Friday marks the opening of the annual Beloit International Film Festival, where attendees will see independent films and short features alike. One of the shorts is called One Small Step, an animated film about a young girl named Luna who realizes her dream of becoming an astronaut with the support of her father along the way.
Not only is it featured, but it’s also nominated for Best Animated Short at this weekend’s Academy Awards. It’s directed and co-written by Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas and produced by Shaofu Zhang — former Disney animators who started Taiko Studios.
"The specific inspiration was initially this book by a Canadian astronaut named Chris Hadfield who said that every choice he made as a kid was a choice toward becoming an astronaut, and we thought what a great line for a story to have," explains co-director Andrew Chesworth.
Pontillas notes that they also took inspiration from the first female Chinese astronauts who went to space: Liu Yang and Wang Yaping. "It couldn't have been easy for them and they faced all sorts of obstacles and they still did it in the face of that. Strong women like that inspired us to tell their stories and their origin story," he says.
Zhang notes that it was important to have a Chinese American girl at the center of the film to reflect the experience many Asian Americans have. Zhang himself came to America when he was just 5-years-old, and his mother opened a tailor shop to support the family. And he says she's to thank for all of his accomplishments.
"I think at the core of this story a lot of it is the support of our families, and for all three of us, our parents — especially our mothers — it was a love letter to them," he says.
Chesworth adds that they also wanted their love letter to stand the test of time — both in setting and in its visuals inspired by classic Disney animation. "We wanted to tell a story that was very contemporary, both in the setting, the time period, the goal of the character, and just the representation of the characters. But we also wanted it to feel timeless [in] the look of the film," he explains.
While Asian American representation is a key goal for Zhang, he also hopes One Small Step can help inspire young girls and women to pursue their dreams in the STEM fields. "The fact that you're showing it's possible, I think, means a whole lot," he says.