John Lasseter

John Alan Lasseter (/ˈlæsətər/; born January 12, 1957)[3] is an American animator, film director, screenwriter, producer, and former chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar and Disneytoon Studios. He was also the Principal Creative Advisor for Walt Disney Imagineering.[4]

John Lasseter
Lasseter in 2011
John Alan Lasseter

(1957-01-12) January 12, 1957
ResidenceGlen Ellen, California, U.S.
Alma materCalifornia Institute of the Arts (BFA)
OccupationAnimator, film director, screenwriter, producer
Years active1978–present
EmployerWalt Disney Animation Studios
(1979–1983; 2006–2018)
Lucasfilm (1983–1986)
Pixar Animation Studios (1986–2018)
Skydance Animation (2019–present)[1]
Known forToy Story
A Bug's Life
Toy Story 2
Cars 2
Nancy Lasseter (m. 1988)

Lasseter began his career as an animator with The Walt Disney Company. After being fired from Disney for promoting computer animation, he joined Lucasfilm, where he worked on the then-groundbreaking use of CGI animation. The Graphics Group of the Computer Division of Lucasfilm was sold to Steve Jobs and became Pixar in 1986. Lasseter oversaw all of Pixar's films and associated projects as executive producer. In addition, he directed Toy Story (1995), A Bug's Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Cars (2006), and Cars 2 (2011). From 2006 to 2018, Lasseter also oversaw all of Walt Disney Animation Studios' (and its division Disneytoon Studios') films and associated projects as executive producer.

The films he has made have grossed more than $22 billion (USD), making him one of the most successful filmmakers of all time. Of the nine animated films that have grossed more than $1 billion, six of them are films that involve Lasseter. The films include Toy Story 3 (2010), the first animated film to pass $1 billion, Frozen (2013), the 2nd highest-grossing animated film of all time, as well as Zootopia (2016), Finding Dory (2016), Incredibles 2 (2018), and Toy Story 4 (2019).

He has won two Academy Awards, for Best Animated Short Film (for Tin Toy), as well as a Special Achievement Award (for Toy Story).[5]

In November 2017, Lasseter took a six-month sabbatical from Pixar and Disney Animation after acknowledging "missteps" in his behavior with employees.[6] According to various news outlets, Lasseter had a history of alleged sexual misconduct towards employees.[7][8] In June 2018, Disney announced that he would be leaving the company at the end of the year, but he took on a consulting role until then.[9][10] On January 9, 2019, Lasseter was hired to head Skydance Animation.[1] His final films at the company were Toy Story 4 (2019) and Frozen II (2019) respectively, on which he acted in both of them as an uncredited executive producer. He received a story credit on the former.

Early years

Lasseter was born in Hollywood, California.[3] His mother, Jewell Mae (née Risley; 1918–2005), was an art teacher at Bell Gardens High School, and his father, Paul Eual Lasseter (1924–2011), was a parts manager at a Chevrolet dealership.[11][12][13]

Lasseter is a fraternal twin; his sister Johanna Lasseter-Curtis, who became a baker based in the Lake Tahoe area, is six minutes older.[14][15]

Lasseter grew up in Whittier, California. His mother's profession contributed to his growing preoccupation with animation. He often drew cartoons during church services at the Church of Christ his family attended. As a child, Lasseter would race home from school to watch Chuck Jones cartoons on television. While in high school, he read The Art of Animation by Bob Thomas. The book covered the history of Disney animation and explored the making of Disney's 1959 film Sleeping Beauty, which made Lasseter realize he wanted to do animation himself. When he saw Disney's 1963 film The Sword in the Stone, he finally made the decision that he should become an animator.[16]

Lasseter heard of a new character animation program at the California Institute of the Arts (often abbreviated as 'CalArts') and decided to follow his dream of becoming an animator. His mother further encouraged him to take up a career in animation, and in 1975 he enrolled as the second student (Jerry Rees was the first)[17] in the CalArts Character Animation program created by Disney animators Jack Hannah and T. Hee. Lasseter was taught by three members of Disney's Nine Old Men team of veteran animators—Eric Larson, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston—and his classmates included future animators and directors like Brad Bird, John Musker, Henry Selick, Tim Burton, and Chris Buck.[18][19][20] During his time there, he produced two animated shorts—Lady and the Lamp (1979) and Nitemare (1980)—which each won the student Academy Award for Animation.[21]

