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Who is John Lasseter?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
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  • Last Modified Date: 18 July 2014
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John Lasseter is an animator, filmmaker, and the business genius behind Pixar studios. Under the guidance of John Lasseter, Pixar developed their animation process in a completely new way, through complex computer animation. The result has been a string of successful films: Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monster’s Inc, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Cars.

Many films inspired John Lasseter as he was growing up in Hollywood, California. He would rush to the theater to see anything involving special effects. He cites the work of Ray Harryhausen, with his stop motion technique, as a favorite. Like others, he was also blown away by the 1977 premiere of Star Wars, which he saw when he was 20. He felt that with animation, he could accomplish the same effects and make movies just as impressive. Many would argue that John Lasseter has accomplished his goals, engineering computer animation in a wholly different way than had been previously used.

As a teenager, John Lasseter was very purposeful in trying to gain employment with Disney as an animator. His first work for the company was not, however, in animation. He worked as a tour guide on the Jungle Safari ride in Disneyland. Disney encouraged the budding animator, and did guide him toward enrolling in the newly established character animation program at the California Institute of Arts.

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Disney established the program and all the courses were taught by Disney animators. After finishing a four-year course of study at CalArts, John Lasseter was able to get employment in the animation department of Disney. Initially, the job was very interesting to him, but John Lasseter felt that Disney’s animation had deteriorated, and he really wanted to try working with computers and more special effects.

This interest propelled John Lasseter toward Lucasfilms’ Industrial Light and Magic, which meant working for the experts in special effects. In the 1980s, Industrial Light and Magic had already enjoyed much fame with the Star Wars trilogy. They were particularly innovative in their use of computers to create dazzling special effects. However, John Lasseter retained a love of animation for animated films, and in 1986, Pixar became an outgrowth company of Lucasfilms.

Pixar’s first releases were short films, Tin Toy and Luxo Jr.. In 1988, Tin Toy, about a toddler and a toy soldier, won an Academy Award for best short film. This made Academy history, as the film was the first animated picture to win an Oscar in this category. Luxo Jr. turned into a series of films about a precocious lamp and its mother, and were frequently aired on Sesame Street.

A full length animated film would take almost nine years to complete, but when John Lasseter premiered his work Toy Story in 1995, it met with critical praise and huge box office returns. Since John Lasseter was still developing the process through which computers would animate, Toy Story has more basic animation than its follow-ups. A Bug’s Life, released in 1998, was more complex and further explored the medium. Since Toy Story enjoyed so much success, John Lasseter decided to develop its sequel, which became the next Pixar release. Pixar plans a 2008 release of Toy Story 3.

The animation in the follow-up films, such as Finding Nemo is critically lauded as stunning, and shows the development of the medium as well as the growing abilities of Pixar studios. John Lasseter also began a friendship in the late 1990s with Hayao Miyazaki, and has helped to direct and release English language versions of his animated films.

Disney Pictures, released and distributed Pixar films, but for a time the relationship between Pixar and Disney was severed. In 2006, however, Pixar merged with Disney, and John Lasseter is now one of the heads of Disney studios. This move resolves issues of creative control of Pixar films, and many hail it as a step toward improving the work of Disney films as well.

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