Still from One Small Step, a short animation by Taiko Studios
Still from One Small Step, a short animation by Taiko Studios

A look into the making of One Small Step, a short animation by Andrew Chesworth ’07 and Taiko Studios.

Last month, Andrew Chesworth ’07 returned to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design to share his experience working on the short animation One Small Step and to give MCAD students advice on the process of making a short animation.

Andrew Chesworth

Animation Professor Dave Novak (left) invited alum Andrew Chesworth (right) to speak at MCAD

Chesworth previously worked at Disney on major award-winning films including Zootopia, Frozen, Big Hero 6, Moana, Wreck-It Ralph, and Feast. The idea of leaving Disney to become the Head of Development at Taiko, an indie animation studio started by other Disney alumni, appealed to Chesworth because of the new challenges and projects he would be able to experience.

Taiko has studios in both Los Angeles and Wuhan, China, and Chesworth described each aspect of how they created a collaborative short, despite being across the world from each other, as “incredibly rewarding. To see it come together by sending files back and forth—seeing the sketches and storyboarding come back colored and worked on was magical.”

The dual locations also played a role in the short's plot, as Taiko’s aim is to pull from both Western and Eastern cultures to create stories with a more universal appeal. One Small Step is about Luna, a Chinese American girl, who chases her dream of being an astronaut with the unwavering support of Chu, her father. Chesworth explained how during early development the team got together to share personal stories about growing up and then mashed the different parenting styles together to create the father-daughter dynamic.

After showing the short film to us, Chesworth went on to describe Taiko's process of creating the music, color theory, storyboarding, character designs, and animation.

One Small Step utilized many different programs to achieve the “moving illustration” effect the team was going for. They didn't want it to have a 3D modeled effect, despite it being 3D animated. This, combined with the soft painterly style of the characters, created a very unique look for One Small Step. When describing the music and color theory production Chesworth said, “We took care to plan out the color theory for each scene, making sure that the viewer wouldn't be confused about what each scene was trying to convey. Knowing what color to use and when to add music and take it away really adds another layer of emotion to the story.” He was right, as within five minutes of watching everyone was in tears.

Still from One Small Step by Taiko Studios

Still from One Small Step

After Chesworth finished his presentation the audience was able to ask a few questions about his process and career as an animator.

What advice would you give aspiring animators at MCAD?

If animation is what you have the drive to do then do it. When I was a student at MCAD, it felt safe to explore what I wanted to do and create what I wanted to do. Don't be afraid to make bad things in school, because you will, and what you learn from those bad things will be what helps build your skill set.

What do you think makes a good story?

Less is more in some instances. Understanding how the little intricacies can affect the mood will help convey the story you want to tell. I like to imagine what one picture you would use to convey the entire story and use not much more than that. If you can't picture one image then you don't know enough about it to start animating. Start with something familiar that matters to you because if it matters to you it will most likely matter to others as well.

How would you recommend students put together their portfolio for job applications? Would it be better to have a general understanding of many fields or is it better to specialize?

Understand that different companies want different things. Put together your best work that demonstrates what you love to do and how you do it. If you are applying to a larger company it's generally better to specialize while applying to a smaller company it could be more appealing to have a more general understanding of multiple aspects of animation. However in school don't be afraid to experiment with all different kinds of animation to be able to find out what you might want to specialize in later.

Illustration by Andrew Chesworth of the short film One Small Step

Illustration by Andrew Chesworth