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Pixar's Creative Force Gives a Glimpse of His Future With Disney

By LAURA M. HOLSON
Published: March 20, 2006

In the wake of its $7.4 billion acquisition of Pixar, the Walt Disney Company has been mum about what role John Lasseter, Pixar's chief creative officer, will play in reviving Disney's storied animation division, except to say that it is a big one.

After the premiere of the latest Pixar film, "Cars" (which Mr. Lasseter directed), at the movie theater industry's annual conference in Las Vegas last week, Mr. Lasseter gave some hint about what he planned to do in a postmerger Disney.

Mr. Lasseter said that he and Edwin E. Catmull, Pixar's president, who will become president of the two divisions, would spend eight days a month at Pixar's headquarters in the Bay Area and eight days at Disney's animation headquarters in Burbank, and would reserve five days to be spent at either studio. Mr. Lasseter said that the two men would be able to watch film of coming movies and hold meetings with film directors and artists if they were not together in person, often through videoconferencing. Pixar is already set up that way so animators can easily communicate with one another. "Even if I can't be in Los Angeles, I can be watching reels," said Mr. Lasseter. "I can be looking at the art direction."

Mr. Lasseter said at a recent Disney annual meeting that he wanted to bring back some of the talented filmmakers who left Disney when the company abandoned hand-drawn animation. While Mr. Lasseter did not name names, some in the industry have speculated that Mr. Lasseter was interested in veterans like Ron Clements and John Musker, who worked on Disney hand-drawn hits like "Hercules" and "The Little Mermaid."

One Disney veteran not likely to return is Jeffrey Katzenberg, a former Disney executive and the chief executive of rival DreamWorks Animation, although he still has a keen interest in the company. Mr. Katzenberg set off a flurry of whispers and murmurs in Las Vegas when he entered the theater to watch "Cars" and was seated in a V.I.P. section reserved for Disney's guests.

Mr. Lasseter had less to say about what was in the works for Disneyland and Disney's resorts in Florida, Tokyo, Paris or Hong Kong. But he said he would be working closely with the creators of theme park attractions to develop the look and style of new rides at the same time the studio was developing its animated films, a risky departure from the company's old practice of opening attractions long after a movie left theaters or was a hit on DVD.

"I love the parks so much I just keep thinking about the rides and developing movies," he said. "I want to bring people in so they can start talking about the rides early on." LAURA M. HOLSON