John Lasseter is the creative genius behind Pixar. He achieved worldwide fame as director of Toy Story, and is now chief creative officer for Disney and Pixar. He has a long connection to Scotland, first visiting on a Eurorail pass when he was a student. I interviewed him when he returned in June to promote Brave ahead of its US premiere.
The interview was set up as part of the "junket", the huge publicity splurge around the film, that brought 150 journalists over from the states. Disney had hired a couple of floors of the Balmoral Hotel to service the hacks, and reaching Lasseter, was like getting into Fort Knox. I got a military 45 minutes with the Big Fellow, in which time I got to ask about eight questions. This is what he said about Steve Jobs, who co-founded Pixar, and bankrolled it for ten years before Toy Story was released.
Jobs became his sounding board, a confidante, a decision maker, both a father figure and “like a brother” . Jobs’ death from pancreatic cancer last October was a desperate loss. Life must be difficult without him?
“It is,” says Lasseter carefully. “I miss him a lot. The way I describe Steve, he’s like I was with my sons, learning to ride a bike. You run alongside and you hold on to the handlebars, then you let go and they wobble and you’re still running beside them. But pretty soon they are riding by themselves and you stand and watch them. Steve was like that with us. He had no desire to ride the bike, but he wanted to be there to help.”
Jobs contribution is built into Pixar’s bricks and mortar. Its headquarters at Emeryville near San Francisco has been dubbed “Steve’s movie” because Jobs spent four years designing the perfect Californian office space to house what he called "a community of collaborative filmmakers''.
And he was a creative influence. “He wasn’t there crafting the stories, but he was my fresh set of eyes that I’d show to all the time,” say Lasseter. “I’d get a note from him and I was always like: ‘I didn’t even think of that. Wow!’ Or he’d simply say, ‘I just don’t get this, right here.’ I’d been too close to something, but he’s the one who makes me look at it from a distance and say, ‘Man, he’s right.”
A year after Toy Story was released, Jobs returned to Apple – “I was so proud of him” says Lasseter - but he never dropped his connection with Pixar. Six years ago, when the two animation giants merged Jobs became Disney’s biggest individual shareholder, and Lasseter its driving creative force.
The two men remained close. “I would go down and visit him (at Apple) all the time,” says Lasseter. “It was like ‘I get to go to work with Dad today’. It was really special. We used to talk all the time. I miss him.”
Read the 2000-word interview at The Times Review cover story. Picture shows Lasseter with Julie Fowlis, the singer