Animator and producer
Born January 12, 1957, in Hollywood, CA; son of Paul Lasseter (a parts manager at a car dealership); married Nancy; children: Joey, Bennett, P. J., Sam, another son. Education: California Institute of the Arts, B.A., 1979.
Addresses: Office —Pixar, 1200 Park Ave., Emeryville, CA 94608.
Animator, Disney, 1979–83; at Disney, designed and directed first attempt at combining computer and hand drawn animation, The Wild Things Computer Animation Test ; Pixar, animator, beginning 1984, then executive vice president-creative, then chief creative officer, 2006–; created early computer-generated animated film The Adventures of Andre and Wally B. , 1984; created computer animation effects for Young Sherlock Holmes , Paramount, 1985; producer, director, animator, and model designer for animated short Luxo, Jr. , 1986; animator, director, and model designer for animated short Red's Dream , 1987; animator, director, and model designer for animated short, Tin Toy , 1988; director, model designer, and animation system developer, and wrote film story for Toy Story , Buena Vista, 1995; director and film story writer for A Bug's Life , Buena Vista, 1998; executive producer, director, and film story writer for Toy Story 2 , Buena Vista, 1999; executive producer for Monsters, Inc. , Buena Vista, 2001; executive producer for Finding Nemo , Buena Vista, 2003; executive producer for The Incredibles , 2004; executive producer and director for Cars , 2006; named chief creative officer for Pixar and Disney, 2006.
Awards: Achievement Award in animation, Student Academy Awards, Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, for Lady & the Lamp , 1979; Student Academy Award, Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, for Nitemare , 1980; Silver Berlin Bear (with William Reeves) for best short film, Berlin International Film Festival, for Luxo, Jr. , 1987; World Animation Celebration winner (with William Reeves) for computer assisted animation, for Luxo, Jr. 1987; Golden Nica Award, Prix Ars Electronica, Australian Broadcasting Corp., 1988; Academy Award for best short animated film, for Tin Toy , 1989; Golden Space Needle Award for best short film, Seattle International Film Festival, for Knick Knack , 1990; Special Award for outstanding achievement, ShoWest Convention, 1996; Special Achievement Award, Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences, for Toy Story , 1996; Annie Award for best individual achievement: directing, for Toy Story , 1996; Humanitarian Award, ShoWest Convention, 1997; Creative Excellence Award, Sonoma Film Festival, 2000; Annie Award (with others), outstanding individual achievement for directing in an animated feature production, for Toy Story 2 , 2000; Annie Award (with others), outstanding individual achievement in writing in an animated feature production, for Toy Story 2 , 2000; first prize for animated computer 3D short, Vancouver Effects and Animation Festival, for For the Birds , 2001; Vanguard Award (with Ed Catmull and Steve Jobs), PGA Golden Laurel Awards, 2002; George Méliès Award for Pioneering and Artistic Excellence, Visual Effects Society, 2006; Golden Globe for best animated feature, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, for Cars , 2007.
Filmmaker John Lasseter, a vanguard in the use of computer-generated animation, is responsible for some of the biggest animated box office hits, beginning with 1995's Toy Story . He also won the first Academy Award ever given for a computer-generated animated film. After a stint at Disney, Lasseter worked for Pixar, which developed much of the computer-generated animation technology and served as the creative center for such animation. In 2006, after Pixar was bought by Disney, he became the chief creative officer of both Disney and Pixar. Explaining Lasseter's importance to the industry, Alvy Ray Smith, a former official at Pixar, told Jon Swartz of the San Francisco Chronicle , "John was one of the first artists who wasn't afraid to embrace the computer. He realized it enhanced—rather than compromised—creativity. John proved you could make commercially and critically acclaimed movies for people of all ages."
