Pixar’s John Lasseter Says iPhone, Go-Pro Could Be Next Film Breakthroughs

Pixar's John Lasseter Says iPhone, Go-Pro Could Be Next Film Breakthroughs
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

John Lasseter remembers the years before he was considered a visionary. He told people he wanted to make a full length computer animated film. They told him it would never work.

Approaching the 20th anniversary of seminal animated hit “Toy Story,” in November, Lasseter told an audience at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Tuesday that he sees a day when a winning full-length film will be produced by a filmmaker armed only with an iPhone or a GoPro.

“People will tell you, ‘That’s not going to work,’ but yeah, that’s going to work,” Lasseter said. “But the reason they say that is because it’s not what they are used to.”

The chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios said that new technologies would continue to emerge, but only gain acceptance in the film community when they proved they could be used to advance compelling stories.

Lasseter was speaking at the Academy on a panel, “The New Audience: Moviegoing in a Connected World,” along with others exploring filmmaking in the digital age.

The animation trendsetter said that innovators needed to read voraciously, be nimble with their technique and “be wrong as fast as they can” -– making and remaking stories rapidly to hone their skills and their stories. He recalled that as he and the other founders of Pixar cast around to create a first film, they were faced with the worry that their computer-generated images looked cold and sterile. They came up with a graceful solution.

“Things looked kind of plastic and we thought:’What if the characters were made of plastic? What if they were toys?’ ” Lasseter said. “And it’s one of the reasons we leaned into making toys the subject of our feature film, ‘Toy Story.’ ”

The film went on to be the top box office performer of 1995. Lasseter said he checked recently and was amazed that there have now been 255 films using computer generated animation.

The filmmaker said every innovation in film – sound, color, feature length cartoons, computer animation – has been denigrated as unnecessary or impossible to pull off. But he said the progress of film technology from weighty 35-milimeter cameras, to lighter steady-cams to, now, ubiquitous cell phones, would inevitably change the way films look and feel. “The Go-pro and the iPhone are here,” he said. “[They] give a vibrancy you have never been able to have before…I think a new film grammar is going to come with these things.”

The panel was part of the Academy’s “This Is Widescreen” series on trends in cinema. He was joined by Henry Jenkins, a professor at USC’s of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts and Education, BuzzFeed Motion Pictures president Ze Frank and Tayo Amos, a Stanford graduate and digital filmmaker.