Exclusive: John Lasseter on Pixar Past, Present and Future

The CCO of the world's greatest animation studio writes for RT.

John Lasseter - Eric Charbonneau/WireImage.comJohn Lasseter, a founding member of Pixar, joined the company as the creative talent behind the entertainment division. When Steve Jobs took Pixar on in 1986 it sold high-end computer hardware, and Lasseter was charged with directing short films that would demonstrate the graphics capabilities of the Pixar Image Computer and its Renderman software.

Twenty years and a feature film deal to make Toy Story later, and Pixar is now a fully-fledged animation studio. Following on from the UK cinema release, and on the eve of the US DVD release of Pixar's latest Certified Fresh masterwork, Ratatouille, John Lasseter tells RT readers why working at Pixar is so special.

97%. In the early days of Ratatouille's release we were checking it, every day, on Rotten Tomatoes. We were 100% for a while! I think when people start seeing 100% up there for a while they start coming in and saying, "I'm going to write a bad review to see how much it drops!"

John Lasseter

I was trained as a traditional animator and my dream was to work for, to animate for, Disney. I achieved that dream right after graduation and while I was there I had these amazing mentors, some great Disney animators, but I started seeing the beginnings of computer animation and that lead me on to working with Lucasfilm's computer animation division with Ed Catmull.

I went there in late '83 and in February of 1986, Steve Jobs bought us from George Lucas and that's when we started Pixar as it's known today. And it was exciting because for the first ten years of Pixar's life it was a hardware company. There were four of us in animation when it started, just four, and we went up to six through the late eighties. We were rocking!

And then we started making a deal with Disney to do Toy Story, the first computer generated feature film. So in the late eighties there were six of us and then in late 1995, nine years after the founding of Pixar, we went public as Pixar Animation Studios and the entire company was doing animation.

From that point on it's been amazing and we've been focussed on telling the best stories with the greatest technology possible. Pixar has invented much of computer animation as it's known today and I've been very lucky to be the first traditional animator to work with computer animation.

John Lasseter

Pixar is a studio of innovators. Every single thing Pixar has done, no one has done before us. And that's really exciting. It's a culture in which everyone's addicted to the idea of doing of breaking new ground. They live for doing just that. The technical teams live and breathe for the days when I come to them and say, "We don't know how to do this." They work all night; and they don't stop until they figure it out.

Rotten Tomatoes is such a great website, in that it has one foot in the Internet world and one foot in the cinema world, and it keeps its grounding between them just perfectly. Pixar has one foot in Silicon Valley and one foot in Hollywood and it always has because Steve Jobs has been our CEO.

And I was raised with the great Disney animators to focus on the mantra that it's all about the story. Brad Bird, who wrote and directed Ratatouille and The Incredibles, he and I were classmates at CalArts and we worked at Disney together. In the early days we were trained by the same Disney minds. So we have that in us; it's in our DNA.

It's got to be about the story. It's not the technology just as it's not the pencils you use that make it entertaining; it's what you do with those things. When I started working in computer animation I always viewed the computer as the tool; computer animation is never going to entertain an audience by itself, it's what you do with it that counts. And that's at the very foundation of Pixar.

John Lasseter

Every single animator that has been brought in from the very beginning of the company believes in that ideal; believes in making great story. When you go into the theatre and the lights dim you want to entertain people from beginning to end. You want them to be swept up in your story, on the edge of their seats, unable to wait to see what happens next, be blown away and afterwards just go, WOW!

It takes, on average, four years to make one of our films and, you know what, we have every reason to do it right. We work hard to do just that.


Ratatouille is out now in UK cinemas and is released on DVD in the US on November 6th.

Comments

~*Admiral Snowstorm*~

Dominique Amsterdam

Long live Pixar. I will definitely be buying Ratatouille when it comes out; it's honestly one of the best movies I've ever seen and it will remain so unless Pixar tops it with each subsequent film after it (which they may indeed do; there's no studio I have higher expectations for than Pixar. If anyone can make a movie as good as Ratatouille and still potentially outdo it, it's Pixar.).

Oct 23 - 06:06 PM

JpPrewitt789

joe fish

Wall-E looks awesome.

Oct 23 - 06:53 PM

newf

edgar pynn

i cant wait tell the blu-ray comes out its going to be AMAZING

Oct 23 - 07:06 PM

witherwings

Jamie Lynn

Dream job. Right there. In that company.

Oct 23 - 07:12 PM

lavatory love machine

juan carlos petruchi

Ratatouille deserves a best pic nom

Oct 23 - 11:23 PM

dahluzz

joe shmo

that best animated feature category they created efectively prevents animated films from getting nominated for anything more. it's nice that the category recognizes these films, but they shouldn't be viewed as less than their live action counterparts. Ratatouille is one of the best pics of the year, but it'll have to settle for best animated (still nothing to sneeze at).

great article from the best in the biz.

Oct 24 - 06:44 AM

dahluzz

joe shmo

that best animated feature category they created efectively prevents animated films from getting nominated for anything more. it's nice that the category recognizes these films, but they shouldn't be viewed as less than their live action counterparts. Ratatouille is one of the best pics of the year, but it'll have to settle for best animated (still nothing to sneeze at).

great article from the best in the biz.

Oct 24 - 06:44 AM

minderbinder

anonymous anonymous

Definitely agree that Ratatouille is one of the very best films of the year, and that the animation category pretty much shuts it out of a shot at best picture.

Shame it didn't do a little better domestically, but I'm glad to see it's going gangbusters overseas. So far it's Pixar's #4 worldwide and will soon pass Monsters Inc.

