John Lasseter

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John A. Lasseter was born on January 12, 1957, in Hollywood, California, to a father who worked at a Chevrolet dealership and a mother who taught art at Bell Gardens Senior High School. John grew up in Whittier, California and won $15 from a local grocery store for a crayon drawing of the Headless Horseman when he was five years old.

John developed a passion for cartoons and animation by his freshmen year of high school. He wrote to The Walt Disney Studios about his high-spirited interest in the field and started studying art and drawing on his own. His education began at Pepperdine University (the alma mater of both his parents and his siblings) before learning of a new Character Animation Program at the California Institute of the Arts. Lasseter became the second student accepted into the very first class and studied there alongside classmates Brad Bird, Tim Burton and John Musker. During summer breaks, he apprenticed at the Disney Studios and at Disneyland (as a Jungle Cruise skipper!). John won Student Academy Awards after creating the short films Lady and the Lamp and Nitemare.

John graduated from CalArts in 1979 with a degree in animation. Shortly after college, he joined the Disney feature animation department, where he would remain for the next five years. During this period, he worked on various projects such as the feature The Fox and the Hound and the short Mickey’s Christmas Carol.

In 1982, Lasseter was exposed to computer animation during the making of Disney’s film Tron. Fascinated by the prospects of the revolutionary new medium, he and fellow animator Glen Keane created an experimental 30-second test film based on Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are. The test film blended traditional hand-drawn character animation with computerized camera movements and environment. Lasseter’s interest in this new technology increased after he visited the computer animation division of the Lucasfilm Industrial Light and Magic.  He worked on a computer animated treatment of The Brave Little Toaster, but Disney was not happy with the pitch and told John that his services were no longer needed.

John spent a month at Lucasfilm, but six months later when entrepreneur Steven Jobs purchased the department, Lasseter was still there. Jobs renamed the new company Pixar and gave Lasseter the freedom to direct, produce, script, and create models for numerous innovative shorts and commercials to help push sales for their hardware division. His first short was a joint project with Alvy Ray Smith entitled The Adventures of André and Wally B.

In 1986, Lasseter made his directorial debut with a 2-minute short called Luxo Jr. It was a huge critical success and earned him a Silver Berlin Bear for Best Short Film, a World Animation Celebration for Computer Assisted Animation and an OIAF Award at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. It also received an Oscar nomination for Best Short Film-Animated and became the first computer animated short nominated for the prestigious award. After John’s next short, Red’s Dream, Lasseter took home his first Oscar for Best Achievement in Animated Short Films for his short Tin Toy. John followed this with the playful Knick Knack, which was the first Pixar film to be done in 3D.

John Lasseter (along with Pixar President Ed Catmull) always dreamed of creating a full length feature film, so he began developing an original script about toys who come to life when their owner isn’t around. What started out as a pitch for a Tin Toy Christmas Story turned into a feature length film to be distributed by Dinney. Toy Story was released in 1995 with Lasseter sitting in the director’s chair. The film grossed over $190 million in the U.S., received three Oscar nominations, including one for Best Writing and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen and Lasseter was presented with a Special Achievement award for his contribution in bringing the first feature-length computer animated film to the screen. He also won an Annie for Best Individual Achievement in Directing.

John followed up the huge success of Toy Story with A Bug’s Life, inspired by Seven Samurai and The Ant and the Grasshopper. The film was another huge success and earned more than $160 million at the domestic box office and collected a number of nominations, including a Saturn for Best Fantasy Film, a Los Angeles Critics Association for Best Animated Film and an Oscar for Best Music, Original Musical or Comedy Score. As for Lasseter, he was nominated for two Annie Awards for Outstanding Individual Achievement for Directing in an Animated Feature Production and Outstanding Individual Achievement for Writing in an Animated Feature Production.

The following year saw Lasseter step in and “save” Toy Story 2 (which was originally scheduled to go straight to DVD, before Disney decided to release it in theaters). Toy Story 2 is regarded by many as one of the best sequels of all time and was rewarded with  two Annies for Outstanding Individual Achievement for Directing in an Animated Feature Production and Outstanding Individual Achievement for Writing in an Animated Feature Production. The film also received a Golden Globe nomination in the category of Best Film-Musical or Comedy.

