John Lasseter, the driving force
The computer animation company's boyish visionary is back in the director's chair for 'Cars 2,' a labor of love for the longtime gearhead.
In 2006, the Walt Disney Co. paid $7.4 billion for the privilege of hearing Lasseter's voice loud and clear when it bought Pixar, the computer animation company he helped found. Pixar's 11 feature films have grossed $6.5 billion worldwide and earned 40 Oscar nominations, becoming a rare Hollywood model of consistent success commercially and artistically. With the merger, he was made chief creative officer of both Disney's and Pixar's animation studios and a key advisor on Disney's theme parks and its direct-to-DVD animated films.
"Cars 2," which will arrive in theaters Friday, is the first movie Lasseter, 54, has directed since he assumed those giant corporate and symbolic responsibilities. If the ardor of his goose-honk is any indication, he is jubilant to be back in the director's chair. "I was so busy working on all those other things," Lasseter said last week from Pixar's headquarters about two weeks after wrapping "Cars 2." "I felt a little like I was losing touch with the artists who actually create all the films, and that's something I cherished." Lasseter directed the first all-CG feature film in history, 1995's "Toy Story," as well as 1998's "A Bug's Life," 1999's "Toy Story 2" and the original "Cars" movie in 2006. The boyish executive has changed little, longtime Pixar colleagues say, since taking on the key leadership role at Disney. He still wears one of his collection of 358 Hawaiian shirts to work each day, festoons his office with toys and bearhugs his employees. He is based at Pixar but flies to Disney's Burbank lot several times a month. Thanks to an iPad app designed by a Pixar staffer, he does much of his work while in transit, on one of a half-dozen iPads he totes along in his bag, one each for various departments at the two companies. "Cars 2" producer Denise Ream has saved all of Lasseter's messages from the production and played some of them to illustrate the director's communication style. "He loves telling stories, that's when he's happiest," said Sharon Calahan, who began working at Pixar on the first "Toy Story" feature film in 1994 and served as director of photography-lighting on "Cars 2." "The corporate stuff he's incredibly good at, but it's not fun for him. He's a big kid, and his playbox is Pixar. The 'Cars' characters in particular are his babies."
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Pixar: John Lasseter keeping Pixar on top - latimes.com