Here is the full John Lasseter's intervention.
It's such an honnor to us to have you here for the 25th Pixar Birthday but for you, it began much earlier. Lots of peoples here would like to know how your history started, how you discovered the computer generated image, and what that woke in you.
I've always loved cartoons motion when I was child. I was lucky to have a mother who was arts teacher. I discovered at the age of 13 that peoples who made cartoon motion made them for live, they were paid to made cartoons motion and that was I would like to do, to work for Disney. I studied the art and the animation in Cal Arts with big professors and I finally worked one day in Disney Studios.
When I was there, I started to see some pictures made by computer. I saw the first rushes from "Tron". Close relations worked on this movie but not me. What I saw excited me a lot and made me report in which point the world was in three dimensions, of what the computer could create. I understood at once that it is for what Disney had always waited. He tried to give most dimension in his animations. I tried to urge Disney to dash into the adventure with a test of around thirty seconds with the characters of the book "Where the Wild Things Are", but studios were not interested in the time by the animation by computer, and it urged me to leave Disney and to work with Lucasfilm.
I started first in the animation team of Lucasfilm, created by Ed Catmull and George Lucas. I was one of the first animators in computer generated image at this time. Then, in 1986, our society was sold to Steve Jobs and become Pixar. Here is how all this started.
During almost around ten years, you go to be the only animator to have had a classic formation to be worked in the universe of the computer generated image. You received price but you were especially in competition with experimental short films. How come that you were the only one to see this future ?
The computer-aided animation is an art arisen from the science. When I began has to work above, there was no software which we could buy to make it. In this time, all those who made images or animation on computer wrote their own algorithms, created their own software. Imagine a world where paints are realized only by the chemists who made colors. Here is what that looked like. I always approached the animation by computer as a tool, as a pencil, a paper or a brush. I always saw it like that. The technology has never amused the public. It is what you make and I still maintained my principles which I had learnt on the classic animation. I applied all this to this new technology, because I knew that the story and the characters would always be the most important and not the technology which created them.
I remember during a conference on the computer-aided imaging, when I showed one of my first works, somebody whom I knew who worked in a rival box came to see me. He said : "John, it is really surprising ! What software did you use ?" I answered him that it was the software which we had elaborated, but which was not so remote from his. But he answered that "It was so funny" and rested me the same question. And I then understood that it was about a shape of art of becoming who had just arisen from the science. All those who worked in this domain did not understand the basic principles in the animation, to give how some emotion and the personality to a character through its movements. I understood that my purpose would be to educate all these people on the importance of the traditional animators in this type of media.
When we became Pixar in 1986, I worked on a tutorial on the way of creating through the computer-aided animation. I used the Anglepoise lamp which was on my table to know how to model something with a computer. One of my colleagues of Lucasfilm came to see me with her baby. I noticed that the babies had a funny difference with the body of an adult : the heads is bigger with regard to the rest of their body. On returning to the work, I wondered what would look like a baby swig. It was when Steve Jobs had bought back to us, and with Ed Catmull we wanted to make a movie. I then drew a story and during a journey in a festival of animation in Brussels, I met Raoul Servais,
a very famous Belgian animator. Having seen my work he asked me : "It is what the story of this small lamp ?" I explained that it was only about a short working extract, but he made me understand that about is the duration, there should be a story with the beginning, an middle and the end. In my return, I then created the short history which gave the short film Luxo Jr..
It was presented to summer, 1986, to conference Siggraph of Dallas. You have to understand that in this period, this technology brought many plans with chrome-plated things, of the type balls with facets etc... But we arranged few computers, we
were only four to Pixar to make of the animation and I liked working on the movements of camera. I understood that was then needed a bottom, because bottomless we cannot interpret of movement. At least have a ground, on which to put the lamp, it is already that. This small movie of one minute thirty, of the most minimalist, received one status ovation at this conference. Jim Blinn, one of the pioneers of the computer-aided animation, came to see me. I believed that he was going to ask me a question on the used software, to make the shadows for example, but his question was: "John, the big lamp is a dad or a mom ?". I understood of this simple question that we had ended in something unpublished, that the story and the characters had become more important than the technology. Luxo Jr. became in a way Steamboat Willie (Editor's note: first cartoon of 1928 when appeared Mickey Mouse) of the computer-aided animation.
