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Reviewed by:
  • John Lasseter by Richard Neupert
  • Paula Murphy
John Lasseter Richard Neupert Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2016, 200 pages, ISBN 9780252081644 (pbk), ISBN 9780252040153 (hardcover), ISBN 9780252098352 (e-book).

Richard Neupert's John Lasseter is an account of the career of the first animator to carry the storytelling genius of Disney into computer animation venues and who ultimately became the chief creative officer for Pixar and Disney studios. This exploration spans Lasseter's life from his childhood in a family environment, where creativity was encouraged as was a love for cars to his college years at California Institute of the Arts, where he was trained by veteran Disney animators to become an award-winning filmmaker in his later life.

The first part of this five-chapter book explains in detail how Lasseter pursued his interest in computer animation. Here Lasseter's early awards as an academy student as well as his enthusiasm for storytelling through drawing are presented to help us understand how Lasseter was the most likely person to become the leading innovator in his field. This section also discusses how he worked at Disney during the time it was producing one of the first computer augmented feature films, Tron. Subsequently Lasseter became more involved with computers than Disney executives would have liked and was fired. Later he ended up working at Lucasfilm with computer graphics scientists, such as current Pixar President Ed Catmull, who were striving to improve digital special effects and computer animation. They encouraged Lasseter to be part of their team and he was able to apply his understanding of storytelling to several experimental films, which ultimately led to the establishment of Pixar Animation Studio.

Neupert emphasizes the importance of teamwork in Pixar's successes and how computer scientists and creative animators worked hand-in-hand to overcome the challenges and limitations presented by computer graphics software and hardware that did not meet their needs. In order to achieve their goal, they had to customize both and these innovations eventually became Pixar products. Some of the obstacles they faced included only being able to create movement with certain geometric shapes, defining digital algorithms that best created movements that the human eye could see and understand, expanding the capacity to make virtual backgrounds that enhanced the story, and understanding how to generate lighting and shadow components that would produce raindrops in a thunderstorm or show the transparency of objects such as leaves as viewed from below. The team also investigated how to make eyes, facial expressions, and other body locomotion appear to convey emotion and body language in characters such as toys, bugs, and cars so stories would be more believable to audiences. It is here that Lasseter excelled. He learned 3D model making and other computer design processes in order to learn how to enhance the tales that the team wanted to tell. As a result, Lasseter became the spokesperson and public face of the company.

This development as a creative individual and a subsequent leader of the Pixar group emerges as a theme in Neupert's narrative. From the beginning, Lasseter's genius was recognized not only by his teachers, but also by business partners such as Steve Jobs whose interest in and financial support of the Pixar experiments were motivated by his hope that the creative work of this team would become a marketable product for his computers. Lasseter's colleagues in the computer conference world of SIGGRAPH also acknowledged his talent and unique understanding of how technology, graphic design, and storytelling in animation could work to be entertaining and push the use of new tools beyond what had been achieved before. Moreover, Lasseter's relationship with Disney improved and because he was able to prove that computer animation [End Page 81] had a place in the kind of creative output (and financial success) for which Disney was known, and, he became sought after by the studio.

Neupert not only meticulously unfolds the events of the first few years of Lasseter's career and the development of Pixar, but he also takes great care in introducing the stories of The Adventures of André and Wally B (1984), Luxor Jr. (1986), Red's...


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pp. 81-83
Launched on MUSE
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