Movie animators with ties to China nominated for Oscar

Chinese Culture

Movie animators with ties to China nominated for Oscar

A group animators with strong ties to China came oh so close to taking home an Academy Award, but lost out to Chinese American director-animator Domee Shi and Pixar for the animated short “Bao”.

But, two-year-old Taiko Studios based in Burbank, California and Wuhan, China is still riding on the high of being nominated for “One Small Step”, which was their first inaugural project as a studio.  CGTN’s May Lee has the story.

Animated short “One Small Step” is a story about following your dreams and those who support those dreams no matter how big.

But dreams have already come true for the film’s creators at Taiko Studios in Burbank, California, which got its initial funding from the City of Wuhan. “One Small Step” was nominated for an Academy Award. Taiko founder and CEO Shaofu Zhang produced and co-wrote the 8 minute film.

“I didn’t imagine that we would get to this level so quickly,” says Zhang, “especially because this is our first project and this is right out of the gate.”

The project was executed in 13 months by less than 30 people in Burbank and Taiko in Wuhan on a very modest budget. All the more reason why the Oscar nomination was that much sweeter.

Co-director and Art Director of “One Small Step” Bobby Pontillas anxiously watched the moment the early morning nominations were announced.

Pontillas recalls, “When they said One Small Step, I just screamed at the top of my lungs and I just jumped onto the floor. And then I just started crying.”

He then called Shaofu Zhang. “I got a call from Bobby because he couldn’t sleep the whole night and then he called me and he was just yelling. I just remember hearing ‘we did it we did it we did it we did it’ over and over again.”

And they did it by bringing Luna, the little Chinese-American girl who dreamed of being an astronaut, to life.

“We had a casting call,” says Zhang playfully. “So these are the ladies that showed up and finally we went with this kind of design.”

The final version of Luna is a bright-eyed, confident young woman.

As for Papa Chiu, Luna’s hard working father, he had to be just right to embody the humility and warmth of a loving single parent.

Zhang says, “We ultimately went with something a little bit more humble, the final character that you see. Just so supportive of Luna and he’s just this humble cobbler, it’s the classic immigrant story.”

And a story that has resonated across all physical and emotional boundaries and for that alone, Shaofu Zhang and his entire team in Burbank and Wuhan are just grateful for their achievements so far.

“Really I feel like whether we win or not, it’s not that important because I feel like just getting the nomination is just beyond any of my wildest dreams already. Like they say you shot for the stars, and land on the moon and its still amazing right?”

Taiko has several more projects in the pipeline in the U.S. and China so shooting for the stars and beyond isn’t just a lofty dream…it’s very real and all within reach.