As the Academy Awards approach, attention almost inevitably focuses on nominations related to high-profile feature films. But there are also, of course, nominations for short movies – including Oscars for Best Live-Action, Animated and Documentary Short Film. Among the current nominations for Best Animated Short Film is One Small Step, a charming and inspiring movie about a young girl’s quest to become an astronaut. The film is the first release of Taiko Studios, a joint Chinese and American animation company.

ScreenPicks recently posed some questions to Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas who directed One Small Step. They also co-wrote the story in collaboration with Shaofu Zhang, founder of Taiko Studios. Both Chesworth and Pontillas have also worked at Disney Studios on such films as Frozen and Moana.

Oscar Nominated Shorts 2019 opened nationally on February 8.

What was the genesis of the project and story of One Small Step?  Was the imminent 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing a factor in the development of the film?

The original concept was inspired by astronaut Chris Hadfield, who described every choice he made in his life as a step toward his life goal. That mindset resonated with us, because we experienced the spark of wanting to become Disney animators very early in our lives and had parents who supported us wholeheartedly in those goals. ‘Taiko’ is also the prefix in the word ‘taikonaut’, the Chinese word for astronaut. The 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing was in our consciousness, but it was a happy coincidence. We were more conscious of and directly inspired by the current revitalized interest in space, through entities like SpaceX.

Were there any special types of animation that were used for One Small Step?  Are there any animators from the past or types of animation that you particularly admire?

One Small Step was animated in Maya just like the films we worked on at Disney, but we embraced a flat-shaded look to give the animation the timeless feel of a moving illustration. Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmatians, and Pinocchio all evoke the kind of charm and timeless visual style we wanted to draw inspiration from. We also looked at a lot of mid-century modern illustration that captured the optimism of the space race.

I understand that this is the first film released from Taiko Studios. Can you tell us about the origins and mission of the studio?

Taiko was founded by Shaofu Zhang after he was awarded a grant from the city of Wuhan to invest in a studio and a short film. Taiko is both a Chinese and American animation studio, and seeks to tell universal stories that bridge the sensibilities of the east and west.

Is there anything in general you would like to tell viewers about One Small Step?

One Small Step is a love letter to everyone who chased that impossible dream, and the people who supported them along the way. Everyone who developed the film together had tremendous support from their families in the pursuit of their goals, and none of us take their generosity and sacrifices for granted.

Would you like to share with us what your future projects are?

Currently we are developing animated feature films, another short film, and series content. We are not ready to announce yet, but we are very excited!