John Lasseter’s principles of animation

John Lasseter can easily be considered the father of modern 3D animation. With Pixar & Toy Story, he revolutionised the 3D animation industry. Over the years, Lasseter has become a force to reckon in the 3D animation industry, and swears by seven principles.

We give you Lasseter’s principles of animation.

Principle #1 Never come up with just one idea

Whether a short film (Pixar is famous for their shorts!), or a feature film, always have more than just one idea. We would say, have at least three ideas to be on the safe side. Of course, there will be that one idea that you will be very keen to make. Start working on that idea. But keep a few back-ups. Chances are that your favourite idea may hit unforeseen roadblocks. Often, you have thought so much about that idea that there is no place for any changes or modifications. But the key to a good story is flexibility. When you start working on your animation, you will realise that something that looked like a great idea of page, is not so good for the screen, or there may be other technical limitations. Always be ready to change the plan. And this is where the back-ups come handy. You will start exploring options that you hadn’t thought possible, and gain a fresh perspective.

John Lasseter's principles of animation

Principle #2 Remember the first laugh

Revising, retouching & refining is an important part of the creative process. But with time your project may lose its original essence. This is when you need to go back to the first reactions. Always remember that when a joke is told for the first time, people laugh; when it is told the second time, people will still laugh but not as heartily, and by the third & fourth time, it will already have lost the humour. That is why the first reaction is very important. It is not always the joke itself that may make people laugh, but a connected thought. What is it that triggered that first laugh? Figure that out, write it down, if required, and keep going back to it every time you think your project is losing steam.

John Lasseter's principles of animation

Principle #3 Quality is good business plan. Period

This is the most crucial rule. You cannot afford to compromise on quality. There will always be production constraints, cost constraints or tough deadlines. But these can never be the excuse for mediocre work. If getting good quality work means scrapping all the work done, and starting from scratch, then so be it. The quality of your work is what will prevail in the long run. The audience may or may not always be able to articulate this, but your quality will impact their movie watching experience. Always remember that the quality of your work will determine your reputation in the 3D animation industry.

John Lasseter's principles of animation

Principle #4 It’s all about the team

Never forget that a film, whether animation or a live-action, is the result of good team work. You, as a creative individual, are not above the requirements of the team. An individual may be very creative, but a team is always more creative than a single person. Any group is always as good as the weakest person on the team. Make sure that you work along with everyone, even the weakest person. Your independent idea may be great but it may not fit the team’s vision. Listen to what the team has to say. As a part of a team be honest, direct and endeavour to help each creative individual. You succeed only if the team succeeds. And if the team fails, you alone cannot shine bright.

John Lasseter's principles of animation

Principle #5 Fun invokes creativity; not competition

People often so caught up in their work that they forget how much animation is. In fact, the work becomes so important that your supervisor may ignore the problems that may be arising within the team. But negative energy can never lead to good work. Cooperation, confidence & fun are the way to go for all creative people. Be sure that every team member is on the same page. Research & exploration don’t have to be boring. Have fun, come up with wacky ideas, and brainstorm a lot. Creative people produce their best work when they are creatively challenged. So make sure that it does not become a routine. After all, if you wanted a regular, 9 to 5 job, you could have joined a bank, why an animation studio?

John Lasseter's principles of animation

Principle #6 Creative output always reflects the person on top

As a lead animator or an animation supervisor, you will be responsible for the fibal creative output. This may often put pressure on you to get the job done. Under such circumstances laughter, being wacky, freaking out, being silly can prove to be real hard work. But it is your ultimate responsibility to take away the pressure from the team. Don’t spread the bad mood, and don’t forbid the team from having fun. It will only harm the project. No matter how much pressure you may be under, always be present for your team. Ensure that they have a relaxed & calm environment to work in. This does not mean that you have to be lax. But Hitler wanted to rule the world, and we all know how that turned out.

John Lasseter's principles of animation

Principle #7 Surround yourself with creative people you trust

Trust is the most important thing in every walk of like. Animation is no different. When working on your 3D animation, you will have to brainstorm and share ideas on a number of occasions. You will need to gather feedback, and, if required, change a lot of your work. All this can be easily accomplished if you interact with people you trust. Unfortunately, most people are insecure about their work. That is why they try to show their work to people who may not be at the same level of experience & understanding. But this will do nothing to improve their work. If you surround yourself with Yes Men, then all you will get is a ‘yes’, but never the actual feedback.

John Lasseter's principles of animation


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