Tonko House, the Berkeley, California-based animation studio founded by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi, has new plans for the feature film based on their Oscar-nominated short The Dam Keeper (2014).

The Dam Keeper feature had been in development at Fox Animation since 2016, but with the impending sale of Fox to Disney, Kondo and Tsutsumi have decided to bring the project back into Tonko House’s hands. The duo are currently seeking a new studio partner. Like the original short, Kondo and Tsutsumi will serve as directors on the feature. Kane Lee will produce.

“We were partnered with Fox and everyone there was truly amazing,” Kondo told Variety. “But with all the big changes that are happening over there and also as we evolved as a company, it felt like the right time to actually pull The Dam Keeper back into our world of Tonko House.”

The feature will build out the story of Pig, a bullied kid who is responsible for the windmill that protects his town from a hazardous fog, as well as his friendship with the popular and artistically talented new student in school, Fox. Kondo and Tsutsumi have already been expanding the world in a series of graphic novels published by First Second.

Aside from The Dam Keeper feature, Tonko House has revealed that they have three other projects in the works:

  • The stop-motion and cg-animated tv series Oni is being helmed by Tsutsumi as directing showrunner. The show will bring Japanese myths into a contemporary context through the story of a human girl being raised by a Japanese god. Japanese stop-motion house Dwarf Animation and cg studio Megalis are Tonko House’s partners on the project. Test footage of Oni will screen at the studio’s first-ever Tonko House Film Festival to take place in Tokyo this spring.

    "Oni" is a new project from Tonko House.
    “Oni” is a new project from Tonko House.

  • Sleepy Pines is a 2d tv series created by Chris Sasaki, who left Pixar last year to join Tonko House. A former art director at Pixar, Sasaki also worked with Kondo and Tsutsumi on The Dam Keeper short, and was art director of the recent Oscar-nominee Weekends. Sleepy Pines is said to be a musically-driven concept about a band comprised of bird, a toad, a cricket, and a bee that are going through an identity crisis. The series will mark Sasaki’s debut as a director. Tonko House is currently looking for distribution and musical partners for the project.

    Tonko's "Sleepy Pines" is being developed by Chris Sasaki.
    Tonko’s “Sleepy Pines” is being developed by Chris Sasaki.

  • Former Pixar animator Erick Oh is developing a science fiction fairytale feature titled Leo. Oh previously directed Tonko House’s short form series Pig: The Dam Keeper Poems for Hulu Japan. Leo is an adventure set it space, which offers a “view of humanity through the eyes of a robot.”

    Development art from Erick Oh's "Leo."
    Development art from Erick Oh’s “Leo.”

In addition to their slate, the studio is also planning the aforementioned Tonko House Film Festival to run April 27 to May 26 in the Kadokawa theater in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Though the program hasn’t been announced, Tonko House revealed it will screen a few dozen films including some of its own shorts as well as films that have inspired Kondo and Tsutsumi. A mini-gallery of Tonko House art and animation workshops will also be part of the inaugural festival.

In addition to the festival, a Tonko exhibiton, “The Journey of Tonko House to Seoul,” will open in Seoul on May 3. Tied to the exhibit, Tonko will debut an educational program aimed at children ages four to seven. The program was designed by Tonko House art director Mike Dutton.

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