Robert Kondo and Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi, co-founders of animation studio Tonko House are expanding the world of their Oscar-nominated short “The Dam Keeper” in myriad ways. In addition to a full-length version of the tale, which is in pre-production with Fox Animation, and the first in a series of graphic novels soon to be released by Macmillan imprint First Second, they are premiering a first look of a new imagining of the story, “Pig: The Dam Keeper Poems,” a short-form series set to debut on Hulu Japan later this summer.
“The Dam Keeper” short told the story of lonely, orphaned Pig, who maintains a windmill that keeps his village safe from a dangerous, dark fog that hangs just outside its borders, and his friendship with the artistic Fox.
The hand-drawn animated series is a reimagining of Pig and Fox told through Pig’s memories, and is written and directed by Erick Oh. Kondo and Tsutsumi have let their former Pixar colleague Oh and his team have free reign with the “The Dam Keeper Poems.”
“It’s another take on ‘The Dam Keeper‘ world,” explains Oh, who was supervising animator on the original short film. “Dice and Robert offered to let me take this world and the characters and re-interpret them in my own way. … It’s very dreamy and surreal, even very abstract.”
“We loved his ideas,” says Kondo. “The things he’s done with Pig and Fox, we really can’t wait for the world to see it. It’s not at all what we would have done or expected, but I think that’s what’s so brilliant about it and exciting to us.”
The project is what enticed Oh, who as an animator at Pixar worked on such hits as “Inside Out” and “Finding Dory,” to come to work for Tonko House last October. “Erick is someone that we trusted and worked shoulder-to-shoulder with in making the short, and he knows these characters just as well as us if not more,” explains Kondo. “So it was a no-brainer that we when wanted to make a series and also find ways to grow Tonko House, Erick was the most obvious person possible.”
Oh had to hit the ground running when he arrived at Tonko House last October, turning around the project in just a few months, extremely quick in the world of animation, even for short-form projects. But Oh welcomed the challenge. “Because we were working on it with such a limited time, it gave us more creativity. That’s what I believe in. Everything came out so nicely and so naturally.”
“The Dam Keeper Poems” aims to explain more of the story from the original short. “The idea was to really deepen the characters,” says Oh. “It’s about how they became who they are. I redesigned those characters and also created new characters to support the idea and the plot.”
The project is still in post production, but should be ready soon, Oh says. “It’s really close.”
Once “The Dam Keeper Poems” debuts on Hulu Japan, Tonko House hopes to find distribution in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. “We haven’t been actively looking just yet because of our deal with Hulu Japan, but we are pretty excited about who we can partner with to distribute this outside of Japan,” says Tsutsumi. “There’s no dialogue. It’s much more like a short film. And it’s very universal. I’m so envious every day that Erick and his team are working on something so special.”
Tsutsumi and Kondo are very proud about the way that their young studio is coming together. Says Kondo: “When Dice and I sat down and came up with the name (for the studio), it could have been Tonko Studios or Tonko Production, but we’d always envisioned a comfortable place where creatives could come to tell stories. And we hope that Erick is the first of many that we get to learn from by bringing them into Tonko House.”
Watch the teaser below: