If there’s one thing John Lasseter is, it’s animated.
The bossman of Pixar, Walt Disney Animation Studios, and Disneytoon Studios will be directing that energy into a showcase the trio’s upcoming slate of animated fare on Friday at D23, Disney’s biennial fan convention in Anaheim, Calif.
Entertainment Weekly got to pick his brain a little early, and show off some exclusive new images from Disney Animation’s Frozen and Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur.
You can skip ahead to the images via the links below, or follow the bouncing ball through Lasseter’s conversation to see them on the next pages as he discusses Disney animations’ three branches, the future of hand-drawn cartoons, and the potential for team-ups with fellow Disney company’s Marvel and Lucasfilm.
This music-filled adventure (out Nov. 27) features the voice of Veronica Mars‘ Kristen Bell as Anna, a sunny optimist in a land where winter never ends, who teams up with a rugged mountain man named Kristoff (voiced by Glee‘s Jonathan Groff) to find her sister, Elsa, also known as the Ice Queen (Wicked‘s Idina Menzel) who has the mystical power to control wind and ice. In this new image, Anna and the cliffhanger Kristoff come face to face … sort of.
The Good Dinosaur
Pixar’s latest what-if story: What would the world be like today if dinosaurs had never gone extinct? Director Bob Peterson (a veteran story artist with the company, and the voice of Dug the Dog from Up, and growling Roz from Monsters Inc.) oversees this tale of Earth in the present day, if that long-ago asteroid had skipped past our planet. D23 could include a more in-depth look at the story, but for now we have this piece of concept art — featuring an evolved, long-necked dinosaur cutting the clouds while running through a mountainside plain.
Here’s our interview with John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer of Disney’s animation departments, wearer of Hawaiian shirts, and man about toon-town:
Entertainment Weekly: D23 is considered Disney’s Comic-Con, so what can we expect to see at Friday morning’s presentation? New footage, new movie announcements, casting news?
John Lasseter: All of the above. I’ve been a part of the conventions from the beginning and we’ve always encouraged all of the divisions of Disney to really show people stuff they can’t normally see. So [D23] is not a bunch of advertising people showing up … what is shown here is stuff that is behind the scenes, early looks, unfinished stuff – it’s really stuff that you can only see here.
How far down the road are you going to take us?
In animation, we have three studios who are going to be showing work. The D23 conventions are two years apart so we really focus on the movies that are going to be coming out within those two years and then a little beyond that, so that’s primarily our focus. We’ll be showing clips from the films. Each of the filmmakers are going to get up and present their films and they’re very entertaining folks, they’re very funny. We definitely have a lot of surprises. We will be making a few announcements with things.
Which titles will be the main focus?
So for instance from Pixar, we’re talking about the next three films we have coming out – The Good Dinosaur, Inside/Out [Up director Pete Docter’s film that takes place within a person’s mind] and Finding Dory [Andrew Stanton’s sequel to Finding Nemo.] And we’ve got a lot of fun stuff in there. With the Walt Disney Animation Studios we’ll definitely talk about Frozen which is coming up in November, and we’ll be talking about Big Hero 6 [an adaptation of a Marvel manga-style comic, out November 2014] which is coming out next year and the [new Mickey Mouse] short Get A Horse.
At the last D23 in 2011, Planes had just been announced from Disneytoon Studios. It was supposed to be a straight-to-DVD film, but now it opens in theaters on day of your newest D23 appearance.
It’s going to have a screening there opening day for everybody and we’ll be showing some behind-the-scenes stuff with that as well as talking about next year’s Planes: Fire and Rescue and we’re talking about The Pirate Fairy, which is the next in the Tinkerbell series and it’s phenomenal, it’s really cool.
My little girl loves those , so I’ve seen those ones a lot.
[The previous Tinkerbell film] Secret of the Wings was a major step up and The Pirate Fairy really, oh you guys are going to love this one, it’s really great.
NEXT PAGE: Kristen Bell and Jonathan Groff’s Frozen characters
Can you explain the rationale for having three animation divisions – Pixar, Walt Disney Animation, and Disneytoon Studios? That might not make obvious sense to outsiders, but what’s the reason for keeping them separate entities?
What doesn’t make obvious sense? The fact that we have three different animation studios?
Yeah, what are the different responsibilities for each?
Part of it is heritage, right? You know Pixar Animation Studios was an independent company started by Steve Jobs, Ed Catmull and myself and rest of the Pixar team — inventing computer animation and being the first to do it out there in the world. Seven years ago, Disney purchased us and one of the reasons they purchased us is they really wanted to protect and maintain that culture and keep what we do going. So that’s the reason why that continues and we love it and it’s up in the San Francisco Bay area. The Walt Disney Animation studio is the studio that Walt Disney started himself in 1923 and it’s never stopped and never closed its doors and never stopped making animation and it keeps going as kind of the heart and soul of the company.
