We had the pleasure of interviewing Shaofu Zhang, a former Disney animator who founded TAIKO Studios. Read on to find out more about “One Small Step“, a recently released short film by the studio, and more!
What’s your name, and what do you do?
My name is Shaofu Zhang. I am the CEO and founder of TAIKO Studios. We are an animation studio focused on bridging east and west through heartfelt animation. My job is to get great artists together and steer the ship toward making amazing stories that people all over the world can enjoy.
Why did you decide to leave Walt Disney Animation and create Taiko Studios?
I left Disney because I always had this dream of starting my own studio and making content that could be different than what the big studios offered. Especially coming from a Chinese background, there wasn’t much out there representing Chinese culture, especially in animation. And beyond just the cultural side, I was fascinated with pushing the medium of animation further, with new art styles and trying to tell the kinds of stories you may not see in more mainstream animation.
We saw your touching short film, “One Small Step“, which is about a Chinese American girl named Luna with aspirations to go into space and a loving father that supports her dreams. Can you give us some insight as to what inspired you to produce this story?
In the beginning, the idea came from a pitch Bobby Pontillas (one of the co-directors of the short) and I ask him if he’d be interested in bringing it to Taiko. He jumped at the chance and we started to develop it with a Chinese American female character. The story originally did not have a father character and as we broke story in script, the protagonist always felt very singular as we follow her journey to become an astronaut. So we added the father character as a way to talk about the family that supports the dreamer, which I very much related to because family and the idea of working hard to pass on to the next generation is a very ingrained idea in Chinese culture, especially for an immigrant family. And it was something that was universal that everyone could relate to, which was very important for us. We released our film online on September 20th. So far, our film has gotten over 26 million views worldwide.
Do you have your next project planned out? When can we expect to hear an announcement for that project?
We are currently developing feature film and original series projects but nothing we are ready to announce at this time.
In 5 or 10 years, what do you hope to accomplish with Taiko Studios? Where do you hope the company will be at that point?
My hope is that in 5 to 10 years, Taiko can grow into a world class studio where great storytellers and artists from around the world can come together to make new content that pushes the boundaries of animation, to creates something fresh that inspires people, just like all the amazing films and shows we grew up on have inspired us to pursue our dreams.
Do you have any advice for anyone aspiring to work for an animation studio?
Passion will help you in hard times, but hard work and diligence to your craft will be what separates you from the rest. I was not a naturally gifted animator in school. There were many people much more talented than me. It took a lot of hard work, practice and just grinding on the craft day in and day out to become good enough to land a job. And that persistence will pay off.