While at CalArts, Lasseter first started working for the Walt Disney Company at Disneyland in Anaheim during summer breaks and got a job as a Jungle Cruise skipper, where he learned the basics of comedy and comic timing to entertain captive audiences on the ride.[14][22]


First years at Disney

Upon graduating in 1979, Lasseter immediately obtained a job as an animator at Walt Disney Productions mostly due to his success with Lady and the Lamp.[23] To put this into perspective, the studio had reviewed approximately 10,000 portfolios in the late 1970s in search of talent, then selected only about 150 candidates as apprentices, of which only about 45 were kept on permanently.[23] In the fall of 1979, Disney animator Mel Shaw told the Los Angeles Times that "John's got an instinctive feel for character and movement and shows every indication of blossoming here at our studios ... In time, he'll make a fine contribution."[23] At that same time, Lasseter worked on a sequence titled "The Emperor and the Nightingale" (based on The Nightingale by Hans Christian Andersen) for a Disney project called Musicana. Musicana was never released but eventually led to the development of Fantasia 2000.[24]

However, Lasseter soon realized something was missing: after 101 Dalmatians, which in his opinion was the film where Disney had reached its highest plateau, the studio had lost momentum and was criticized for often repeating itself without adding any new ideas or innovations.[25][26] Between 1980 and 1981, he coincidentally came across some video tapes from one of the then new computer-graphics conferences, who showed some of the very beginnings of computer animation, primarily floating spheres and such, which he experienced as a revelation.[14] But it wasn't until shortly after, when he was invited by his friends Jerry Rees and Bill Kroyer, while working on Mickey's Christmas Carol, to come and see the first light cycle sequences for an upcoming film entitled Tron, featuring state-of-the-art computer-generated imagery (CGI), that he really saw the huge potential of this new technology in animation. Up to that time, the studio had used a multiplane camera to add depth to its animation. Lasseter realized that computers could be used to make films with three-dimensional backgrounds where traditionally animated characters could interact to add a new level of visually stunning depth that had not been possible before. He knew adding dimension to animation had been a longtime dream of animators, going back to Walt Disney himself.[14]

Later, he and Glen Keane talked about how great it would be to make an animated feature where the background was computer animated, and then showed Keane the book The Brave Little Toaster by Thomas Disch, which he thought would be a good candidate for the film. Keane agreed, but first, they decided to do a short test film to see how it worked out and chose Where the Wild Things Are, a decision based on the fact that Disney had considered producing a feature based on the works of Maurice Sendak. Satisfied with the result, Lasseter, Keane and executive Thomas L. Wilhite went on with the project, especially Lasseter who dedicated himself to it, while Keane eventually went on to work with The Great Mouse Detective.[27]

Lasseter and his colleagues unknowingly stepped on some of their direct superiors' toes by circumventing them in their enthusiasm to get the Where the Wild Things Are project into motion. The project was cancelled while being pitched to two of Lasseter's supervisors, animation administrator Ed Hansen, and head of Disney studios, Ron W. Miller, due to lack of perceived cost benefits for the mix of traditional and computer animation.[28] A few minutes after the meeting, Lasseter was summoned by Hansen to his office. As Lasseter recalled, Hansen told him, "Well, John, your project is now complete, so your employment with the Disney Studios is now terminated."[29]:40 Wilhite, who was part of Disney's live-action group and therefore had no obligations to the animation studio, was able to arrange to keep Lasseter around temporarily until the Wild Things test project was complete in January 1984, but with the understanding there would be no further work for Lasseter at Disney Animation.[29]:40[30] The Brave Little Toaster would later become a 2D animated feature film directed by one of Lasseter's friends, Jerry Rees, and co-produced by Wilhite (who had, by then, left to start Hyperion Pictures), and some of the staff of Pixar would be involved in the film alongside Lasseter.