Towards 1989-90, the journalists began to compare you to Chuck Jones when you hired animators at Pixar. did you have in mind to create your own Termite Terrace (name given to the group of animation of Warner when Tex Avery was chief director) ?
Our dream to Pixar always was to realize a length-measurement with the computer-aided animation. We wanted to be the first ones, because we knew that the story and the characters were the most important and that if we showed it with a strong length-measurement, the world would include that we can make some entertainment with this media. At the time of Luxo Jr., I was the only animator of Pixar and we had to bloom. We made four short films, and in 1989, we began to make advertisements to finance us and commit the other persons. After me, the second was Andrew Stanton and the third Pete Docter. Then Joe Ranft came for the scenarios.
In 1991 we were rather hardly to make a deal with Disney to develop the idea of a length-measurement. It was the short film Tin Toy, for which I received an Oscar, which gave us the idea to make a story when toys are alive. We wanted to make a buddy movie, friends' movie, with a new toy which took the place of a ancient with the eyes of a child. It became naturally Toy Story.
I followed Ed Catmull's philosophy to establish our team : always commit persons more intelligent than itself. I tried to collect the best possible artists and to work all together. At Pixar, the technology inspired the artists, and conversely, a kind of Yin and of Yang which urged us to exceed us.
Ce qui fera la renommée de Pixar à Hollywood sera l'énorme travail fait sur l'écriture, qui peut parfois durer des années. J'aimerais que vous nous en disiez plus, savoir si c'est vous qui avez imposé cette politique de tout concentrer sur l'histoire avant de se lancer dans la création par ordinateur.
What will make the fame from Pixar to Hollywood will be the enormous work made on the writing, what can sometimes last years. I would like that you say to us about it more, to know if it is you who imposed this policy to concentrate everything on the history before dashing into the creation by computer.
At the beginning, when I was the only animator to Pixar, I began to teach everybody whom the story and the characters spend above all. I was filled with admiration for the technology and we worked hard to present the project of length-measurement to Disney. But, Pete, Joe and I we looked by saying to us that we would make the movie which we wanted all to see in the cinema. The process set much more time than for a classic length-measurement. Usually we write, then we shoot, then we rise. For us, we could not make sequences too. We had to take up the movie before beginning the production. We made and redid a working version from storyboards. We were not afraid of wasting time on the development because we knew that the production would much more be expensive. When everything was ready, we could send sequence after sequence to production.
You had Alexander Mackendrick as professor and he trained above all film-makers. During 1990s and 2000s, it is the movies Pixar which really helped to shoot down this border between the live cinema and that of animation, in particular since your appointments in the Oscar for Best Film and either just of animation, and when your scriptwriters produced stories more worked than the Hollywood average.
Before Pixar and Toy Story, I've always felt that the computer-aided animation was somewhere between the animation and the cinema. It is similar to the classic animation because you liven up the whole embellish with images by image. You have the total control of what is on the image. It is similar to the cinema when you stage in a world in three dimensions. While we made our first full-length film, we recognized that more classic animation, we had the printing to shoot on a real plateau. We began to use the film language because it was indispensable to find the popular dynamism. For the characters and the sets, we are rather in the classic animation, because we did not want to bend in the photo-realistic animation. We did not want to recreate the same world. We then caricatured it, fantasized, but we used these photo-realistic tools to make it so credible as possible. I think the audience found that completely new with "Toy Story", but he had fun well with the story because it is what what was the most important, after all.
There is also a very interesting characteristic at Pixar, and Cars is a very good example. It is the will to have characters very difficult to lead up, because they have no hands, of legs… Where from comes to you this will to make complicated ?
I like bringing the inanimate objects to the life. To begin with "Luxo Jr." I suppose. With Cars, I was very inspired by the idea to bring cars to the life. This idea comes from one of my cartoons Disney favorite, Suzy the Little Blue Coupe. Often, eyes for cars meet naturally in lighthouses. When I bring an object to the life, the first thing which I identify it is, which is the face of the object ? Where would be eyes on this face ? Because when this object has eyes, they are a window on the soul of the character, it is there that you will have the set. With lighthouses in front of the car, it specifies that the face is really on the front of the vehicle and the rest of the body is behind, as the body of a snake. What the animators of Disney made in this short film is to have moved eyes on the windscreen and it sticks very well with the tire for a quadruped character. As animator, I saw it as a real opportunity for the set and using tires as a body movements. To use the whole car was a beautiful opportunity for me, rather than to have a body lengthened behind a face, and to create a car as a living being in its totality. On the other hand, I could not use of cabriolets or motorcycles, it would have been as to show their brains. It is only an example that to look at an inanimate object to make it alive. It also helps to create a world in which cars are alive.