Lasseter was born in 1957 in Hollywood with his twin sister, Joanne; they were the offspring of Paul Lasseter and his wife. Their father was the parts manager for a Chevy dealership in Whittier, California, the city where Lasseter was raised. Their mother was a high school art teacher. From an early age, Lasseter loved animation, in the form of Saturday morning cartoons, and his mother encouraged his interest by giving him a book on animation. When he was five years old, he won a prize from the Whittier Molde Market for a drawing of the Headless Horseman he did in crayon. Lasseter continued to be interested in animation through high school. As a 16 year old, Lasseter worked for his father's employer as a stock boy. This stint to an intense interest in cars and their history, a hobby which lasted through his life and eventually inspired one of his films.
Animation, however, became Lasseter's career choice. He studied character animation at the California Institute of the Arts. He was only the second student admitted to this particular program, and he studied under artists who had worked for Disney. While a student at CalArts, he won two Student Academy Awards for his short films, Lady and the Lamp and Nitemare . Lasseter graduated from the program in 1979 and was soon hired by Disney.
At Disney, Lasseter worked as an animator with some of the last remaining pioneers of Disney's influential animation department. Though he worked in traditional two-dimensional animation on such films as The Fox and the Hound and Mickey's Christmas Carol , Lasseter soon became intrigued by the potential of combining computers and cartoon animation. He was inspired by Disney's use of computer-generated effects in 1982's Tron , one of the first films to use such effects. To that end, he worked on an early attempt by Disney to combine computer and hand-drawn animation in a project called The Wild Things Computer Animation Test , a 30-second film. Lasseter served as director and designer of the project.
After leaving Disney in 1983, Lasseter joined what was to become Pixar in 1984. At the time, Pixar was part of LucasFilms, Ltd., and he worked for the division which was focused on creating computers for film graphics. His small animation unit used animation as a means of researching what the developed hardware and software could do. Lasseter helped those working on the computers understand what stories could be created by their machines. Within a few years, Pixar evolved from part of a think tank into a full-fledged animation unit, though the technical team continued to develop related computer-generated animation technology.
As part of his work for the nascent Pixar, Lasseter created several short films. He showed the possibilities of computer animation with 1984's The Adventures of Andre and Wally B. , for which he was director, designer, and animator. Lasseter also worked on feature films created by LucasFilms including Young Sherlock Holmes , a 1985 release. He created the stained-glass knight which appeared in the film.
In 1986, Pixar was spun off from LucasFilm and purchased by Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple. Pixar then became a full-fledged animation studio which also continued to focus on developing related technology. From the first, Lasseter had a vision for the productions created at Pixar. He told Bruce Kirkland of the Toronto Sun , "I always looked at computer animation not as a whole new art form but as a new medium within the art form of animation. What made Pixar unique was that we did traditional animation films using computers. We always put story and character foremost."
After Pixar became its own company, Lasseter continued to make animated short films with the developing computer-generated animation technology. They included Luxo Jr. , released in 1986, which was nominated for an Academy Award, and Red's Dream , released in 1987. Luxo Jr. is about two flex lamps and their relationship, while Red's Dream features a unicycle in a bike shop who wishes to be starring in the circus. Of these early films, Lasseter told John H. Richardson of the St. Petersburg Times , "One of the things that is different is the fact that the work we do is in the story line and the personality of the characters. Also, we're very concerned with the quality of the lighting, the quality of the surface."
One early short by Lasseter really helped show the possibilities of the emerging technology as the wave of the future. He won an Oscar for his 1988 animated short called Tin Toy , for which he served as animator, director, and model designer. The five-minute triumph marked the first time a computer-generated cartoon won an Academy Award. In the film, Billy, an active, drooling infant, attacks his toys. One toy, a wind-up tin toy dubbed Tinny, hides beneath the family couch to avoid Billy, but ultimately sacrifices itself to stop Billy's crying. Though this film was considered impressive at the time, Lasseter believed animated computer technology could only continue to improve.
