Update: This article was written before John Lassiter’s sliminess and Pixar’s illegal hiring practices and toxic, sexist work culture came to light. The article remains, but obviously my opinions have changed.
Hopefully it’s no surprise that I am a huge Pixar fan. What I love most about Pixar’s story is the tenacity of Director/Producer John Lasseter. There is a vital lesson to be learned from his success, and it lies mostly in his failures.
Our gifted students need to hear stories like his.
Seeing The Far Future
Lasseter, in 1983, was an animator for Disney, but he was already interest in computer animation. He created a test animation of a hybrid of computer generated and traditional animation for an adaptation of the book Where The Wild Things Are.
This 1983 clip is shockingly ahead of its time.
Brave Little Toaster
Pleased with this initial test, Lasseter requested that the upcoming film, The Brave Little Toaster, be made as a traditional/computer-graphics hybrid.
The execs didn’t like the idea and immediately fired Lasseter from Disney.
Ten minutes after the studio head left the room I get a call from the superior who didn’t like me, and he said, “Well, since it’s not going to be made, your project at Disney is now complete. Your position is terminated, and your employment with Disney is now ended.” From an interview at CNN Money
The End of Disney Animation
Fast forward twenty years.
Pixar is the most critically acclaimed movie studio in history, with every movie a financial success and animation milestone.
In 2004, Disney shut down its hand drawn animation studio to focus solely on computer generated animation, in an attempt to duplicate this success.
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Return of Lasseter
In 2006, Disney acquired Pixar (and Lasseter) to the tune of $7.4 billion. Disney appointed Lasseter as Chief Creative Officer of the entire company.
What did Lasseter do with Disney’s defunct animation department?
He immediately initiated the return of hand-drawn animation!
Since taking over, Mr. Lasseter and Mr. Catmull have instituted a program to revive the hand-drawn animated short. “The whole purpose is to get these artists ready for feature films,” Mr. Lasseter said. NYTimes.com
The irony is almost unbelievable:
- Disney fired John Lasseter for promoting 3D animation
- He found unparalleled success in 3D animation at Pixar
- Disney shut down their 2D animation division in response to this success
- Disney brought Lasster on and gave him creative control of the company
- Lasseter restarted Disney’s 2D animation division
Genius Is Rarely Understood
John Lasseter stuck to it! He was right, but it didn’t pay off for over a decade. He was fired, but simply kept going. He showed wisdom, knowing that good animation is good animation, regardless of the technology. And now he controls not just Disney animation, but all of the company’s creative endeavors.
Our gifted kids should know that their innovative ideas will often be ignored, mocked, or otherwise met with hostility. But this shouldn’t stop them.
- Watch The Pixar Story, which showcases just a fraction of the company’s amazing history.
- Read the book Droidmakers for a far deeper look at Pixar.
- And here’s a blog post from Ken Perlin recounting the Where The Wild Things Are episode.
And read more at Success Isn’t A Straight Line.