While putting together a crew for the planned feature, Lasseter had made some contacts in the computer industry, among them Alvy Ray Smith and Ed Catmull at Lucasfilm Computer Graphics Group. After being fired, and feeling glum knowing his employment with Disney was to end shortly,[29]:40 Lasseter visited a computer graphics conference in November 1983 at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, where he met and talked to Catmull again.[31]:45 Catmull inquired about The Brave Little Toaster, which Lasseter explained had been shelved.[14][29]:40 From his experience at Lucasfilm, Catmull assumed Lasseter was simply between projects since Hollywood studios have traditionally laid off employees when they lack enough productions to keep them busy.[31]:45 Still devastated at being forced out of the only company he had ever wanted to work for, Lasseter could not find the strength to tell Catmull that he had been fired.[14][31]:45

Catmull later telephoned Smith that day and mentioned that Lasseter was not working at Disney. Smith told Catmull to put down the phone and hire Lasseter right now.[31]:45 Lasseter agreed instantly to work freelance with Catmull and his colleagues and joined them for a week of December 1983 on a project that resulted in their first computer animated short: The Adventures of André & Wally B. Because Catmull was not allowed to hire animators, he was given the title "Interface Designer";[32][33] "Nobody knew what that was but they didn't question it in budget meetings".[19] Lasseter spent a lot of time at Lucasfilm in the San Francisco Bay Area in the spring of 1984, where he worked together closely with Catmull and his team of computer science researchers.[29]:40–41 Lasseter learned how to use some of their software, and in turn, he taught the computer scientists about filmmaking, animation, and art.[29]:40–41 The short turned out to be more revolutionary than Lasseter first had visualized before he came to Lucasfilm. His original idea had been to create only the backgrounds on computers, but in the final short everything was computer animated, including the characters.[34]

After the short CGI film was presented at SIGGRAPH in the summer of 1984, Lasseter returned to Los Angeles with the hope of directing The Brave Little Toaster at Hyperion Pictures.[29]:45 He soon learned that funding had fallen through and called Catmull with the bad news.[29]:45 Catmull called back with a job offer, and Lasseter joined Lucasfilm as a full-time employee in October 1984 and moved to the Bay Area.[29]:45 Lasseter and Catmull's collaboration, which has since lasted over thirty years, would ultimately result in Toy Story (1995), which was the first-ever computer-animated feature film.

Due to George Lucas's financially crippling divorce, he was forced to sell off Lucasfilm Computer Graphics, by this time renamed the Pixar Graphics Group, founded by Smith and Catmull, with Lasseter as one of the founding employees.[35] It was spun off as a separate corporation with Steve Jobs as its majority shareholder in 1986. Over the next 10 years, Pixar evolved from a computer company that did animation work on the side into an animation studio. Lasseter oversaw all of Pixar's films and associated projects as executive producer. As well as Toy Story, he also personally directed A Bug's Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Cars (2006), and Cars 2 (2011).

He has won two Academy Awards, for Animated Short Film (Tin Toy), as well as a Special Achievement Award (Toy Story).[5] Lasseter has been nominated on four other occasions—in the category of Animated Feature, for both Monsters, Inc. (2001) and Cars, in the Original Screenplay category for Toy Story and in the Animated Short category for Luxo, Jr. (1986)—while the short Knick Knack (1989) was selected by Terry Gilliam as one of the ten best animated films of all time.[36] In 2008, he was honored with the Winsor McCay Award, the lifetime achievement award for animators.

Return to Disney

Disney announced that it would be purchasing Pixar on January 24, 2006, and Lasseter was named the chief creative officer of both Pixar and Walt Disney Feature Animation, the latter of which he renamed Walt Disney Animation Studios.[19] On January 25, 2006, Lasseter was welcomed by his new employees in Burbank with warm applause, as they hoped that he could save the studio from which he had been fired 22 years earlier.[31]:253–254 Lasseter was also named principal creative adviser at Walt Disney Imagineering, where he helped design attractions for Disney Parks. He oversaw all of Walt Disney Animation Studios' films and associated projects as executive producer. He reported directly to Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger, bypassing Disney's studio and theme park executives. He also received green-light power on films with Roy E. Disney's consent.

