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Meet The Disney Artists Who Have Gone Indie With A New Company, Taiko Studios

A group of former Walt Disney Animation Studios artists has launched their own company, Taiko Studios, they announced today.

The studio is founded by Shaofu Zhang, an animator on Big Hero 6, Zootopia, and Moana. Previously he had animated at Sony Pictures Animation, and had won a Student Academy Award in 2011 for a film he co-directed, Dragonboy.

Two other veteran Disney animators have key roles in the company: Andrew Chesworth is head of development and Bobby Pontillas is art director. Chesworth and Pontillas are also directing the studio’s first project, One Small Step, about Luna, a Chinese-American girl who dreams of becoming an astronaut.

One Small Step is our love letter to everyone who chased that impossible dream and the family that supported them through it,” says Chesworth.

The film’s stylized use of cg is being developed by Pontillas, who says he wants the film “to combine the best parts of digital illustration and modern 3D animation toward a fresh new direction.”

Former Walt Disney Animation Studios artists who are part of Taiko, clockwise from upper left: Zhang Shaofu (founder), Andrew Chesworth (head of development), Bobby Pontillas (art director), Joy Johnson (cg supervisor), Andrew Taylor Jennings (head of pipeline).
Former Walt Disney Animation Studios artists who are part of Taiko, clockwise from upper left: Zhang Shaofu (founder), Andrew Chesworth (head of development), Bobby Pontillas (art director), Joy Johnson (cg supervisor), Andrew Jennings (head of pipeline).

Zhang’s studio is set up as an international operation. In addition to its L.A. office, Taiko has also opened an animation studio in Wuhan, China.

“We’re proud to be a global company that offers a universal spirit of optimism and inclusion that speaks to all people,” founder Shaofu Zhang says. The company seems to be aiming toward creating projects that will play well in both the Chinese and Western film markets.

Other Disney artists who have joined the company in key roles are Joy Johnson and Andrew Jennnings.

Johnson is the cg supervisor in charge of setting up the studio’s system for animating. A VES Award winner for her work on Elsa in Frozen, she also oversaw character rigging of Zootopia’s lead character, Nick Wilde.

Jennings will handle the duties of pipeline supervisor. He was technical animation supervisor on the Disney short Inner Workings, as well as many of Disney’s recent features.

Concept image from Taiko's first short, "One Small Step."
Concept image from Taiko’s first short, “One Small Step.”

The company has also announced that veteran vfx animator Erik Lee is the animation supervisor in China, and Steven Horner is composing the music for the studio’s first project, One Small Step.

One Small Step is due to debut in 2018 on the film festival circuit.

Poster for Taiko's first short, "One Small Step."
Poster for Taiko’s first short, “One Small Step.”
  • Marc Hendry

    alright! If it looks anything like the poster art, I’m IN!

  • Sandro Cleuzo

    Fantastic news! What a brave move!

    • aandybarclay

      not a great deal if they took Chinese money to do it…

  • James Madison

    Amazing…especially if this is the same “Andrew Chesworth” who developed a film noir promo for a film festival a while back. This is good for the founders of the company and great for animation and arts community as a whole.

    • Andrew Chesworth

      Thank you for the kind words, James. It is also the same Steve Horner who composed the music for the “Palm Springs” short.

      • Alan Wilcox

        excuse me Andrew is there any advice you would like to give to any aspiring filmmakers who want to form their own studios? I would really like to know

  • Strong Enough

    Tonko House sends it regards

  • Barbara Anne Langridge

    Great news when artists break from the big guns of corporate production. Though the road wont be easy unless you have great funding and the support of other industry players. Our little animation gallery opened along the same principals as this group – trying to be non elitist and a collective, but the support is hard to find. So all the best of luck to you guys and I hope we see some groundbreaking stuff.

  • PKSwoop

    This is going to be a great film, looking for its release!

  • Cameron Ward

    Looks promising. I love it. Can’t wait.

  • Tim Tran

    As a Chinese immigrant, HELL YEAH ASIAN EXPOSURE!!

  • Mr. White

    Love the look. More soft and painterly than computery.

  • I’m very excited to hear and congrats to everyone on no his new venture! I agree also with James Madison, hearing “Andrew Chesworth” means something great is on the horizon!

  • Dean A. Kendrick

    Had a thought and question to share – why do ex-Disney animators still make Disney films?

    This new company, “Taiko”, made up of Shaofu Zhang, Andrew Chesworth, and Bobby Pontillas – all are ex-Disney artists. What I am confused about is after spending years at Disney restricted to making one type of film – family-oriented features and shorts – why do these highly skilled and creative artists leave Disney to set up a new outfit that makes animated family-oriented films? “Let’s leave Disney to do our own films” I hear them say but their first film in production is a family film. Why?

    Methinks if I was honing my craft at Disney for years and planned to get out of it and start my own production house, I would use what I learned animation-wise and reach out to bring that wonderous skill to films with themes beyond merely the accepted “Family” genre that Disney restricts itself in producing.

    More examples: Disney legends Glen Keane and Andreas Deja both left Disney and have (or are) making indie shorts “Duet” and “Mushka” respectively. These artists’ magical talents are thankfully still bringing us glorious hand-drawn full animation, but the themes of these films is still G-rated and include children as main characters.

    Just an observation. What gives here?

  • Dean A. Kendrick

    Thanks, Eugene. That makes perfect sense. I wish Taiko all the best for giving it a go, especially if they left Disney for the reason you state.

    I am just disappointed that every time I read of a new start-up studio made up of fantastic known artists, their chosen genre is family films only. This is a trend in the US I wish would break. I feel starved for more creative uses of the animation medium – other countries are leading in this respect, why not US? Capitalism is a strong contender here I’m sure.

    Here’s hoping for more non-family themed animated films!

  • Kawaii as Fuck

    Awwww, she’s so cute!