And then there’s the direct-to-DVD market, which the previous version of Disneytoon Studios concentrated on. Is that still the main focus there?
Disneytoon Studios was started a number of years ago to feed into the direct-to-video market, but as the home video sales have continued to decrease rapidly we are looking at the evolution of the studio going more theatrical. With Disneytoon Studios we start from the beginning by thinking of it as a series in a world — it’s a continuation: the Tinkerbell films, and now with Planes, inspired from the world of Cars, but with airplane characters … You really have to spend time upfront to make sure the world is robust enough and interesting enough to be able to hold many different stories.
If these were your three kids, apart from the differences in when they’re born, or where they live, what are the distinctions in their personalities?
A lot of it does have to do with heritage. With Pixar, it’s still a studio of pioneers and kind of rebels. It really feels like a big institution. In all the world of things that have been invented there’s this culture of anything is possible, and it permeates. When Steve Jobs was so much a part of the company were always pushing the envelope and pushing to new ground. It’s really an exciting place and always striving to do new things, that’s it’s personality. And even though it has this tremendous success over the years, and the name means so much out there in the world, we still like to have that kind of pioneering and kind of a little bit a rebel spirit.
Is Walt Disney Animation then the more traditional studio?
Everyone who works there is working there because it has things that are Disney, and what Walt Disney created. They just love being a part of that and doing things within that. For instance, Tangled, the story of Rapunzel, when that movie came out it was like you don’t even need to put the name on it — nobody wonders, what studio made this, you know it was Disney because it has that beautiful blend of storytelling and design and beautiful images and music and song and all that stuff it’s so classically Disney. But not everything is going to be like that, like we had Wreck-It Ralph and we’re very proud of that.
And Disneytoon Studios is all about creating a series of sequels?
It’s like when you think of these great series on HBO where there are these incredible characters that you love and you just want to see more and more stories of them.
NEXT PAGE: Concept art of The Good Dinosaur
What’s the future of 2-D, hand-drawn animation at Disney?
We still are doing some … We’re still doing a lot of short films. There are no features on the docket for hand-drawn, but we’re definitely keeping hand drawn alive at the studio. Hand-drawn is finding it’s way in a very interesting way into the technology. There’s a lot of hand-drawing that goes into the computer animated movies at Walt Disney Animation Studios. There’s a different style to the animation from that studio, too. Even though it’s computer animation in the end the way they do it, and the feeling it has, is more the feeling of hand-drawn animation. And then there’s a little bit of work going on with shorts such as Paperman, John Kahr’s film which won the Academy Award, and has this really interesting very innovative combination of hand-drawn and CG.
But a lot of veteran hand-drawn animators were let go during Disney’s layoffs last spring, and others like Glen Keane and Andreas Deja parted ways on their own. Could this become a lost art?
No, I don’t think so.
But if you’re a kid entering Cal-Arts today, [the school Walt Disney helped found to educate animators], is there any reason to study hand-drawn animation if a someone in your position says we’ve got no films like that in the pipeline?
No, I mean, it doesn’t mean we’re not doing it, we’re still doing a lot of hand-drawn animation. I just don’t agree with you.
Big Hero 6 is Walt Disney Animation Studios’ first team-up with Marvel. What’s the nature of that collaboration?
It’s based upon a very short series of comic books and it’s six comic books. They’re out of the Marvel universe, but more of a Japanese manga style. We’re creating something based upon that so it’s really a Disney Animation production. A loose adaptation — like all adaptations are. They almost have to be.
In addition to Marvel, Lucasfilm is now a Disney company. Pixar started out as the graphics division for George Lucas’ empire – now you’re together again.
Yeah, how about that. Very exciting!
I heard [Oscar-winning sound designer] Gary Rydstrom was directing an animated film for Lucasfilm, so I wondered if that project might fall under you?
No, nope. That stays under the leadership of Lucasfilm.
Do you see any potential Star Wars or Lucasfilm-related projects for Disney’s animation branches?
Not really, other than Pixar has always used Skywalker Sound for all of our productions. They’re the best so we’ll always continue using them and we’re very good friends. And we always have been with [special effects house Industrial Light and Magic] as well. But other than being friends we have never needed to do anything with them. But we’re also massive Star Wars fans so we’re all very excited, as is everybody around the world, for new Star Wars films.
Do you get to weigh in on those at all as part of the Disney brain trust?
I don’t know anything about it other than just being a fan.
I guess we’ll wait to learn more from Disney’s live-action D23 presentation on Saturday. Meanwhile, we’ve got your news Friday.
Fasten your seat belts, you’re going to love what we have down there.