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Posted at 12:45 PM ET, 01/12/2011

O PIONEERS: On John Lasseter's birthday, a look back at Pixar's origin story

By Michael Cavna

Updated: 3:03 p.m. ET

It was the late-'80s and I had caught "Luxo Jr." at the touring Spike & Mike Animation Festival. The CGI short, in short, visually rocked my world. Eager to discuss it, to dissect this brief vision of hopping desk lamps, I asked an artist friend whether she'd seen this dazzling Pixar film by this Cal Arts-trained animator by the name of "John -- um -- Lasseter, I believe."

Not only had she seen it, but she knew Lasseter well. He was family. Really? "What's he working on now?" She replied: "Something top-secret. It's a project for Disney that will take years. He won't even talk about it."

In 1995, a little film called "Toy Story" debuted. I went back to my friend: "Was that the hush-hush project you were referring to back then?" She replied: "Uh-huh."

Ever since, of course, John Lasseter -- who smiled when I once shared that story with him -- has not looked back.

It's staggering to ponder just how much success Pixar has had since then -- every one of its feature films not only a critical and commercial success, but also a pop cultural touchstone. From the early affiliations with George Lucas and then Steve Jobs -- and with founders Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith -- the company that would become Pixar has experienced a run of good fortune and great emotional resonance like few other studios.

Later this year, Lasseter -- now Disney/Pixar's animation honcho -- will release his latest baby, "Cars 2." But today, to mark Lasseter's 54th birthday, we decide to look back.

Here are "Luxo Jr." and the pioneering Oscar winner "Tin Toy," two early Lasseter efforts that helped change animation forever -- and helped inspire an entire new generation of artists.

Happy birthday, Mr. Lasseter. We look forward to decades more of greatness and inspiration -- and, one of these years, a best-film Oscar for Pixar.



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By Michael Cavna  | January 12, 2011; 12:45 PM ET
Categories:  The Animation  | Tags:  Alvy Ray Smith, Ed Catmull, John Lasseter, Luxo Jr., Pixar Studios, Tin Toy  
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