My task was to meet with John Lasseter and shadow him as he made his rounds, gave notes to the filmmakers, watched a few rough edits of scenes and basically acted as creative foreman for the project.
I was told no less then 4 times (by as many people) that arranging 2 hours with John Lasseter for a report was unprecedented. Let me tell you, I needed every second of it.
My first impressions of Lasseter were that he was exactly who I thought he was going to be. His enthusiasm is so honest and pure that he couldn’t contain it and our informal meet and greet turned into a 45 minute long bull****ting session about classic Disney animation, what he’s done to make Disney animation more like Pixar and his work on the amusement parks. I would say a safe, conservative estimate on how the conversation broke down between him and me was about 85% Lasseter and 15% me talking.
If I didn’t know better I would have mistaken his enthusiasm for being high as a kite. I guess in a way he was. His love for everything Disney was displayed proudly on his sleeve and I could tell that it meant the world to him to be a creative force there. Eyes wide, he spoke with such force that he would occasionally even smack me in the arm to punctuate his point. Either that or I was being attacked by some crazy mosquito and didn’t know it.
We met outside of his office and he quickly showed me how he has centralized everything. He said that one of the first things he did when he got the job was to force interaction with the employees, just like at Pixar. The bathrooms, the commissary, the screening rooms and water fountains are all centrally located now, so you can’t just skip from your cubical to take a leak and dash back unnoticed. It forces chance meetings, opens up a dialogue. Lasseter said this was a strategy utilized by Steve Jobs and it’s what they do at Pixar.
Apparently it was a bit of a tonal shift when he came onboard, people not used to having access to their bosses on a daily basis. But he was quick to stress that he wasn’t going to turn Disney into Pixar II. He wants Disney Animation to have its own identity, but his goal was to transfer over the feeling, to make it a filmmaker led studio and not an executive led studio.
We sat down in Lasseter’s incredibly cool office. I’ve never been to his office at Pixar, but I’ve seen it on the DVDs. His Disney office isn’t as cluttered with toys from his flicks, but it is definitely the same man occupying both. There is framed Disney production art (reproductions, I’m told… he wouldn’t dare take the originals out of the vault) for Dumbo and tons of other, more obscure, Disney ‘toons on damn near every square inch of wall.
It was the art that started off our conversation and he told me that when he first entered Disney in his Chief Creative Officer role… “You know how as a kid you had Christmas and you thought you had opened all of your presents? Then you look under the tree and way under there is one more present, a big one, and it has your name on it? Remember how exciting that was? That’s what it felt like when I found out that the Animation Research Library, the ARL, which is basically the morgue which houses all the original animation art from the Disney history was under our jurisdiction.”
He then asked if I’d been over there. I told him I hadn’t, then he slapped the table and said, “Done.” I told him that was dangerous since I am a collector of many things, including animation cels, but I’d gladly take him up on it. Looks like my next trip to LA will possibly end with my arrest as I try to sneak out with Pinocchio cels stuffed down my shirt.
The overall conversation hit many points, but the theme was essentially Lasseter’s mantra. If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. He said he’s just a geek. People like him and Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton… they’re just geeks doing what they love, which led him to pay AICN an incredibly huge compliment, saying that he sees the same thing the writers on AICN and went so far as to compare AICN with Pixar, saying that it's clear we love movies here and we're doing what we love to be doing.
That’s incredibly flattering, especially coming from John Mother-Fathering Lasseter.