Venice fetes the five helmers who drove Pixar
On Sunday, Sept. 6, the Venice Film Festival presents John Lasseter and four of his fellow Pixar helmers with the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement (the first time the fest has bestowed that honor on a group). Here’s a quick guide to each of their credits:
The Disney-Pixar chief creative officer’s first job with Disney was as a Jungle Cruise guide at the Anaheim theme park. After gradating CalArts with two student Academy Awards to his name (for “Lady and the Lamp” and “Nitemare”), Lasseter landed a job at the Mouse House, where his enthusiasm to embrace computer animation didn’t sit well with his superiors. After losing his Disney job, Lasseter joined Pixar while the company was still owned by George Lucas, directing four shorts (including Oscar winners “Luxo Jr.” and “Tin Toy”) and the studio’s first three features (“Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life” and “Toy Story 2”). His latest directing credit was 2006’s “Cars,” released the same year as the Disney merger, which promoted Lasseter to chief creative officer of both Disney and Pixar’s animation operations.
The second animator hired by Pixar (after Lasseter), CalArts alum Stanton came aboard when the company was still focused on animating CG television spots. At that time, “There was no promise of doing anything but commercials, so it’s all been gravy since the day Disney called with that first picture,” recalls Stanton, who co-directed “A Bug’s Life” with Lasseter before taking the reins on “Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E” (both of which went on to win animated feature Oscars). Next up is the live-action sci-fi adventure “John Carter of Mars.”
Yet another CalArts veteran, Docter joined Pixar in 1990 as the studio was still paying its bills with work-for-hire (his early Pixar reel includes computer-animated ads for Life Savers and Tropicana). He was on the team that conceived “Toy Story,” co-writing and animating that film. He hatched the idea for “Monsters, Inc.” himself, becoming the first Pixar pro after Lasseter to direct a feature. Docter went on to oversee the English-language translation of Japanese maestro Hayao Miyazaki’s “Howl’s Moving Castle” and helm this summer’s “Up.”
After graduating from the USC film school, Unkrich found work in live-action TV before Lasseter tapped him to edit “Toy Story” in 1994. “One of John’s biggest strengths is that he spots talent very early on and goes out of his way to nurture them,” says Unkrich, who was promoted to co-director on “Toy Story 2,” “Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo.” He was developing his own project with “Little Miss Sunshine” writer Michael Arndt when the Disney merger went through, allowing him to make “Toy Story 3” his directing debut.
Bird helped adapt “The Simpsons” from a toon sketch on “The Tracey Ullman Show” to a stand-alone sitcom. He made his feature directing debut with WB’s “The Iron Giant,” before pitching Pixar his idea for “The Incredibles.” Former CalArts classmate Lasseter loved the superhero concept and invited Bird to join the studio, where he went on to write and direct “Ratatouille.” He is now working on “1906,” a live-action story centered around the San Francisco earthquake of the same year.