World’s greatest boss: John Lasseter

Variety's Creative Leadership Award: John Lasseter

John Lasseter isn’t like other leaders, as these personal stories of mentorship and encouragement from pros throughout the company show:

Darla K. Anderson
Senior producer
“I’ll never forget how John mentored me when we did ‘A Bug’s Life.’ When he offered me the job of producing it, he asked me if I was qualified to do it, and I just said, ‘No,’ as I knew I was in way over my head. I really wanted the job, but I’d only ever done 30-second commercials before. He didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. That was the start of a great relationship, where we could always tell each other the truth. That’s how he operates. So, honesty, trusting your instincts, staying true to the art you’re making — they’re huge lessons I learned from him.”

Angus MacLane
Short film director, “Small Fry,” “Burn-E”
“When we did ‘Toy Story 2,’ I was animating Buzz Lightyear, and I had this idea for making him move differently, because this was the deluded, crazy Buzz, and I presented it in dailies. John immediately clicked into it and said, ‘Yes, keep going with that.’ I learned that he has this great sense of where the audience is and what they’ll enjoy, and he taught me just how collaborative the creative process is.”

Dan Scanlon
Director, “Monsters University”
“Early on, John taught me that a good idea can come from anywhere, even the janitor. I remember being in a story room with him (shortly after I started) in 2001, and he was so open to hearing my ideas, even though I was so new. That really surprised and impressed me. Later on, I saw story interns pitch him ideas for ‘Cars’ shorts. They were all so nervous, flubbing their lines, and John put everyone at ease and took the seeds of their ideas and ran with them.”

Rob Gibbs
Story Development Artist
“He’s so good at instilling confidence and inspiring people. I came to him with a rough idea called ‘Mater Private Eye,’ a film noir short. When I said I’d like to do it in black-and-white, he got so excited. He’d discuss his favorite noir movies, and then we’d research them and bring some of those elements to the piece. He taught me to explore all different genres. Even when he’s crazy busy, he always finds the time to riff on ideas, like how does a car wrestle with a truck? He’s definitely not your usual boss.”

Katherine Sarafian
Producer, “Brave”
“As art department manager on ‘A Bug’s Life,’ I was very much in this producer mindset of (trying to) keep it on track and very organized. So one day at this art meeting with everyone, I had my checklist and I wanted to get through the ladybug’s texture and shading — a whole list of stuff — and we only had 30 minutes with John. He takes my agenda away from me and makes these little boxes on the side, poking fun at my checklist. We’re running late, so I leave to find his assistant, and when I get back, the room’s empty. He’d taken everyone outside to look at someone’s new car, knowing it’d put me in a total panic, which it did! The lesson for me was that the movie still got made, and the tension I was adding with my list needed to be let out like a pressure valve. John’s message has always been: Fun’s an essential part of the process.”

Chris Williams
Feature director, “Bolt” (Disney Animation)
“He’s different from anyone else I’ve ever worked with because he’s made so many great movies and really brings all his own experience to it. So when I directed ‘Bolt,’ my feature debut, he really impressed on me the need to totally immerse yourself in the story. He’d just seen the Bond film ‘Casino Royale’ and was a big fan of the ‘Bourne Identity’ films; meanwhile, we were all very organized and serious about our meetings with him, and the next thing you knew, you were watching trailers and clips from those movies. He’d be totally into it — all the car chases and action. So were all these meetings a big goof-off? I’d say ‘no.’ I think his goal was to teach us to set the bar as high as possible, and his enthusiasm and passion was so infectious.”

Variety’s Creative Leadership Award: John Lasseter
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