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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.”

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