In December 2006, Lasseter announced that Disney Animation would start producing animated shorts that will be released theatrically once more. Lasseter said he sees this medium as an excellent way to train and discover new talent in the company as well as a testing ground for new techniques and ideas. The shorts will be in 2D, CGI, or a combination of both.[37] Recent shorts have included Feast (2014) and Inner Workings (2016).

In June 2007, Catmull and Lasseter were given control of Disneytoon Studios, a division of Walt Disney Animation Studios housed in a separate facility in Glendale. As president and chief creative officer, respectively, they have supervised three separate studios for Disney, each with its own production pipeline: Pixar, Disney Animation, and Disneytoon. While Disney Animation and Disneytoon are located in the Los Angeles area, Pixar is located over 350 miles (563 kilometers) northwest in the Bay Area, where Catmull and Lasseter both live. Accordingly, they appointed a general manager for each studio to manage day-to-day business affairs, then established a routine of spending at least two days per week (usually Tuesdays and Wednesdays) in Southern California.[38]

Lasseter is a close friend and admirer of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, whom he first met when TMS Entertainment sent a delegation of animators to the Disney studio in 1981 and showed a clip from Miyazaki's first feature film, The Castle of Cagliostro (1979).[39] Lasseter was so deeply moved that in 1985 he insisted on showing that clip and other examples of Miyazaki's work after dinner to a woman he had just met (who would become his wife).[39] He visited Miyazaki during his first trip to Japan in 1987 and saw drawings for My Neighbor Totoro (1988).[39] After Lasseter became a successful director and producer at Pixar, he went on to serve as executive producer on several of Miyazaki's films for their release in the United States and oversaw the translation and dubbing of their English language soundtracks.[39] The gentle forest spirit Totoro from My Neighbor Totoro makes an appearance as a plush toy in Toy Story 3.

Lasseter is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and served nine consecutive years on its board of governors from 2005 to 2014 when he had to relinquish his seat due to term limits.[40] His last position on the board was as first vice president.[40]

Lasseter received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood on November 1, 2011, located at 6834 Hollywood Boulevard.[41]

Allegations of sexual misconduct and exit from Disney/Pixar

On November 21, 2017, Lasseter took a six-month leave of absence after acknowledging allegations of workplace sexual misconduct that he described as "missteps" with employees in a memo to staff.[42] The alleged misconduct towards employees included "grabbing, kissing, [and] making comments about physical attributes".[7][8] The alleged conduct became so well known that, according to Variety, at various times, Pixar had "minders who were tasked with reining in his impulses".[43]

On June 8, 2018, Disney announced that Lasseter would be leaving the company at the end of the year, but he took on a consulting role until then.[10]

Skydance Animation

On January 9, 2019, three days before his 62nd birthday, Lasseter was hired to head Skydance Animation, which will produce animated films with Paramount Animation and Ilion Animation Studios.[1]

Other work

Lasseter drew the most widely known versions of the BSD Daemon, a cartoon mascot for the BSD Unix operating system.[44]

Lasseter owns the "Marie E." steam locomotive, a H.K. Porter 0-4-0ST saddle tank locomotive formerly owned by one of Walt Disney's "Nine Old Men", Ollie Johnston.[45] The locomotive has made two visits to the Pacific Coast Railroad in Santa Margarita, CA in May 2007 and June 2010, where Lasseter ran the locomotive alongside the original Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad "Retlaw 1" coaches.[46] In 2005, Lasseter was given permission to bring the Marie E. to Disneyland as part of a celebration honoring Johnston. Johnston was able to take the locomotive around the Disneyland Railroad three times. This is the only time in history an outside locomotive has been permitted to operate on any of the Disney railroads. Lasseter brought his locomotive back to the Disneyland Railroad in June 2017 to celebrate the reopening of the railroad.

