Comic-Con: John Lasseter makes his first appearance

July 25, 2009 | 9:47 p.m.
Ponyo

Pixar and Disney animation’s John Lasseter arrived in San Diego for his first Comic-Con visit on Friday. In addition to promoting the upcoming 3-D releases of the original two “Toy Story” films and next year’s “Toy Story 3,” Lasseter was also on hand to accompany 68-year-old Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki (who received a standing ovation from the Hall H audience). Disney is releasing the English-language version of Miyazaki’s “Ponyo” on Aug. 14.

Some excerpts of our chat with Lasseter:

Q: This is your first visit to Comic-Con. Why did you feel it was time to come?

A: I am looking at the importance of the Internet and how quickly word-of-mouth about a movie can get out, and the people who come here have always been early adopters. The people who come to Comic-Con also have been such big fans of Pixar, and it’s a perfect time in terms of “Ponyo” coming out. It’s the perfect way to get some word-of-mouth started.

Q: Why did you go back and revise the original “Toy Story” movies for 3-D?

A: It’s been so long since “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2″ were in theaters. We were really interested in bringing them back in some big way. We always have thought of our movies as being 3-D, because they are truly three-dimensional worlds within the computer. We didn’t want to touch the movies — to go in and change things, and improve things. We just went back to add another eye view to make them 3-D.

Q: Was there a temptation to go back and fix a line of dialogue or improve a shot you didn’t quite get right?

A: No. We feel that when the movie is released, we are happy with it. It takes four years to release these films, and I am happy with that. Where we look back is to see where the technology has gone, “Oh boy, we could things a lot better now.”

Q: When you make a movie in 3-D, do you conceive it differently than when if it were in 2-D?

A: The story isn’t any different. But in the way that we stage the story, it is a little different. We are trying to look at things in terms of more dynamic staging — where the depth is there. Our thing with 3-D is that we don’t want to do all of that stuff where things are coming at you. It’s a gimmick, and I think it pops people out of the movie. One of the things that we strive to do is create a suspension of disbelief — where you get swept up in the story, and don’t think of anything else. And anything within the filmmaking that makes people not just think about the story — well, that goes against what we are striving to do. Our use of 3-D is to pull you into the story all the more, to give it depth and believability.

Q: But is there still a place for 2-D, hand-drawn animation like “Ponyo” and “The Princess and the Frog?”

A: Of course. You have to see these characters and the style and the liveliness of the animation. Everybody thinks there is just one way to make movies. But different stories can lend themselves to different mediums. And the story and characters of “The Princess and the Frog” just lends itself so beautifully to that medium. It just comes to life in a way that is different than computer animation. And look at the painted backgrounds in Miyazaki’s “Ponyo.” They are just absolutely beautiful.

Q: You are very disciplined at story. But you also only make a movie a year. At what point does increased production output put pressure on your rigorous screenplay process?

A: We are going to be at three movies in the next two years. So we are ramping up. Story is the most important thing for us. It always has been and it always will be. But we went from a movie every three years to a movie every year without changing quality. We just recognize that you can’t do it overnight — we can’t just hire a bunch of people and double our output. You have to do it in a way where you have creative leadership, a creative core.

Q: You haven’t directed a feature since 2006′s “Cars.” When are you going to direct next?

A: I am working on the little “Cars Toons” short films. But I am plenty busy right now [before I direct another feature].

– John Horn

Photo: “Ponyo.” Credit: Walt Disney Co. 

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