At its release in the cinema, Cars had no very big success in the box-office, but it completely returned with the release in DVD. How do you explain this success to delay and the difficulty conceiving a next stepin the first one Cars in the closed story ?
For first Cars, I had the real preoccupation for people who would go to see the movie. We did not have to reveal them the characters in advance otherwise they would have said that it is made that for the children. In the United States, we have never shown the characters. A thing that I learnt in marketing it is that you have only a chance to impress. When you see a trailer, you are made an opinion. I know it, too. And many people thought that the first one Cars was made that for the little boys. The popularity a posteriori of Cars is unprecedented. In France, it was brought out during the world cup in Germany, when France went to finale. Thus nobody went to see it in France, but I do not hold it against you. But even in France the characters became very popular and by making a continuation, I was very incited because when one created a movie, I believe that there is three thing important to make a big movie : we have a story, to associate it to great men and to place them in a credible world. When we had ended the movie, we thought of making a continuation. We had a story, characters and a world. But at Pixar, we try to make something completely different of the original and it was very exciting for me because I like these cars living in this world. It had a big potential.
There were three things which inspired me for Cars 2. When I travelled around the world for the promotion of Cars, I was very inspired by what I saw in every country. I looked through my window while I drove in these cities in which point automobiles were, how people drove them, and I thought that it would be incredible if we were lucky to make the other one Cars to take the characters around the world, in Japan, here in France in Paris, in Italy, in England. Each of these countries has its own inheritance of the automobile story, cars are there unique, even the way people drive them. I found it really amusing seeing our cars, as Mater the tow truck, meeting stuck on this fantastic traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe, putting six weeks to go out of it, or in Italy in the middle of scooters with traffic lights followed in the good will of the drivers, drive on the other side of the road in England. I was also very inspired by the Formula 1. I was able to attend, a little time after the release of the first one Cars, my first Grand Prix in Spain in 2006 and it was amazing, the sound and the vision of these cars. I saw there Lightning McQueen competing in front of all these various types of racing cars of the whole world. I also like spy thrillers and I had the idea to change the kind of the first movie for that of the espionage. I then met in Alfred Hitchcock's shadow, which is master on the subject with The Man who knew about it too much and North By Northwest, which are movies where an innocent meets in the middle of an enormous plot. I found this interesting idea to place our characters in the middle of a gigantic plot. We began then the development of Cars 2 around all these ideas.
I hope that you are every regular visitors to the wonderful movies of Hayao Miyazaki who became a very good friend. But it is above all a director of whom I learnt a lot by studying his movies. It is an incredible artist in the way he tells trouble. I was always admiring in front of the development of his characters, because they are very strange and unusual but always attractive. I also a lot observed the numerous sequences of action. One of the best is a track race by car in Lupin III, as in Howl's Moving Castle or Castle in the sky. It is incredible of what he managed to carry out by the classic animation, and I believe that if somebody thinks that the computer-aided animation will replace the classic animation, I shall ask him to look before the movies of Hayao Miyazaki. I try at my level which its movies take out in the best conditions possible for the United States, because it is a big animator and a big director and if you don't still know his universe, you should glance at it and you will certainly be amazed.
During few minutes the public was able to ask questions to John Lasseter. We have retain :
- John Lasseter finds that the performance captures (following the example of Avatar or of the next Tintin) is a beautiful technology but which corresponds only to a very precise universe. In his eyes, this tool removes all the creative side of the animator, what is one of the bases from Pixar.
- He was able one day to meet Miyazaki. He saw him in the work making all the movie itself because he had quite mind. He collected in the trash can some of his drawings which he showe afterward in his office because the work was remarkable. When Miyazaki came to see John Lasseter in this office and when he noticed his old drawings in the wall, he says to himself that he would have been able to keep them for a movie. In spite of this attachment between these two men and this profound respect for their respective work, no coproduction is envisaged.
We hope that this retranscription will have allowed you to live a part of what we lived. The masterclass ended when John Lasseter is left.
Editors : Alexis and Ravnek.