Personal life

Lasseter lives in Glen Ellen, California with his wife Nancy, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, whom he met at a computer graphics conference in San Francisco in 1985.[47] Nancy majored in computer graphics applications, and for a short period of time was a stay at home mom and worked as a computer graphics engineer at Apple Computer.[48] They married in 1988,[2] and have four sons together in addition to Nancy's son from a previous relationship,[48][49] born between 1979/1980 and 1997.[50]

The Lasseters own Lasseter Family Winery in Glen Ellen, California.[51] The property includes a narrow gauge railroad named the Justi Creek Railway (for the "Marie E.", the locomotive Lasseter purchased from Ollie Johnston) approximately 2 miles (3.2 km) long, including a train station and water tower Lasseter purchased from former Disney animator Ward Kimball.[45] Their residence has a swimming pool with a lazy river that runs through a cave.[52] Lasseter owns a collection of more than 1,000 Hawaiian shirts and wears one every day.[52] Lasseter also inherited his late father's passion for cars; besides having directed two films about them, he watches auto races at Sonoma Raceway near his home and collects classic cars, of which one of his favorites is his black 1952 Jaguar XK120.[53]

On May 2, 2009, Lasseter received an honorary doctorate from Pepperdine University,[54] where he delivered the commencement address.

His influences include Walt Disney, Chuck Jones, Frank Capra, Hayao Miyazaki, and Preston Sturges.[55] Lasseter's favorite film is Walt Disney's Dumbo.[56]


Feature films

Year Film Credited as
Director Writer Producer Others Roles Notes
1981 The Fox and the Hound No No No Yes animator
1985 Young Sherlock Holmes No No No Yes computer animation: Industrial Light & Magic
The Black Cauldron No No No Yes animation
1986 Castle in the Sky No No Yes No executive creative consultant: US version
1987 The Brave Little Toaster No No No Yes character designer
1989 The Little Mermaid No No Yes No executive producer: 3D version
Kiki's Delivery Service No No Yes No executive creative consultant: US version
1991 Beauty and the Beast No No Yes No executive producer: 3D version
1992 Porco Rosso No No No Yes executive creative consultant: US version
1993 The Nightmare Before Christmas No No Yes No executive producer: 3D version
1994 The Lion King No No Yes No
1995 Toy Story Yes Yes No Yes Commercial Chorus #1 story
modeling and animation system development
1998 A Bug's Life Yes Yes No No Harry the Fly story
1999 Toy Story 2 Yes Yes No No Blue Bomber[57] story
2001 Monsters, Inc. No No Yes No executive producer
2002 Spirited Away No No Yes No executive producer: US version
2003 Finding Nemo No No Yes No executive producer
2004 The Incredibles No No Yes No
2005 Howl's Moving Castle No No Yes No executive producer: US version
2006 Cars Yes Yes No No screenplay
Tales from Earthsea No No Yes No executive producer: US version[58]
2007 Meet the Robinsons No No Yes No executive producer
Ratatouille No No Yes Yes executive producer
executive team
2008 WALL-E No No Yes Yes executive producer
Senior Creative Team: Pixar
Tinker Bell No No Yes No executive producer
Bolt No No Yes No
2009 Up No No Yes Yes executive producer
senior creative team: Pixar
Ponyo No No Yes No executive producer: US
director: English dub
Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure No No Yes No executive producer
The Princess and the Frog No No Yes No
2010 Toy Story 3 No Yes Yes Yes story
executive producer
Senior Creative Team: Pixar
Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue No No Yes No executive producer
Tangled No No Yes No
2011 Cars 2 Yes Yes No Yes John Lassetire story
Senior Creative Team: Pixar
Winnie the Pooh No No Yes No executive producer
Studio Leadership
The Muppets No No No Yes creative consultant[59]
2012 Brave No No Yes Yes executive producer
Senior Creative Team: Pixar
Secret of the Wings No No Yes No executive producer
Wreck-It Ralph No No Yes Yes executive producer
Studio Leadership
2013 Monsters University No No Yes Yes executive producer
Senior Creative Team: Pixar
Planes No Yes Yes No story
executive producer
Frozen No No Yes Yes executive producer
Studio Leadership
2014 The Pirate Fairy No Yes Yes No story
executive producer
Planes: Fire & Rescue No No Yes No executive producer
Big Hero 6 No No Yes Yes executive producer
Studio Leadership
2015 Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast No No Yes No executive producer
Inside Out No No Yes Yes executive producer
Senior Creative Team: Pixar
The Good Dinosaur No No Yes Yes
2016 The Jungle Book No No No Yes Creative consultant[60]
Zootopia No No Yes Yes executive producer
Studio Leadership
Finding Dory No No Yes Yes executive producer
Senior Creative Team: Pixar
Moana No No Yes Yes executive producer
Studio Leadership
2017 Cars 3 No No Yes Yes executive producer
Senior Creative Team: Pixar
Coco No No Yes Yes
2018 Incredibles 2 No No Yes Yes
Ralph Breaks the Internet No No Yes No executive producer
2019 Toy Story 4[61] No Yes Uncredited No story
uncredited executive producer
Final Pixar film
Frozen II[62] No No Uncredited No uncredited executive producer
Final Disney film

