How John Lasseter Brought New Life to Skydance Animation

If someone were to make a Mount Rushmore that specifically honored pioneers in the field of animation throughout the entertainment industry, one thing is certain: John Lasseter would be on it.

John Lasseter began his career in earnest working for The Walt Disney Company before moving on to Lucasfilm — the company best known for creating the stunning visual effects that fueled George Lucas’ “Star Wars Trilogy.” It was here that he saw first-hand what CGI animation could do — something that he would embrace for the rest of his career.

Soon, The Graphics Group, which was part of the Computer Division of Lucasfilm where Lasseter worked, was sold to Steve Jobs. It would soon evolve into the animation studio that would quickly become a household name: Pixar.

Throughout his time at Pixar, John Lasseter was on-hand for hit after hit after hit. He made his directorial debut with “Toy Story” in 1995 — a film that changed the public’s perception of what animated features could be. It also won him and the rest of his team an Academy Award.

That was followed up by hits like “A Bug’s Life,” “Toy Story 2,” “Cars” and more. Keep in mind that these are only the films that he directed. He is also an executive producer on all of the studio’s biggest successes including “Ratatouille,” “Up” and “WALL-E.”

John Lasseter and Skydance Animation: The Perfect Pairing

Spawned in large part by the success of Pixar throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, it seemed like every film studio in town was looking to launch some type of animated subsidiary. One of those was Skydance Media, formerly known as Skydance Productions.

Since its founding in 2006, Skydance has had its hand in several major successes. In addition to producing the remake of “True Grit” with the Coen Brothers, they’re also involved in the massively successful “Mission: Impossible” franchise, the rebooted “Star Trek” franchise, and many, many others.

But one thing they didn’t have was an animation division. Until 2017, that is. After a bit of a rocky start, organizational leaders turned to the best to become the Head of Skydance Animation in 2019: John Lasseter.

Not too long afterward, Skydance Animation formally acquired Ilion Animation, bringing all of its talented creative individuals under the same roof for the first time.

For many at Skydance Animation, the arrival of John Lasseter wasn’t just a victory — it was a coup. Lasseter was arguably the man responsible for leading the entire animation industry into the digital age. But not one to rest on flashy tricks and computer graphics alone, he also showed that it was possible to tell a good story in a format that a lot of people write off as “something for children.” Pixar itself proved that this wasn’t true and now Lasseter seems poised to prove that point all over again.

In his position as the Head of Skydance Animation, John Lasseter is responsible for a wide range of different tasks. Not only is he involved in the day-to-day production and operations of the films that are in development, but he’s also closely overseeing the growth of the studio as a whole. This includes mapping out a long-term strategy for the animation division.

The first two projects that he started working on — the feature-length films “Luck” and “Spellbound” have already had their rights acquired by Apple TV+. Not only that, but the deal included not one but two guaranteed seasons of an upcoming show called “The Search for WondLa.”

Likely due in part to their loyalty to John Lasseter, Skydance Animation has also brought many other big-name animators into the fold — including some of his former colleagues at Disney. One of those is Brad Bird, who made his feature film directorial debut with “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” and has a career that dates back to the beginning of one of the most successful animated shows of all time, “The Simpsons.”

Other notable names include compose Allan Menken and animator Rich Moore. Menken will be scoring “Spellbound.” The announcement of his arrival revealed that this particular project would become the company’s first animated musical.

When you consider what John Lasseter was able to accomplish at Disney and Pixar, especially in those early days, it is truly exciting to think about what he’ll be able to do shepherding Skydance Animation over the next decade and beyond.

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