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Toy Story 3

Animation pioneer John Lasseter is a Mac head all the way and a big believer in the Internet as a research tool.

April 12, 2001

Director John Lasseter was a hero among fans of film animation in the late 1980s for his beautifully rendered, witty short films that helped pioneer the use of computer animation. Then came the gigantic success of his first feature, "Toy Story," the highest-grossing film of 1995. Lasseter was catapulted to Hollywood superstar status.

Lasseter's subsequent features, "A Bug's Life" and "Toy Story 2," also were huge hits, and he is now writing and directing his fourth, "Monsters, Inc."

He grew up in Whittier, where he won his first award at age 5 for a drawing of the Headless Horseman, done for a local grocery. In 1986, he co-founded the computer animation company Pixar in Emeryville, south of San Francisco, where he still produces his films. Pixar's CEO is Steve Jobs, also the CEO of Apple Computer.

Lasseter, 44, lives with his wife and five children in Sonoma County.

COMPUTER: A Macintosh PowerBook G3, but any minute I'm going to convert to the new G4 titanium PowerBook.

Q: Because of the increased speed?

No, because it looks so cool. And I like the wider screen and it's lighter. I carry mine a lot. It's my main computer at home and at work.

At home we also have a G4 Cube with a Cinema screen that my wife uses mostly.

Q. How about for the kids?

We're definitely all Mac heads at home, but the state of the industry is that a lot of games and things are PC-only. So we did get them a Dell. I don't even know which one.

Q. How did you feel about getting a PC?

I felt so dirty. It also makes me feel stupid because sometimes the kids won't be able to get something to run and they will want me to look at it. I sit down in front of the PC and it's like speaking a foreign language.

MAJOR USE OF COMPUTER: I believe strongly in doing a tremendous amount of research in writing and directing our movies, even though we are creating animated films about worlds that do not exist. Not all of that research is done on the Internet, but much of it is, and that's usually the starting point.

For example, for "Toy Story 2," we did a lot of research on the history of toys, how they were constructed, the merchandising, what the packaging looked like. Even how the packaging has aged over the years. We did a lot of research into the cowboy TV shows of the 1950s and early '60s and how the toys from them were marketed. You can find so much of that on the Internet.

For the new film, "Monsters, Inc.," the characters are monsters, but they are based on animals. One character has the fur of a yak with the horns of a mountain goat and the hands and claws of a gorilla. All that had to be researched, as well as the culture of the corporate world.

I also use the computer for writing, and I do a lot of e-mail.

HAND-HELD COMPUTER: No. We got one of the early Palm Pilots, and after the second time the batteries died and we lost all the data, we gave up. I know they are much better now, and I could see how they could be awesome, but I haven't gotten around to them again. Between work and the kids at home, we have really busy lives.

BOOKMARKED SITES: I really love checking in on commercials and movie trailers. We rarely watch TV in our house, except sometimes checking CNN "Headline News" just before bed. So I hear about a commercial that is really funny and I go to and watch it. The Budweiser "What's up?" commercials just crack me up, and I love some of the E-Trade ads.

Q. Have you seen the one Mr. T did for the Oregon lottery?

No. I will go to Adcritic right now while we're talking. See, that's one of the great things about the Internet. You talk to someone on the phone and they say, "Have you seen such and such? Let me e-mail you the address."

[The lottery ad at oregon-lottery-power-ball-the-game-show-mr-t.html, which is a spoof on reality TV shows, comes up on his screen and Lasseter laughs throughout.]

That's hilarious. It's maybe just entertainment, but you're sharing something from your life. It's what happens on the Internet.

The kids also use it a lot for their research and classes. Last night, one of my sons had an assignment to go to a Web site to learn about one-point perspective in art []. We sat on the couch and did it together. I was very impressed; it was a good site for learning this.

CELL PHONE: I have a car that has an integrated phone and GPS, which I love, and I'm a big believer in hands-free telephone operation. I drive an hour from my home to work, so I use the phone then, especially when we are at the end of production and I'm doing interviews.

FAVORITE TECH TOY: I love DVDs, and I watch them on my PowerBook. But because it's fairly heavy, I got a small Pioneer DVD player, and it's great. I also love my digital camera. When we need good prints, I go to and have them printed out. We did our Christmas cards through them last year. And it's just so much fun to e-mail pictures to people.

One thing the computer is not great at yet, I think, is handling pictures once you download them. It should be easy to size them and change the resolution. It's complicated, but it doesn't need to be.

Q. You also shoot home digital videos?

Yes. This summer we took a two-month motor home trip, and I took tons of pictures and video. I meant to cut it all together, but I haven't touched it since. The Digital Age gives us all these opportunities. The problem is finding the time to do them.

--As told to DAVID COLKER

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