Bending Time

For a moment I didn’t think this shoot was going to happen but finally we’ve been able to do an Avatar: Legend of Korra shoot with a fantastic team that I’ve always loved working with. Now what made this shoot exciting wasn’t exactly the cosplays themselves; heck besides Mel’s glowing steampunk gauntlet, most of the costumes weren’t super extravagant. No, what made it interesting was the decision to not overly rely on post processing to come up with the effects but to actually do them for real.

Darcy as Tahno and Lisa as Iroh


I had thought that water effects shouldn’t be too complicated; just throw buckets around, I thought. But when it came time to take photos of it I realised we needed to take into account the volume of the body of water being thrown, how close we can get it to the cosplayer to make it look like they’re controlling it (without soaking them in the process) and the background lighting/surfaces (anything bright just washes out the transparency and the angle of incoming light just had to be right to make sure the water’s rim is lit up well). So yes, there were many takes to get this right resulting in muddy ground afterwards!

But if water was a challenge, fire was downright dangerous. Commonly you’ll find in the internet people lighting up canisters of hairspray; bad idea as they are pressurised and will explode. So after a few more research, we stumbled on the idea of a small birthday candle near the nozzle of a squirt bottle – filled with alcohol. It’s a one shot system instead of the continuous fire with hairspray but it was far safer with less risk of the fire snaking its way into the alcohol which also evaporates quickly. That said during the testing we conducted a couple of months ago, some hair was sacrificed; my fault completely and really emphasized for me, more than anything, the need for safe practices.

Aly as Mako and K as Korra


Not covered in the current releases are earth and air bending powers. We didn’t really focus on air and any releases on that with the standard poses we took will more likely rely more heavily on post processing effects. We did briefly touch up on earth (our own interpretation of sorts) and the results were actually suprisingly pretty good. Above everything else, the live nature of all these attempts at effects yielded works with more emphasis on action – something I’ve always really wanted to do more of.

Being able to work with a dynamic show with lots of possibilities was excellent. Shooting some of the best cosplayers around was even better. But the icing on the cake was the location we stumbled on. When the group came up to me originally, they described to me the world of Korra as being a bit industrial and maybe a bit crumbling. There were a lot of less than wholesome locations all around Melbourne that could have suited this but there was always the problem of all of them being too far. I had actually rejected going to places where there was security presence but in the process of going to a place which was practically public land, we found this unassuming shed which was ultimately perfect for what we needed.

Mel as Asami and the group in front of the hidden back rooms of the shed


Most of my shoots have always been fun; I almost always take shoot opportunities when I know I’m going with people I’ll have fun with even if we have to make our own fun in the process. Experimentation and discovery really do add to this element of enjoyment and I’ve loved working with people who felt the same!

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