a campfire… we don't always use real fire for practicality [reasons]. If you're inside, you can’t have a flame bar. So you use lighting [while] trying to make sure [it looks real]. And people will see where it's fake and not fake. So trying to keep it subtle is always the challenge."

Using the Right Lights

Furthermore, Balfry elaborated on the role of lighting in enhancing the credibility of firebending. He described, "The firebending would be mostly the lighting. When their hands are glowing, we would add just a little practical light just to glow up their face, again, to sell that credibility to give effects something to work with. We had lights in their hands that would glow, and then they would just build the flames out of that."

Right VFX Approach

Despite the complexities involved, Balfry advocated for a simplistic approach to visual effects, citing the importance of keeping the process streamlined. He contrasted, "The best way to approach VFX is always to try to keep it simple. And that's always the hardest thing sometimes. With the water, that was straightforward filming; although we'd be on a character, and they would throw a whip of water, we'd whip off the character. And then another shot would take whipping into wherever it was landing."

Dealing with Dark Themes

Addressing the darker themes present in the live-action series, particularly the brutality of the Fire Nation, Balfry acknowledged the need to cater to a diverse audience demographic.

He explained, "Not consciously? No, nothing that was brought to my attention. I mean, we did realize that our audience would be younger, as well as people in their 30s and 40s who'd watched it. You keep that in mind. But we were not into the big blood and gore... There are the big fire explosions and the implications of people burning... The idea is to keep [the firebender's] ferociousness their inhumane approach just to kill, kill, kill."

Big Shoutout to the Stunt Team

Balfry praised the hard work of the stunt team, who spent days and weeks rehearsing to make the action scenes look amazing. He expressed admiration stating, “It’s a lot of work. It was very exciting… And when I say it was a lot of work, the stunt team [did a lot ]. I mean… when I saw it put together, and the visuals were put in because it was shot on a green screen, obviously. We had some set pieces, the stairs, and stuff on rocks and whatnot, on set. But it was the stunt team that really made this happen.”

He further added, "They work tirelessly, for days, probably weeks ahead of time, behind the scenes rehearsing, and we'd go in through the rehearsals and watch what they're doing, the director myself, or they'd film it. Then, they'd put a bit of a mini montage of what they envisioned. And things would get tweaked from there."

Using LED Lighting

Innovations in lighting technology, particularly the use of LED lights, played a significant role in capturing the essence of firebending on set.

Balfry explained, "A combination of practical lighting on set--we're shooting all LED, and that was on The Volume and also on the bridge at the end. So, with LED, changing colours is much easier to do. I started the process on set. Basically, when the moon goes red, then all the LEDs went red. And when the moon's gone, [post production] did a lot of work in that by stripping the color."

Overall, bringing firebenders to life was a big challenge, but with smart lighting, the right VFX approach, and a lot of hard work, Balfry and his team pulled it off, making Avatar: The Last Airbender a truly magical experience for viewers.

Also Read: Avatar: The Last Airbender– Explore Sokka & Suki’s Relationship (Animation vs. Live-Action)

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