A pioneer of modern animation, notably the computer-generated animation that dominated the mid- to late '90s, John Lasseter started out doing traditional hand-drawn work. His passion for animation began in high school and, after writing an exuberant letter to Disney Studios, he started studying art and drawing on his own. Shortly after graduation, Lasseter became the second student to be accepted into Disney's new animation program at the California Institute of the Arts. In the summers, he worked as an apprentice at the Disney Studios. While in school, he created two short films, Lady and the Lamp and Nitemare, both of which won Student Academy Awards. Shortly after graduation, Lasseter was hired by the Disney feature animation department and he spent the next five years there, working on such features as The Fox and the Hound (1981) and the short Mickey's Christmas Carol (1984).
In 1982, Lasseter received his first exposure to computer animation during the production of Disney's Tron (1982). Intrigued by the possibilities of the radical new medium, he and colleague Glen Keane made a very short film combining simple computer animation with hand-drawn characters based on Maurice Sendak's children's classic Where the Wild Things Are.
In 1984, Lasseter left Disney in order to be on the cutting edge, with the computer animation division of Lucasfilm's Industrial Light and Magic. Initially, he only planned on working there for a month, but six months later when the department was purchased by Steven Jobs, he was still there. Jobs named the new company Pixar and gave Lasseter the freedom to direct, produce, write, and create models for many projects, many of which were television commercials. In 1988, Lasseter released the first completely computer animated short, Tin Toy, and won an Oscar for Best Achievement in Animated Short Films. In the early '90s, Lasseter and three writers developed the script for the groundbreaking Toy Story (1995), the tale of rival toys vying for the attention of their little-boy owner. To make the film, Pixar teamed up with Disney and with Lasseter at the helm, the result was an eye-popping adventure, in which the toys had almost as much dimension and detail as live-action. The film received four Oscar nominations. Lasseter was presented with a Special Achievement Academy Award for his part in bringing the first feature-length computer animated film to the screen.