John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, received an Honorary Doctor of the Arts Degree from California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) on May 16, 2014. One of the most celebrated members of the first graduating class of CalArts Character Animation Program, Lasseter returned to his alma mater to address the Class of 2014.
CALARTS, May 16, 2014 — CalArts President Steven Lavine is delighted to announce that animation industry icon and Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, John Lasseter, is the 2014 recipient of California Institute of the Arts' (CalArts) honorary Doctor of Arts degree. In celebrating his originality, creativity and extraordinary contributions to the art of animation and contemporary filmmaking, the Institute welcomed back one of its most prominent alumni.
At the ceremony on Friday, May 16, Lasseter addressed CalArts' class of 2014 in a heartfelt speech describing the impact of CalArts on his life and work. He shared two key insights inspired by his time at the Institute. The first was "your voice is worthwhile. Have faith in it. It's so important to create in your own voice ... to hold onto what makes you unique and have faith in your vision." Secondly, he advised, "you need others. Too often people think that being unique means being isolated, and being a great artist means coming up with genius ideas out of nowhere. Nothing could be further from the truth."
CalArts is an internationally acclaimed Los Angeles-area institution founded by Walt Disney and his brother Roy, offering undergraduate and graduate programs in the visual, performing, media and literary arts. At the commencement ceremony, Lasseter addressed an enthusiastic crowd of alumni, parents and graduating students that included the most recent generation of CalArts animators to follow in his footsteps. "I am the filmmaker I am today because of the people I've learned from," he said.
Lasseter fondly recalled his teachers and described the celebrated first graduating of CalArts' Character Animation Program which, along with Lasseter, includes two-time Oscar recipient Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille), visionary filmmaker Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Frankenweenie), Oscar-nominated director John Musker ("The Princess and the Frog," "The Little Mermaid"), as well as Chris Buck and Michael Giaimo, director and art director, respectively, of the No. 1 animated film of all time, Academy Award winner Disney's "Frozen":
We had great teachers in [CalArts'] Character Animation program, great Disney artists who came out of retirement to teach us all that they had learned as they invented this art form with Walt Disney. But I learned just as much from my fellow students as I did from my teachers. Then, when we started making our own student films, we'd look over each other's shoulders, bouncing ideas back and forth and helping each other out.
Work with others. Lean on others. Celebrate others.
I developed a way of working at Pixar that revolves around getting honest feedback from your fellow filmmakers as you are making your film. This approach, which is now used at Disney Animation as well, is based on the way we all had made our student films at CalArts.
When times got tough — and we've had many tough times — we pulled together and saved each other. We never could have survived alone. We never could have achieved what we have alone.
"John's remarkable career exemplifies CalArts' experimental ethos and creative spirit," said President Steven Lavine. "Since graduating from the Character Animation Program in 1979, John has brought joy to millions of people throughout the world. As an artist and executive, John is responsible for creating many of the world's best-loved and most successful films. John's groundbreaking work ranges from his first feature as a director, Pixar's revolutionary computer animated Toy Story, to serving as Executive Producer of this year's Oscar-winning animated feature, Disney's 'Frozen.'"
This year, the annual March Oscar issue of Vanity Fair paid tribute to the first generation of CalArts filmmakers, who went on to become animation industry icons. The feature article, "The Class That Roared," offered an intimate glimpse into the CalArts experience of a now-famous group of students.
The influence of "the class that roared" continues with new generations of animators from CalArts. The latest wave ranges from wildly inventive students to animators, storyboard and character artists and up-and-coming directors at Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar, Sony Pictures Animation, Dreamworks Animation, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, as well as independent filmmakers and artists.
Today, television, too, offers creative opportunities to CalArts graduates. First-time creator/director Skyler Page's series, "Clarence," premiered on the Cartoon Network on April 14. Cartoon Network's current roster also includes creator/directors Pendelton Ward of "Adventure Time," "The Regular Show's" J. G. Quintel, and "Uncle Grandpa's" Peter Browngardt. Alex Hirsch is the creator, executive producer and director of the Disney Channel's "Gravity Falls." Having originated Nickelodeon's "El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera," Jorge Gutierrez wrote, and is currently directing, the "Day of the Dead" themed 3D animated feature, "Book of Life," which is scheduled for release in October 2014.
Other next generation "Calartians" to watch include Disney Animation Studios' Stephen Anderson, writer/director of Meet the Robinsons and co-director of Winnie the Pooh. Alumni with anticipated projects in production include veteran Pixar story and voice artist Peter Sohn who is co-directing the studio's upcoming "The Good Dinosaur," and "Kung Fu Panda" director Mark Osborne, currently in production on the film adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's "The Little Prince."