While working on his short film Mutt in 1999, TV writer/animation director Kirby Atkins (3-2-1 Penguins, The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius) conceived of a new idea about anthropomorphized cartoon animals. Over time, that idea evolved into the concept for his new feature Beast of Burden, which is currently in development at Huhu Studios in New Zealand.

Not to be confused with Beasts of Burden, the film adaptation of the Dark Horse Comic title of the same name, which is being developed at Reel FX, Atkins’ story centers on a fictional endangered animal called a thoriphant discovering a life-altering secret about his species.

Without the deep pockets of a major studio to bolster their efforts, the act of getting an animated feature into production has not been an easy one. Thus far, Huhu has produced a trailer (watch it here) that effectively showcases the film’s ambitions and emotional resonance.

Atkins has dedicated the film to his mentor, the late Pres Romanillos, who lost his life to leukemia in 2010.

“I met Pres at DNA [Productions] while working on the Ant Bully for Warner Bros,” Kirby told Cartoon Brew. “He was absolutely the most generous creative friend I’ve ever had. He brought me to Spain to work on his short film and was always a big champion for Beast of Burden. His energy was unbelievable. Even after his third bone marrow transplant he was still scheming a way for us to get B.O.B. made. I haven’t found another like him.”

Beast of Burden will be directed by Atkins and co-produced by John A. Davis and Keith Alcorn. With the animatic complete, Huhu is currently working with the New Zealand Film Commission to find co-production and distribution partners for the film.

(Thanks, Tim Hodge)