John Alan Lasseter (born January 12, 1957) is an American animator, film director, screenwriter, producer and the chief creative officer at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. He is also currently the Principal Creative Advisor for Walt Disney Imagineering. I picked John as the subject of this case study because he is a fantastic inspiration. His contribution to the computerised animation world was and continues to be ground breaking and I can’t wait to see what he will produce over the next few years.
I didn’t know it at the time but my love for his work started when I watched Toy Story for the first time, which John just so happened to have directed. I remember it sparking something in my imagination. It was a type of animation which I and the world had never seen before. Growing up I was limited to watching all the classic Disney films, which were fantastic, but I had enough of the cliché princess falling in love scenario. Toy Story was different to any other film I’d seen before and I wanted to watch more.
It was great for me to see the main characters (Woody & Buzz) to be confident males compared to the fairy tale princess in distress. They changed the tone of the animation and added the feeling of adventure and heroism. In addition it was a film about toys coming to life and it was amazing to see the endless possibilities of animation being opened up. The humour added a lot to the film as well and was so very different to any other animation I’d watched before. Most of the jokes and gags were very easy to understand, which is great for children, but there are also references and jokes which only an adult would find funny; keeping people of all ages satisfied.
Above all John helped pioneer computer animation. His first job was with The Walt Disney Company, where he became an animator. He was then shortly fired from Disney for promoting computer animation, which is just astonishing to hear now. It’s amazing to see someone believe in an idea so much that they’re willing to lose their job over it; and then become hugely successful because of it. If it wasn’t for him then maybe computer animation wouldn’t be where it is today; and I am eternally thankful to him because of it. Watching 3D animation for the first time was amazing and it added a certain look of realism to the film which 2D animation will never come close to. This helps propel the story into our minds and immerse us in the beautifully built 3D worlds.
After he was fired from Disney Lasseter joined Lucasfilm, where he worked on the then ground breaking use of CGI animation. This was interesting for me to read because it made me think about where it’s best to start in a career for computer visualisation and animation. It shows that if I can’t find work for a large animation corporation like Pixar and Disney I can just as easily find work for a visual special effects company and then later switch over to work on fully animated feature films if I so desired. I knew that this was possible before but it also made me start thinking about whether it would be better to start with photo realistic special effects and then come into the animation world with a wide understanding of CGI processes. Maybe in order to really master animation it would be better to jump straight into working with ultra-realistic special effect scenes which combine live footage with CGI before tackling a film made completely from a computer.
Later the Graphics Group of the Computer Division of Lucasfilm which Lasseter worked in was sold to Steve Jobs in 1986; hence Pixar was born. Currently Lasseter oversees all of Pixar’s films and associated projects as executive producer. In addition, he directed Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Cars, and Cars 2 which are some of the most successful animated films made to date. All of those films are so unique and really helped stretch my imagination for my own characters. The possibilities are now endless and what was interesting as well was to see every day mundane objects like insects and cars come to life and for it to remain a hugely successful franchise. Particularly for the Obstract brief, John’s work has helped inspire me and motivate my creative thinking. If he can make a ground breaking film based on toys you would find in most children’s rooms then anything is possible; even a mushroom playing a ukulele in a fridge.
What’s also really interesting is that since 2007, John also oversees all of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ films and associated projects as executive producer which is beautifully ironic considering he got fired from them several years ago.