Short films, features, and TV specials

Year Film Credited as
Director Writer Producer Animator Notes
1979 Lady and the Lamp[63] Yes Yes Yes Yes student film
Nitemare[63] Yes Yes Yes Yes
1983 Mickey's Christmas Carol No No No No creative talent
1984 The Adventures of André & Wally B. No No No Yes character design
models: André/Wally B.
1986 Luxo Jr. Yes Yes Yes Yes story
1987 Red's Dream Yes Yes No Yes
1988 Tin Toy Yes Yes No Yes modeler
1989 Knick Knack Yes Yes No No
1991 Light & Heavy Yes No No Yes director
1997 Geri's Game No No Yes No executive producer
2000 For the Birds No No Yes No
2002 Mike's New Car No No Yes No
2003 Exploring the Reef No No Yes No
Boundin' No No Yes No
2005 Jack-Jack Attack No No Yes No
One Man Band No No Yes No
2006 Mater and the Ghostlight Yes Yes No No story
Lifted No No Yes No executive producer
2007 How to Hook Up Your Home Theater No No Yes No
Your Friend the Rat No No Yes No
2008 Presto No No Yes No
Glago's Guest No No Yes No
BURN-E No No Yes No
2008–14 Cars Toons Yes Yes Yes No executive producer
2009 Super Rhino No No Yes No executive producer
Partly Cloudy No No Yes No
Dug's Special Mission No No Yes No
Prep & Landing No No Yes No
2010 Day & Night No No Yes No
Tick Tock Tale No No Yes No
Prep & Landing: Operation: Secret Santa No No Yes No
2011 La Luna No No Yes No
The Ballad of Nessie No No Yes No
Hawaiian Vacation No No Yes No
Pixie Hollow Games No No Yes No
Small Fry No Yes Yes No story
executive producer
Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice[64] No No Yes No executive producer
2012 Tangled Ever After No No Yes No
Partysaurus Rex No Yes Yes No story
executive producer
Paperman No No Yes No executive producer
The Legend of Mor'du No No Yes No
2013 The Blue Umbrella No No Yes No
Party Central No No Yes No
Toy Story of Terror! No No Yes No
Pixie Hollow Bake Off No No Yes No
Get a Horse! No No Yes No
2014 Vitaminamulch: Air Spectacular No No Yes No
Feast[65] No No Yes No
Toy Story That Time Forgot No No Yes No
2015 Frozen Fever[66] No No Yes No
Lava[67] No No Yes No
Sanjay's Super Team No No Yes No
Riley's First Date? No No Yes No
2016 Piper No No Yes No
Inner Workings No No Yes No
2017 Gone Fishing No No Yes No
Lou[68] No No Yes No
Miss Fritter's Racing Skoool No No Yes No
Olaf's Frozen Adventure[69] No No Yes No
2018 Bao No No Yes No

See also


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