Tin Toy served as the inspiration for Pixar's first feature-length, all-computer-animated film ever released. Lasseter came up with the story and served as the director of 1995's Toy Story , created by Pixar with some input from Disney and distributed by Disney. In the film, a young boy's toys come to life when no humans are around. Their pecking order is disrupted after Christmas, when the child receives what becomes his new favorite toy, astronaut Buzz Lightyear, supplanting Woody, a toy cowboy. Toy Story did extremely well at the box office, grossing $192 million in its initial release. More importantly, the film was seen as an important innovation in the animation medium.
With the success of Toy Story , Lasseter, by now the executive in charge of creative matters for Pixar, was a hot commodity. Though Disney tried to lure him away, he remained at Pixar as part of the distribution deal Pixar and Disney signed. His salary was paid by both companies, and Lasseter became quite wealthy through ownership of Pixar stock. Lasseter also continued to be directly involved in the creation of Pixar's computer animated films.
In 1998, Lasseter was the co-director with Andrew Stanton of A Bug's Life , Pixar's second feature release. This film was technically more sophisticated than Toy Story , and also featured a more complex story about insects and their society. Set in the outdoors from the bugs' point of view, the film explores tension between grasshoppers and ants. Like Toy Story, A Bug's Life was a box-office smash.
The following year, Lasseter was the director and the executive producer of Toy Story 2 , the sequel to Toy Story . In this film, the story of the toys continued. Woody the cowboy is known to be a collectible with value and is stolen from the boy's room by a toy store owner so that he can be displayed in Japan. Woody is rescued from this fate by Buzz and the other toys. Originally intended as a straight-to-video release, Toy Story 2 turned into another box-office triumph for Pixar, earning more than $150 million in its initial release.
These were the last films Lasseter directed for some time. He signed a new, ten-year deal with Pixar in 2001, then worked on a number of Pixar films as an executive producer. These films included 2001's Monsters, Inc. , 2003's Finding Nemo , and 2004's The Incredibles . Each film showed continued improvement in the computer technology used to create the animation. Lasseter helped develop the directing and creative skills of others at Pixar, including Stanton. Finding Nemo director Stanton, who had worked on previous Pixar productions, told Steve Daly of Entertainment Weekly , "Once he's interested in something, he becomes an authority. That's just who he is. He can come on a project I've been doing research on for years, and in one meeting I'll feel like I don't know anything and he knows everything. Everybody benefits from that intensity."
Seven years after his last directorial effort, Lasseter directed and served as executive producer of Pixar's 2006 release Cars . Inspired by his own love of automobiles, the film also features Lasseter's trademark solid story as plots continued to be as important to him as animation. Cars focuses on Lightning McQueen, a full-of-himself race car who finds himself stuck in a dying small town on Route 66. He learns what is important in life with the help of a tow truck named Mater and a Porsche named Sally with whom he becomes romantically involved. McQueen's mentor is a once-famous race car now living in the town, Doc Hudson, a Hudson Hornet. Though some critics dismissed the film as too long, many embraced the film and its story, and it did well at the box office. In a review of the film, Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Lassetter's latest is not powered by glibness and speed but by warmth, emotion, and good-hearted charm. It offers the kinds of sensations all Hollywood once did, and it makes us remember why those films made us care."
Lasseter's career also took another step forward in 2006. In January of that year, Pixar was bought out by Disney, though the companies were going to remain separate. Lasseter was promoted to chief cre- ative officer for both Pixar and Disney. At Disney, he was charged with changing how Disney makes and creates films. It was hoped that Lasseter would bring some of the Pixar magic to the once-leading animation company and revive it, not just with computer-generated animation but traditional two-dimensional animation as well. He was also expected to bring Pixar's supportive and innovative culture to Disney's animation department. In addition to being in charge of overseeing all of Disney's animated films, Lasseter was also expected to contribute to Imagineering, which thinks up rides for the Disney theme parks.
Many believed Lasseter had the talent to make his new positions work as he essentially took over the mantle of Walt Disney himself. President of Animation Guild Local 839 Kevin Koch told Charles Solomon of the New York Times , "John Lasseter is probably the most respected single person in American animation. He's a creative leader without being overbearing or over-controlling."
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