Tonko House and 20th Century Fox Animation announced Nov. 16 that they are partnering to develop a feature film based on The Dam Keeper, the 2015 Academy Award-nominated animated short written and directed by Tonko House founders Robert Kondo and Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi.
Kondo and Tsutsumi, former art directors at Pixar (“Toy Story 3,” “Monsters University,” “Ratatouille”) will direct the feature film, which will be distributed worldwide by 20th Century Fox. Kane Lee, an independent producer formerly of Jane Startz Productions and Blue Sky Studios, will lead-produce.
The Tonko House team developed a pitch deepening and expanding the characters and world of the much-beloved short film, which 20th Century Fox Animation executive Darlene Caamaño Loquet has shepherded and will continue to oversee for the studio. Screenwriter John Henry Hinkel, originally brought aboard by Tonko House, has joined the project as well.
Said Vanessa Morrison, president of Fox Animation, “We are thrilled to be in business with Tonko House and honored to help develop their groundbreaking short into a feature.”
Kondo and Tsutsumi said in a joint statement, “Since we began working on the story for a feature set in the world of ‘The Dam Keeper,’ we wondered who the right partners would be to help us take the next steps with Pig and Fox and guide us in introducing them to audiences in this rapidly changing world. We feel that 20th Century Fox, with both its long-standing track record and the exciting direction it’s headed, is the ideal home for our characters. We are so excited about the risks we are taking together and the new storytelling possibilities that exist.”
The feature film picks up several years after the events of the short film and addresses the most intriguing questions viewers pondered following the short. In a departure from the dialogue-less 2D short film, which created a painterly look with over 8,000 digital paintings, this newest production will have full dialogue and is intended to be made primarily in CG, with early animation tests already developed under the supervision of Tonko House.
“We are thrilled to return to making CG-animated feature films, having worked for over a decade at studios like Pixar and Blue Sky,” added Kondo and Tsutsumi. “We’re hungry to stand out in the crowded CG animation market and believe we can achieve something new. With Tonko House’s cultural roots being in Japan, it’s possible that we may be able to bridge both East and West to bring out the best of both animation traditions.”
This announcement comes off the heels of other exciting news from the ever-expanding universe of “The Dam Keeper.” Kondo and Tsutsumi are currently in the midst of writing and illustrating a trilogy of graphic novels, Volumes 1-3 of “The Dam Keeper,” the first of which will be released in 2017 by First Second Books, an imprint of Macmillan.
Also announced last month is a deal with Hulu in Japan to produce a 10-episode series centering on the friendship between the beloved characters Pig and Fox from the short. Set to air in the summer of 2017, the series will be directed by Tonko House’s most recent hire, Erick Oh, formerly of Pixar (“Finding Dory,” “Inside Out”) and the animation supervisor of the original short film “The Dam Keeper.”
Tonko House was founded in July 2014 by Tsutsumi and Kondo as a place to nurture growth and tell stories for audiences around the world. Tonko House’s first project was the critically acclaimed “The Dam Keeper,” which played in over 75 film festivals around the world, won 25 awards, and was nominated for the 2015 Academy Award for Best Animated Short.
The studio also recently produced “Moom,” another award-winning animated short film based on a picture book by Genki Kawamura.
Named by Academy Award-winning director Pete Docter (“Inside Out,” “Up”) as his pick for the “Next Big Thing” on CNN, Tonko House has developed a passionate, growing fanbase not just domestically, but internationally. Last spring, the Creation Gallery G8 in the famed Ginza district of Tokyo opened up its entire space for a Tonko House exhibition featuring, among other works, paintings and sculptures being created and developed for the feature film. More exhibitions will be announced in Japan and other cities around the world.
Working with the San Francisco Film Society and schools around the San Francisco Bay Area, Tonko House first developed an education curriculum in 2015 around “The Dam Keeper,” focusing on creative expression using storytelling as a way to communicate about global issues such as bullying and environmental pollution, and has plans to expand the curriculum internationally beginning in 2017.
Tonko House is based in Berkeley. For more information on the studio, visit www.tonkohouse.com.