You mentioned that your first experience of working at Disney was less inspiring...
When I got there I found it was led by people who felt threatened by young talent. I kept suggesting stuff but I remember being told by one of them, ‘Look we don’t want to hear your ideas, just do what you’re told. There are plenty of guys who’d be happy to take your place.’
In two sentences some guy made me not care about the studio; he made me not care about the project I was working on. And I thought to myself, ‘One day if ever I’m in charge I’m never going to say to a young person what that guy just said to me’. But it didn’t stop me, I just kept trying to push and make things better.
And that’s when you hit trouble.
Right. While I was working there, the live-action group started making Tron. And friends of mine invited me to come and see the very beginnings of the dailies.
I was blown away; not so much by what I was seeing but the potential I saw in it. I wanted to apply it to traditional animation but the head of the animation department said, ‘No we can’t do that’.
So you went around him?
Yeah I went around him to a young executive who saw the potential of it and he let us do this test. There was a development thing going on with Maurice Sendak [author of Where The Wild Things Are]. And so we did the boy character from Where The Wild Things Are.
We just did a little piece where he chases his dog down the stairs. We worked with MAGI [early innovators of computer-generated animation who worked on Tron] and I became good friends with a guy there, Chris Wedge.
The guy who directed Ice Age?
Yeah, he was kind of the creative leader at Blue Sky Studios in New York, and he’s remained one of my best friends all those years, in fact he introduced me to Nancy [Lasseter’s wife of 20 years].
Anyway, we produced this 30-second test and it was so ahead of its time! So then I wanted to have a story ready so we could show the test and say, 'Here, let’s make a feature like this, with this story’.
And that story was The Brave Little Toaster? [Which would become a feature some years later…]
Yeah, a friend introduced me to the book and I’ve always loved inanimate objects coming to life! But when we showed the test and gave a pitch, the head of the film studio just said, ’The only reason to produce this by computer is if it makes it cheaper and faster.’
And he walked out. Within five minutes I get a call: ‘Your project is incomplete and your employment with the Disney Animation Studios is now terminated.’
You must have been devastated.
Oh yeah. I was so depressed, I couldn’t even tell anyone what had happened to me. I was just… it was terrible.
Next: George Lucas, Tron 2