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Baobab Studios, KuKu Studios, and Tonko House Form Bay Area Animation Alliance

Powerhouse indie studios join forces to support and inspire Bay Area animation professionals while raising the bar for independent animation worldwide.

(From L-R) Bay Area Animation Alliance leaders Alex Woo (KuKu Studios), Maureen Fan (Baobab Studios), and Robert Kondo (Tonko House).

Three creative powerhouses based in the San Francisco Bay Area – Baobab Studios, KuKu Studios, and Tonko House - have joined forces to form the Bay Area Animation Alliance (BAAA), a community for animation professionals designed to inspire local creativity while raising the bar for independent animation worldwide. BAAA will hold regular events that focus on education, craftsmanship, and community.

One of their first public initiatives is the creation of an online charity art auction to combat racial inequality.  “Acting upon their beliefs,” the three studios are creating original art for auction; 50 pieces from Dice Tsutsumi, Kal Athannssov, Darren Marshall, Robert Kondo, Glenn Hernandez and many others will be available for purchase. Proceeds from the auction, which runs June 9-14, will be donated to the Equal Justice Initiative. EJI’s mission is to end mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the U.S., to challenge racial and economic injustice, and to protect basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.  Visit https://www.baanimationalliance.org/events for more information and to bid on the artwork.  

Baobab Studios is led by co-founder Eric Darnell (writer and co-director of all 4 Madagascar films and Antz), who has won 6 Emmys, including for Outstanding Directing for an Animated Program and Best Interactive Media 3 years in a row, 2 Annie Awards, and 2 Kidscreen Awards. Tonko House was founded by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi, former Pixar art directors and creators of the Academy Award-nominated short film, The Dam Keeper. The studio’s first animated series, Pig: The Dam Keeper Poems, won the Crystal Award for Best Television Production at the Annecy Film Festival. Kuku Studios, founded by Pixar alums Alex Woo, Stanley Moore, and Tim Hahn, launched its first animated series Go! Go! Cory Carson early this year on Netflix in partnership with VTech Electronics. Kuku has recently entered into a multi-year overall deal with Netflix with which it is currently in production on its first animated feature film.

Read more on AWN about Tonko House and their Oscar-winning short:
Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi: Living the Indie Dream with ‘The Dam Keeper’

And check out AWN’s exclusive looks at some of Baobab’s ground-breaking immersive storytelling:
‘Bonfire’: A Revealing Look at Interactive Storytelling of the Comedic Alien Variety
How Baobab Studios Created a Storybook World for the Immersive ‘Crow: The Legend’

Watch AWN’s interview with Maureen Fan at the VIEW Conference in Turin:
WATCH: Baobab’s Maureen Fan Talks ‘Invasion!,’ VR Creativity, Tools and More at VIEW

BAAA events feature speakers such as Pixar co-founder and inventor of the alpha channel, Dr. Alvy Ray Smith, and Dr. Jan Dul, one of the world's leading experts on ergonomics and creativity. “We had nothing like BAAA when Ed and I were starting Pixar; there were no other CEOs to even think about chatting with,” Smith said during a recent talk with the three studios. “I’m envious that you all get to start with a community. I hope that this is the beginning of a very long history for BAAA.”

Smith’s comments highlight how BAAA started: through friendship. The three studio heads, Woo, Kondo, and Maureen Fan (Baobab Studios), met monthly for years to support each other as both friends and CEOs.  Their personal bond eventually expanded to include the growing studios: sharing insights on pitching, negotiating, giving each other feedback on work and collaborating on projects.  BAAA came together as the three realized they shared a desire to create a stronger, more robust and resourceful community for independent Bay Area animation professionals and studios. 

“We are excited to expand our events to the entire San Francisco Bay Area,” Fan shared. “The Bay Area Animation Alliance is about our shared values of inspiring the best work possible, celebrating artists, and creating community -- with the goal to combine efforts to help raise the bar for animation worldwide.”

“Practically, we want to help each other to improve our collective knowledge and contribute to our community by sharing our work and experience,” Kondo added, addressing the three studios recently.  “Emotionally, we hope to support and inspire each other along the tumultuous path of being independent and pursuing big dreams.” 

The studios often draw inspiration from their cinematic forefathers; the friendship, shared passion, and camaraderie of renegade Bay Area filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and Saul Zaentz helped give rise to the Golden Age of Cinema. These filmmakers inspired, supported, and challenged each other to break new cinematic ground, and in the process, laid the groundwork for seminal animation studios like Pixar and PDI.

According to Woo, “As their filmmaking grandchildren, we independent studios have been the direct beneficiaries of the countless contributions they’ve made to the industry and the craft of film and animation, and we hope to continue their tradition of friendship, shared passion, and camaraderie for the next generation of filmmakers.” 

You can learn more about the Bay Area Animation Alliance and their upcoming events by visiting baanimationalliance.org.

Source: Bay Area Animation Alliance

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.

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