WILMINGTON, NC (UNCW) — Shaofu Zhang ’06, founder of TAIKO Studios, produced One Small Step, which has been nominated for an Oscar in the Short Film (Animated) category. The 91st Academy Awards ceremony will air live on Sunday, Feb. 24 at 8 p.m. EST on ABC.
Produced by Zhang and directed by Bobby Pontillas and Andrew Chesworth, One Small Step tells a beautiful coming-of-age story about a young Chinese-American girl who dreams of being an astronaut. This short, animated film has garnered many awards and accolades, which include 69 official festival selections, 29 festival awards and two jury awards: the Palm Springs International Shorts Fest Youth Jury Award and the Oceanside International Film Festival Jury Award.
“To be nominated for the Oscars is among the deepest of honors as a filmmaker,” Zhang said. “You see it on the news, people talk about it at work, you maybe watch the ceremony on TV but you never think you will participate in this kind of thing. In all honesty, there was an immense feeling of validation as well. I left a comfortable job at Disney to found a studio and convinced a bunch of passionate and talented folks to come together to make a film aptly called One Small Step. And now having this greatest of honors conferred to us, recognized by our heroes and peers, all I can think of is the road it took to get to this point.”
Zhang graduated from UNCW in 2006 with a bachelor of arts in film studies and a minor in creative writing. In 2017, he founded TAIKO Studios as an international company with offices in Los Angeles and Wuhan, China. The studio seeks to bridge eastern and western cultures to create memorable stories with universal appeal.
“This is the first time one of our graduates has had a film nominated for an Academy Award,” said Mariana Johnson, film studies chair and associate professor. “Shaofu’s success reflects the fact that our alumni are capable of national – and even international – prominence.”
The Film Studies Department is continuing to grow and produce talented filmmakers and scholars who are excelling in film and media professions. In fall 2020, the department will launch two new graduate programs: A master of arts in film study and a master of fine arts in filmmaking, building on an already solid filmmaking foundation.
“I think about my time at UNCW, the seed that was planted by the wonderfully supportive teachers whose passion for cinema was contagious,” Zhang said. “At UNCW, I fell in love with the art of film, learning to appreciate, dissect and understand it on a deeper level. Then learning how to actually make the stuff: writing, casting, shooting, editing, all the little bits of craft that goes into a film. At UNCW, I discovered the road I would journey down that would lead me to this monumental milestone of my life. And I am deeply grateful I found it.”
— Mary Ann Fearing ’19