Tonic House, a rapidly growing animation studio based in Berkeley, CA and under the leadership of Daisuke "Dice" Tsutsumi and Robert Kondo (both Pixar veterans), received its first academy award nomination this past February with their first short film, The Dam Keeper. Now, the studio has exciting plans to expand their creative output by taking advantage of the success of The Dam Keeper short film and building its world and characters into a feature length adaptation and two comic book-like sequels! If you have not seen the original short film, I highly suggest catching it either on iTunes or Amazon because it truly is a remarkable piece of art. Find out more about The Dam Keeper feature and comic books after the break!
The Best Animated Short category, home to some of the loveliest works on any given Oscar ballot, is often one of the most striking—and least-explored—territories of awards season. Among this year’s nominees was The Dam Keeper, a gorgeous work by a pair of former Pixar art directors. It’s a story about Pig, an orphaned anthropomorphic pig with a lonely mission—to keep his town’s dam running.
A spare, beautiful work that looks like a painting in motion, The Dam Keeper hints at a strange and mysterious world beyond the walls of the titular dam—but keeps its story focused on Pig and the friendship he strikes up with his new classmate, Fox. But there ismore out there—and Tonko House, the studio behind The Dam Keeper, is going to explore it all in a new graphic novel series to be published by First Second books.
“The Academy Awards was just unreal,” says Robert Kondo, co-founder of Tonko House. “The experience of being a part of the history of filmmaking is only just now starting to hit us, I think.”
For Kondo and his Tonko House partner, Daisuke Tsutsumi—both of whom left Pixar after working on acclaimed films like Toy Story 3 and Monsters University—their short film was a chance to do something personal and more immediate, a project that would allow their work as illustrators to actually be the finished film rather than the inspiration for it. With the books, they’re diving in even further, picking up where they left off without any of the moving parts that putting together a film involves.
The story will begin five years after the events of the short, with friends Pig and Fox on the cusp of adulthood as the dark cloud that the dam holds back recedes for the first time. They go out into the world in search of answers about the fog, and the fate of Pig’s parents—with the unlikely help of Pig’s enemy, Hippo. Kondo, who noted that the story is inspired by a personal anecdote of Tstusumi’s, says that they’re interested in exploring how friendship evolves as we mature.
“When we’re eight or ten, the kind of friends we have is different than when we grow up and start to learn about the world and who we are in the world,” says Kondo. “Friendship can change. We think that’s a big part of the progression of our characters—how does friendship evolve? Growing up and changing, what does that mean to a friendship that you count on? And also, what sort of new friends do you make?”
Kondo and Tsutsumi will explore the world beyond the dam in 2016, with the first of two graphic novel sequels to The Dam Keeper. In addition, Tonko House will produce a third, unannounced graphic novel with First Second books. Courtesy of First Second, here’s a first look at some exclusive announcement art.
Much like the film, it’s nothing short of lovely.
The news of The Dam Keeper getting a feature adaptation by none other than the original producers is absolutely fantastic and extremely exciting. the cinematic potential of the world that the original short film showed us a glimpse of is extremely promising and I for one can't wait to see how it will translate to a longer format. The only question that remains is whether the film will get a wide release, and if so, then which distribution company would present the film. The Pixar fan inside of me would love to see Disney take the reigns, but seeing that they usually don't go after independent films (especially animated ones), my best guess is that they won't. However, GKids is well known for distributing family films (usually animated) that are either foreign or independent in one way or another. With that said, all I hope is that whatever distribution company takes on this project that they let Kondo and Tsutsumi have as much creative range and control as they please. I will keep you all posted on the latest news of The Dam Keeper feature film as it is of immense interest to me!