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TAIKO Shoots for the Stars with Short ‘One Small Step’

Studio based in Los Angeles and Wuhan, China, counts former Disney artists among its founders.

TAIKO Studios’ first project is an animated short film called ‘One Small Step’ the studio plans to enter in film festivals around the world.

TAIKO Studios has unveiled its first project, One Small Step, an original short film following a Chinese American girl named Luna, who dreams of becoming an astronaut.

Student Academy Award-winner Shaofu Zhang and veteran Disney animators Bobby Pontillas and Andrew Chesworth bring vision and verve to a touching story of hope through striking art direction and crisp storytelling.

One Small Step is our love letter to everyone who chased that impossible dream and the family that supported them through it,” co-director Chesworth says. Chesworth’s experience animating for Disney spans nine productions over six years. Prior to Disney, he directed more than 30 commercials and short films for Make.

Co-director Bobby Pontillas’ background and journey becoming an artist helped inspire Luna’s character. “Luna’s story was something we could all relate to,” says Pontillas. “All dreams begin with a single step.”

Pontillas, whose credits include character designer and animator at Disney Animation Studios, had a bold vision for the look of One Small Step: “I wanted to combine the best parts of digital illustration and modern 3D animation toward a fresh new direction.”

“Early on, we fell in love with the sharp visual style of Bobby’s artwork. The bold directness of his design was always the target we aimed for,” says Zhang.

Complementing the art direction, Joy Johnson joined TAIKO as CG supervisor to establish a state-of-the-art animation system to meet the demands of the unique look. In 2014, Joy Johnson was the recipient of the VES Outstanding Animated Character Award for her work on Frozen’s Elsa. In addition, she oversaw the character rigging of Zootopia’s lead character Nick the Fox.

For the new studio, TAIKO’s pipeline supervisor, Andrew Jennings, built a nimble international network bridging workflow across time zones and borders. As technical animation supervisor for Disney’s Inner Workings, Jennings brings a wealth of technical and aesthetic expertise.

Music was integral to the narrative early on in production, and created in tandem with the story. Veteran music composer Steve Horner tapped into his own relationship with his daughter as inspiration for the soundtrack: “One Small Step has been a dream project for me. Andrew and the team brought me in early and allowed me to start creating the score using their initial character sketches, storyboards and animatics. This dynamic process in concert with my strong connection to the story and characters has allowed me to go deep into the work which has been hugely satisfying.”

TAIKO Studios was founded in 2017 by CEO Zhang in both Los Angeles and Wuhan, China. As a truly international company, the studio endeavors to bridge eastern and western cultures together to create memorable stories with universal appeal.

Heading the animation team in Wuhan, China, animation supervisor Erik Lee has assembled a talented team of artists whose dreams of creating amazing work mirror Luna’s hopes of reaching the stars.

“We’re proud to be a global company that offers a universal spirit of optimism and inclusion that speaks to all people,” Zhang says.

Keep an eye out for One Small Step in the 2018 film festival circuit.

Source: TAIKO Studios

Thomas J. McLean's picture

Tom McLean has been writing for years about animation from a secret base in Los Angeles.