L.A.-based Tonko House and Fox Animation 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, Monster’s University, Ratatouille) — will direct the film, which will be distributed by 20th Century Fox. Independent producer Kane Lee, formerly of Jane Startz Prod. and Blue Sky Studios, will lead produce. Screenwriter John Henry Hinkel, originally brought on by Tonko House, is also on board.
The Tonko House team developed a pitch deepening and expanding the characters and world of the short, well loved by critics and audiences alike. Fox Animation executive Darlene Caamaño Loquet shepherded the pitch and will continue to oversee the project for the studio.
“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,” said Kondo and Tsutsumi in a joint statement. “We feel that 20th Century Fox, with both its longstanding 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 Dam Keeper feature picks up several years after the events of the short film and addresses the most intriguing questions it raised with viewers. In a departure from the non-dialog 2D short film, created with over 8,000 digital paintings, the new project will have dialog 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.”
The Tonko House duo are also currently in the midst of writing and illustrating a trilogy of The Dam Keeper graphic novels. The first volume will be released in 2017 by First Second Books (a Macmillan imprint). And last week, the studio announced a deal with Hulu in Japan to produce a 10-episode series centered on the friendship of Pig and Fox. Recent Tonko House hire Erick Oh — animation supervisor for the short and another Pixar alum — is directing the series, coming Summer 2017.