John Lasseter, a founding member of Pixar, joined the company as the creative talent behind the entertainment division. When Steve Jobs took Pixar on in 1986 it sold high-end computer hardware, and Lasseter was charged with directing short films that would demonstrate the graphics capabilities of the Pixar Image Computer and its Renderman software.
Twenty years and a feature film deal to make Toy Story later, and Pixar is now a fully-fledged animation studio. Following on from the UK cinema release, and on the eve of the US DVD release of Pixar’s latest Certified Fresh masterwork, Ratatouille, John Lasseter tells RT readers why working at Pixar is so special.
97%. In the early days of Ratatouille‘s release we were checking it, every day, on Rotten Tomatoes. We were 100% for a while! I think when people start seeing 100% up there for a while they start coming in and saying, “I’m going to write a bad review to see how much it drops!”
I was trained as a traditional animator and my dream was to work for, to animate for, Disney. I achieved that dream right after graduation and while I was there I had these amazing mentors, some great Disney animators, but I started seeing the beginnings of computer animation and that lead me on to working with Lucasfilm’s computer animation division with Ed Catmull.
I went there in late ’83 and in February of 1986, Steve Jobs bought us from George Lucas and that’s when we started Pixar as it’s known today. And it was exciting because for the first ten years of Pixar’s life it was a hardware company. There were four of us in animation when it started, just four, and we went up to six through the late eighties. We were rocking!
And then we started making a deal with Disney to do Toy Story, the first computer generated feature film. So in the late eighties there were six of us and then in late 1995, nine years after the founding of Pixar, we went public as Pixar Animation Studios and the entire company was doing animation.
From that point on it’s been amazing and we’ve been focussed on telling the best stories with the greatest technology possible. Pixar has invented much of computer animation as it’s known today and I’ve been very lucky to be the first traditional animator to work with computer animation.
Pixar is a studio of innovators. Every single thing Pixar has done, no one has done before us. And that’s really exciting. It’s a culture in which everyone’s addicted to the idea of doing of breaking new ground. They live for doing just that. The technical teams live and breathe for the days when I come to them and say, “We don’t know how to do this.” They work all night; and they don’t stop until they figure it out.
Rotten Tomatoes is such a great website, in that it has one foot in the Internet world and one foot in the cinema world, and it keeps its grounding between them just perfectly. Pixar has one foot in Silicon Valley and one foot in Hollywood and it always has because Steve Jobs has been our CEO.
And I was raised with the great Disney animators to focus on the mantra that it’s all about the story. Brad Bird, who wrote and directed Ratatouille and The Incredibles, he and I were classmates at CalArts and we worked at Disney together. In the early days we were trained by the same Disney minds. So we have that in us; it’s in our DNA.
It’s got to be about the story. It’s not the technology just as it’s not the pencils you use that make it entertaining; it’s what you do with those things. When I started working in computer animation I always viewed the computer as the tool; computer animation is never going to entertain an audience by itself, it’s what you do with it that counts. And that’s at the very foundation of Pixar.
Every single animator that has been brought in from the very beginning of the company believes in that ideal; believes in making great story. When you go into the theatre and the lights dim you want to entertain people from beginning to end. You want them to be swept up in your story, on the edge of their seats, unable to wait to see what happens next, be blown away and afterwards just go, WOW!
It takes, on average, four years to make one of our films and, you know what, we have every reason to do it right. We work hard to do just that.
Ratatouille is out now in UK cinemas and is released on DVD in the US on November 6th.