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Bolt - John Lasseter interview

John Lasseter, director of Cars

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JOHN Lasseter talks about returning to Disney as chief creative officer and his hopes for the company’s latest animated adventure, Bolt, the first Disney film to be conceived entirely in 3D.

He also discusses why he thinks the 3D revolution is such an important tool in getting people back into the cinemas, and why he feels it’s important to teach as well as to continue directing (his main passion).

Q. How does it feel to be back at Disney as chief creative officer?
John Lasseter: I love it. To be back at the studio where I started is great and also I do the films that I do [Toy Story 1 & 2] because of the films of Walt Disney. So, it’s kind of neat to be back because it’s kind of like home for me. Pixar is really my home as well, but it’s important for the animation studio at Disney to be making great movies because the name means so much to families. So, it should be making great movies. It’s also the best company in the world to take characters that you create and keep them alive beyond the boundaries of the film, through the products, the theme parks and all the things they do. If you do your job right and make a great movie with great characters, those characters will stay alive forever. You can’t say that with any other companies.

Q. Bolt has embraced that ethos and the Pixar one of creating something that plays well for both children and adults?
John Lasseter: Well, that’s also something that’s so important for me. We make our movies for ourselves – they’re the kind of movies we like to watch. And it’s really important for us to have these films play for everybody. They’re not just for kids. Last night, for instance, at the National Film Theatre they had an all-adult audience and they loved Bolt.

Q. You must be particularly proud of the way Bolt has turned out given the tough decisions you were forced to make along the way?
John Lasseter: Yes. I’m very proud of the studio. It was very important for me, when coming back three years ago, that this film be great – not only for our audience and bringing the Disney name back, but also for the people working at the studio. Most of the people work really, really hard on these projects whether it’s a good movie or a bad movie, and most people don’t have control over whether it’s good or bad. I know I’m one of the people who does have control over that and it’s very, very important for me to know that it’s going to be great. I always say that I want to make a film you can be proud of for the rest of your life, and that your family can be proud of saying you worked on.

So, at the beginning of Bolt it was being developed in a certain way that meant it wasn’t living up to the potential that I knew the film could have. So, it was one of the rare times we had to make a change of director and we brought on Chris Williams and Byron Howard. They made it their own and turned it into the movie that’s so great. I worked very closely with them throughout the whole production.

Q. That must be a great feeling to get out there and do… because I imagine there must also be times when you feel stuck in the whole meetings business. You also got to direct the Cars Toon short, Tokyo Mather, that precedes Bolt?
John Lasseter: That was fun, yes. But part of it, for me, is making sure the movie is really good, but another part is mentoring these guys to become great directors and great leaders of the studio because I want them to be making movies for the rest of their careers. It’s really important to teach them everything I know about directing and leading creative people.

I got really excited, though, because I love directing as well and I was able to keep my hands in doing these short films based upon the Cars characters. It’s really fun to be able to have those Cars characters come back to life, and it’s fun that we’re able to release that in front of Bolt for UK audience. It’s in 3D as well, which is so cool looking.

Q. How tough a discipline is it to direct one of those shorts? You get so much into such a short space of time? Is it harder than it looks or is it a magic trick?
John Lasseter: It is a discipline but there’s also a brevity to the shorts that’s kind of fun to do. So, you come up with an idea that’s fun and silly, that’s not really right for an entire feature, but it’s still worth doing. That’s what I love about short films.

Q. How important is 3D, because we’re on the brink of a new revolution, aren’t we?
John Lasseter: I love 3D. I’ve always loved 3D. When you create computer animation, you’re creating a truly three dimensional environment within the computer, but you’ve only been able to show just a two dimensional view of that world. So, to be able to actually use 3D to see how this world truly looks is great. Also, it immerses the audience that much more in the storytelling. When you start from scratch… Bolt was made from the beginning as a 3D film, it really just fits. You watch it and there’s something about it that’s not really like having stuff coming at you all the time, it actually just makes the world that much more believable and envelopes you into the story.

I think it’s also important for the industry as well because these theatres now have these digital cinemas that enables us to do 3D. I think there’s a worry that with high definition at home, the surround sound at home, you need to have something in the shared theatre experience that you can only get with 3D. So, that’s great. It’s exciting to see so many studios now starting to make 3D films. But again, it’s not about the fact it’s a 3D film. It’s what you do with it. We’ve always loved new technology; we’ve pioneered so many new technologies at Pixar and now at Disney, and Walt Disney himself was one of the real pioneers… but again, it’s always in the service of the stories. So, I think 3D is here to stay.

I’ve been in love with 3D since 1989, when we pioneered 3D in animation with the short film called Nick Nack. I even took my wedding pictures in 3D. So, finally movie theatres have caught up to what I’ve known all along – that 3D is a really great, entertaining addition to the medium.

Read our review of Bolt