American animation is a thing of beauty. How did we get to Skydance Animation’s 2022 “Luck,” or preceding Pixar wonders? How did Walt Disney start with animation and end his life with engaging and immersive theme parks? From Winsor McCay to John Lasseter, let’s take a look at the three most influential American animators. We’ll take this in chronological order so you can see how McCay influenced Disney, and how Disney in turn influenced John Lasseter.
While most don’t recognize the name Winsor McCay, he’s the pioneer of American animation. Most people recognize names like Walt Disney and Max Fleisher, who came after him, but McCoy was America’s first widely known cartoon animation artist. He began his animation career as a newspaper cartoonist, but his national fame in the early 1900s came after his “Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend” and “Little Nemo in Slumberland.”
Upon his death, he left thousands and thousands of pages, but his famous “Little Nemo” animated film launched in 1911. Winsor McCay is known best for his “Gertie the Dinosaur.” McCay would film himself having interactions with the animated dinosaur, paving the way for vaudeville-inspired later films like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”
Every person recognizes Walt Disney — his name is in every household as a favorite. Before his animation career began, Disney moved around a lot as one of five kids in a family. As a child, he created illustrations and sold them to friends and family members, as well as his neighbors. After spending some time developing a lifelong appreciation for trains in Kansas City, he attended the Art Institute of Chicago.
Disney didn’t make it through the program, however, wanting to serve in the Army. But, the Army wouldn’t take him since he was just 16. Instead, he took a position as an ambulance driver with the Red Cross and served in that way in France during the First World War.
When he came back in 1919, his brother assisted him in getting a newspaper artist job. There, he met cartoonists who recognized his talent, and he eventually made his way to Kansas City Film Ad Company. After focusing more on animation there, Sidney created his own studio: Walt Disney Studios, with his brother Roy and fellow cartoonist Ub Iwerks. What many don’t know about Walt Disney is that he voiced some of his own creations, including that of Mickey Mouse, one of the most famous characters in all history.
John Lasseter, now with Skydance Studios, is best known for his work with Pixar on “Toy Story,” Ratatouille,” and other films. He was involved in mega hits like “Monsters, Inc.,” “Finding Nemo,” and “Wall-E.” You can see his influence on emotional, reflective animation in the lively “Tangled.” As you can tell, John Lasseter has enjoyed a rewarding career at Disney Studios, Pixar, and now at Skydance Animation, working on animated pictures for the new age.
In contact with Disney Studios early on for a job, Disney invited Lasseter to attend their premiere Character Animation Program at the California Institute of the Arts as soon as it went live. He attended classes with Tim Burton and other influential filmmakers, working in Disneyland park and absorbing the Disney lifestyle when he wasn’t in class.
Now whelming Skydance Animation, John Lasseter carries on the legacies of McCoy and Disney through his work there, carrying animated storytelling principles and connecting with audiences of all ages for generations to come.
The legacies of these three major American animators show how interconnected careers, passions, and success can launch a legacy animation career.
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