Julisa cosplays as Fire Nation, one of the Avatar The Last Airbender nations

‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ Cosplay with a South Asian Twist

Summer of 2020 may be officially over, but the heat of the season–especially where I live–was able to ignite an inspiration for an Avatar: The Last Airbender cosplay aesthetic series I had in mind for a long time.

And what perfect timing! With the release of all three seasons of the show on Netflix back in May, and the 2020 pandemic cancelling all social plans, I figured there was no better opportunity to ride the renewed ATLA hype than this year.

And so I began my Avatar: The Last Airbender cosplay series

And so this summer, I hunted through my wardrobe for any traditional Indian outfits and accessories, hit up my makeup/hair/photography friend to explain my crazy idea, and got to work. The plan became to do a photoshoot series of characters from all four ATLA nations — Fire, Earth, Air, and Water — with my own South Asian twist. 

Of course, if you think I was able to get all four nations done in one summer, think again! I figured it was more fun to spread things out, to take advantage of the seasons. Which meant that to start things off with the perfect element, I only had to immerse myself in the blazing heat and humidity, and take fun under the sun to a new level. 

Thus was born – Fire Nation (South Asian) Azula:

Julisa begins her Avatar: The Last Airbender cosplay with Fire Nation Azula.
Fire Nation Azula / Photo credit & editing: Julisa Basak

First, a little selfie session. I always pictured the Fire Nation–at least a modern version of it–to be sultry and yes, I’ll say it, hot. So for my Azula aesthetic shoot, a flaming red cotton sari with a gold border, some of my mom’s gold jewelry (let’s face it, most South Asian households have stocks of ornate jewelry for various occasions), a black sports bra, and gold heels were essential. 

The rest was my friend’s fabulous make-up work (shoutout to @ri.makes) and braided hair-extension. Too bad my natural hair only reaches up to my shoulder. 

A collage of Julisa cosplaying as Fire Nation Azula, an Avatar The Last Airbender cosplay
Fire Nation Azula / Photo credit: Rhea Khan Photography, Editing: Julisa Basak

Then the location shot. For those who haven’t been to Philadelphia, there are beautiful classic structures behind the Philly Art Museum, right next to the Schuylkill River, a highly recommended photoshoot spot. I was lucky to find the perfect hour of the day–a sliver before sunset–to be immersed in the light. A fire empress needs to be at the pinnacle of power after all.

Two photos side by side of Julisa cosplaying as Fire Nation Azula, an Avatar The Last Airbender cosplay
Fire Nation Azula / Photo credit: Rhea Khan Photography, Editing: Julisa Basak
A collage of Julisa cosplaying as Fire Nation Azula, an Avatar The Last Airbender cosplay
Fire Nation Azula / Photo credit: Rhea Khan Photography, Editing: Julisa Basak

The key to good posing is to pretend you’ve noticed a fly in your vicinity and you’re seconds away from swatting it.

A collage of Julisa cosplaying as Fire Nation Azula, an Avatar The Last Airbender cosplay
Fire Nation Azula / Photo credit: Rhea Khan Photography, Editing: Julisa Basak

You aren’t a fire empress unless you walk through a path of fire or rendezvous in the flames! These pictures needed an extra editing touch, and by that I mean countless hours of collecting stock images of fire-related things and blending them together to make it seem that I really started something wild. 

How I made this happen

I used Photoshop and Clip Studio Paint to make it all happen. Especially to blend in the flames and smoke, change the tone and saturation, and make sure the light reflected off my own body. Of course, even with extra “effects,” it’s important to keep in mind your natural surroundings will dictate how much editing and effects you’ll need. The less editing, the better!

A collage of Julisa cosplaying as Fire Nation Azula, with fire effects edited in.
Fire Nation Azula / Photo credit: Rhea Khan Photography, Editing: Julisa Basak
A collage of Julisa cosplaying as Fire Nation Azula, with thunder effects edited in.
Fire Nation Azula / Photo credit: Rhea Khan Photography, Editing: Julisa Basak

…But then again, you’re allowed to go crazy! Especially when you need to do a little Agni Kai.

Next Nations: A Preview

Fire Empress Azula was so much fun! But now that it’s fall, I have two elements in mind to take advantage of the changing colors and cooler winds in the coming weeks. I think you’re getting my drift.

Air Nomad 

A photo of items to preview Julisa's upcoming Avatar The Last Airbender cosplay: Air Nomad
Items coming up for the autumn Air Nomad photo shoot / Photo credit: Julisa Basak

Personally, I think autumn would bring the best backdrops of oranges, yellows, and deep reds for an Air Nomad photoshoot. Considering that Airbenders are inspired from Buddhism ideology, I plan to have a more simple look for my next shoot in the series. Although not without some rich colors!

Earth Kingdom

A photo of items to preview Julisa's upcoming Avatar The Last Airbender cosplay: Earth Kingdom
Items coming up for the spring Earth Kingdom photo shoot / Photo credit: Julisa Basak

The changing colors of Earth (ha!) would also make a good aesthetic for an Earth Kingdom photoshoot. Though something more lush and green, or even dry and rocky, would work as well. I’m still not grounded (ha, again!) with a season for this one. Perhaps an evergreen environment in November, or an earthly rebirth in Spring 2021. Either way, this will involve a more imperial look, perhaps something akin to Kuvira from Legend of Korra.

Water Tribe

A photo of items to preview Julisa's upcoming Avatar The Last Airbender cosplay: Water Tribe
Items coming up for the summer water tribe photo shoot / Photo credit: Julisa Basak

I’ve seen gorgeous waterbender photoshoots done during warmer temperatures, most notably near some body of water. But it would be so cool to take advantage of the Winter season for an authentic Water tribe shoot in the snow. I haven’t decided on an outfit yet, but if we’re lucky, there may be snow-covered locations in the Poconos in the coming months to make things happen. Only time will tell.

Who else did an Avatar: The Last Airbender cosplay this year?

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Featured image credit: Rhea Khan Photography

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