As John became more involved in the overall direction of the company, he encouraged others to take the helm. John provided opportunities for other Pixar employees to pitch short films which resulted in executive producer duties on Geri’s Game, For the Birds, Boundin’, Mike’s New Car, Jack-Jack Attack, One Man Band, Your Friend the Rat and Presto. John’s earliest hires moved on to direct feature length films and John was there to executive produce and guide projects for Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc. & Up), Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL-E) and Brad Bird (The Incredibles and Ratatouille).

In early 2006, The Walt Disney Company purchased Pixar and Lasseter was appointed Chief Creative Officer of both the Pixar and Disney animation studios. He was also appointed Principal Creative Advisor at Walt Disney Imagineering. The same year, Lasseter returned to the director’s chair for the animated feature Cars, which won him an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature Film of the Year. He also picked up a 2007 BAFTA nomination for Best Animated Feature Film, an Annie nomination for Best Directing in an Animated Feature Production and a Hollywood Film Festival for Animation of the Year. John also came up with the original story and directed Mater and the Ghostlight for inclusion on the Cars DVD.

Lasseter went on to produce Disney animated films (How to Hook Up Your Home Theater, Meet the Robinsons, Bolt, Tinker Bell and Super Rhino) and bring hand drawn 2D animation back to Disney with 2009’s The Princess and the Frog. John’s also had the opportunity to work with his hero and friend, Hayao Miyazaki on English translations of Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away and Ponyo and ensures theatrical and DVD release of his films through Disney.

John’s work continues in all aspects of Disney and Pixar’s endeavors including new theme park attractions, Pixar films and Disney films.

Filmography (Pixar theatrical shorts and Pixar/Disney Feature Films Only)

  • The Adventures of André and Wally B. (1984) (character design, animation)
  • Luxo Jr. (1986) (writer, models, animation, producer, director)
  • Red’s Dream (1987) (writer, animator, director)
  • Tin Toy (1988) (writer, animator, director)
  • Knick Knack (1989) (writer, director)
  • Toy Story (1995) (original story, director)
  • Geri’s Game (1997) (executive producer)
  • A Bug’s Life (1998) (original story, director)
  • Toy Story 2 (1999) (original story, director)
  • For the Birds (2000) (executive producer)
  • Spirited Away (2001) (executive producer)
  • Monsters, Inc. (2001) (executive producer)
  • Mike’s New Car (2001) (executive producer)
  • Finding Nemo (2003) (executive producer)
  • Boundin’ (2003) (executive producer)
  • The Incredibles (2004) (executive producer)
  • One Man Band (2005) (executive producer)
  • Cars (2006) (original story, screenplay, director)
  • Meet the Robinsons (2007) (executive producer)
  • Ratatouille (2007) (executive producer)
  • WALL-E (2008) (director, original story, screenplay)
  • Presto (2008) (executive producer)
  • Tokyo Mater (2008) (director)
  • Bolt (2008) (executive producer)
  • Up (2009) (executive producer)
  • The Princess and the Frog (2009) (executive producer)
  • Toy Story 3 (2010) (story, executive producer)
  • Tangled (2010) (executive producer)
  • Winnie the Pooh (2011) (executive producer)
  • La Luna (2011) (executive producer)
  • Brave (2012) (executive producer)
  • Wreck-It-Ralph (2012) (executive producer)
  • Frozen (2013) (producer)
  • The Good Dinosaur (2014) (producer)

Tidbits

  • John is happily married to wife Nancy Lasseter, whom he met at a computer graphics conference. The couple has five sons, Bennett, Joey, P.J, Sam and Jackson.
  • John is a hardcore toy collector and recently opened his own family winery
  • He owns the “Marie E.” steam locomotive, which was once owned by Ollie Johnston.
  • John returned to Pepperdine University to deliver the 2009 commencement address and was given an honorary degree.

Interviews

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