I can't believe there are idiots out there who have been trying to paint this film as a failure or a disappointment just because it did "only" 200 million in the most crowded summer in memory.

Oct 24 - 11:18 AM

High School With Money

LEEEROOOOOAAAAHHHH MMMYYAAAANKEEEUUUNNNNSSSS

[b]that best animated feature category they created efectively prevents animated films from getting nominated for anything more.[/b]

Technically, animated films are eligible for nominations in Best Picture, much like documentaries, but the category is bit of a ghetto.

Oct 24 - 11:34 AM

Lord_Kingsley

Terry Yocham

Yeah, but they have to withdraw their Best Animated Feature eligibility to even be considered for Best Picture. So it's kind of a gamble.

I hate that category. If you even make an animated film, no matter how bad it is (I'm looking in your direction, "Shrek"), it gets a nomination. This continues to inspire mediocre animated films. They need to get rid of it and treat these films like any other.

Oct 24 - 02:21 PM

Joe Utichi

Joe Utichi

It is a shame, but for what it's worth I think you'd be hardpressed to find an animator or a documentarian who'd see those categories as anything less than Best Picture.

I'm glad you liked the piece. There's more Ratatouille love, including a chat with Brad Bird, coming later in the week - any excuse to continue to champion one of the freshest films of the year.

Oct 24 - 01:23 PM

CoUcH ToMaToE DoUgIe

Shawn Amoroso

great article, joe. i wish i could talk to such a great man like john

lesseter. he leads the best studio out there because all his films rule and having

directors like brad bird helps, too:) now joe if you could, when you interview mr. bird

when the next incredibles' movie is coming out? if there will not be a sequel i will be

so sad considering brad bird probably did as good of job of making a superhero film as

most other studios do. i hope there will be, joe and i hope you ask him the question:)

and again it was great hearing from john lesester and his incredbile career!

Oct 24 - 05:18 PM

Lord_Kingsley

Terry Yocham

Yeah, but they have to withdraw their Best Animated Feature eligibility to even be considered for Best Picture. So it's kind of a gamble.

I hate that category. If you even make an animated film, no matter how bad it is (I'm looking in your direction, "Shrek"), it gets a nomination. This continues to inspire mediocre animated films. They need to get rid of it and treat these films like any other.

Oct 24 - 02:21 PM

CoUcH ToMaToE DoUgIe

Shawn Amoroso

great article, joe. i wish i could talk to such a great man like john

lesseter. he leads the best studio out there because all his films rule and having

directors like brad bird helps, too:) now joe if you could, when you interview mr. bird

when the next incredibles' movie is coming out? if there will not be a sequel i will be

so sad considering brad bird probably did as good of job of making a superhero film as

most other studios do. i hope there will be, joe and i hope you ask him the question:)

and again it was great hearing from john lesester and his incredbile career!

Oct 24 - 05:18 PM

Thundaar

Paul Fairbrother

I love Pixar and all of their films (although not crazy about Cars), but this was a smooch-fest article. Pucker up and plant another on each other's cheek. We love Pixar! Well, we love RT!

Oct 24 - 06:55 PM

Joe Utichi

Joe Utichi

Couch Tomatoe: Sorry to disappoint, but the interview has come and gone and we did talk future projects but not a sequel to The Incredibles. He teased at something which has me quite excited though, so have faith - anything he does is well worth keeping an eye on.

Oct 24 - 07:48 PM

~*Admiral Snowstorm*~

Dominique Amsterdam

Ratatouille's a shoe-in for Best Animated Picture. The only other animated movie I even remember from this year is Surf's Up, and it's obviously got nothing on Ratatouille. I'd say Ratatouille really may be my favorite movie of this year and it definitely should get Best Picture, but it is a gamble. Animated is a moderately small niche and Pixar is the indisputed king there. With Oscar season rolling around and who knows how many great movies coming from the end of the year, Ratatouille would face some serious competition for such an important award. And I know some people would probably frown on it simply for being animated and allegedly for kids, too, which further hurts its chances. So at least it will win Best Animated, as it full well deserves to.

Oct 25 - 03:50 AM

VML

Victoria Leduc

God bless Pixar, the only great animation studio in existence right now.

Oct 25 - 12:20 PM

Orbean

Sean Stewart

Wait a second! Have you thought about Studio Ghibli?!
You know, Hayao Miyazaki's studio?
They're great too!

Oct 25 - 05:29 PM

VML

Victoria Leduc

God bless Pixar, the only great animation studio in existence right now.

Oct 25 - 12:21 PM

katsat

KN Sato

Loved your article! Lasseter is one of my favorites.

But please don't confuse "led" with "lead":

"...that lead me on to working with Lucasfilm's computer animation division with Ed Catmull."

(It's one of my pet peeves.)

Oct 25 - 02:59 PM

Jen Yamato

Jen Yamato

Is that a British English spelling thing?

Oct 26 - 01:27 AM

Orbean

Sean Stewart

Wait a second! Have you thought about Studio Ghibli?!
You know, Hayao Miyazaki's studio?
They're great too!

Oct 25 - 05:29 PM

mawnck

Eric Graf

All the entries aren't in yet for Best Animated Feature, folks. We have two more months. Remember when everybody was sure "Lilo and Stitch" was a lock for the Oscar? Well, I saw a screening of "Persepolis" recently, and it has a very good chance of beating "Ratatouille". Go see it when it's released nationally (on December 25) and see if I'm wrong.

Oct 25 - 10:24 PM

Jen Yamato

Jen Yamato

Is that a British English spelling thing?

Oct 26 - 01:27 AM

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