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POWER AND POLITICS IN THE FALL AND RISE OF JOHN LASSETER

John Lasseter grew up in a family heavily involved in artistic expression. Lasseter was drawn to cartoons as a youngster. Then as a freshman in high school he read a book entitled The Art of Animation. The book, about the making of the Disney animated film Sleeping Beauty, proved to be a revelation for Lasseter. He discovered that people could earn a living by developing cartoons. Lasseter started writing letters to The Walt Disney Company Studios regarding his interest in creating cartoons. Studio representatives, who corresponded with Lasseter many times, told him to get a great art education, after which they would teach him animation.

When Disney started a Character Animation Program at the California Institute of Arts film school, the Disney Studio contacted Lasseter and he enrolled in the program. Classes were taught by extremely talented Disney animators who also shared stories about working with Walt Disney. During summer breaks from Cal Art classes, jobs at Disneyland further fuelled Lasseter’s passion for working as an animator for Disney Studios. Full of excitement, Lasseter joined the Disney animation staff in 1979 after graduation from the California Institute of Arts, but he was met with disappointment. According to Lasseter, “[t]he animation studio wasn’t being run by these great Disney artists like our teachers at Cal Arts, but by lesser artists and businesspeople who rose through attrition as the grand old men retired.” Lasseter was told, “[y]ou put in your time for 20 years and do what you’re told, and then you can be in charge.” He continues, “I didn’t realize it then, but I was beginning to be perceived as a loose cannon. All I was trying to do was make things great, but I was beginning to make some enemies.”

In the early 1980s, Lasseter became enthralled with the potential of using computer graphics technology for animation but found little...
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