John Lasseter

John Lasseter came to SFTV’s Mayer Theater in April with a 25-year pedigree of accomplishments.

“Toy Story,” “The Incredibles” and “Finding Nemo” are just a fraction of the list. His films epitomize innovation, but the secret of his success, he told LMU’s filmmakers, is his commitment to story and mastery of fundamentals.

Lasseter always loved cartoons, and a job with The Walt Disney Co. was his dream. After college, he thought he realized his dream. A traditionally trained artist, he animated a sequence in Disney’s “The Fox and the Hound” (1981). But he soon left the company, drawn to a future he saw in computer animation.

Lasseter mapped out his career by screening several groundbreaking works: “Nitemare” (1980), a student short; “Luxo Jr.” (1986), his first Pixar short; “Tin Toy” (1989), a short that introduced the idea of living toys; and “Toy Story” (1995), the first of Pixar’s hits.

“Luxo Jr.,” just 90 seconds long, has a beginning, a middle and an end, and it exudes emotion. “Toy Story” is a twist on the traditional buddy movie. Buzz Lightyear and Woody, a space traveler and a cowboy, are opposites, but their relationship is the emotional core of the film. “The [Academy Award] nomination of the screenplay was significant,” Lasseter said, “because it was a tribute to the story.” The idea for “Toy Story 3,” in which Andy goes off to college and the toys are taken to a daycare center, came to him when he dropped his son off at LMU at the start of his son’s freshman year.

Though known as a master of animation technology, Lasseter reminded students: “Don’t get seduced by the technology and skip the fundamentals… No amount of great animation will save a bad story.”


John Lasseter says, “I believe I’ve picked a career where I don’t have to grow up.” He made an impression in movies right from the start: He is the only filmmaker to win two Student Academy Awards, for “Lady and the Lamp” (1979) and “Nitemare” (1980).

Lasseter graduated from the California Institute of the Arts in 1979. His “Tin Toy” was the first animated film to win an Academy Award, and “Toy Story” was the first animated film nominated for Best Original Screenplay. Lasseter says seeing “Star Wars” convinced him he wanted to make movies, but do it in animation. His favorite movie: “Dumbo.”

View a collection of Pixar shorts, including "Luxo Jr." and "Tin Toy."

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