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The Most Influential Animators in Cinematic History

Since the early 1900s, cinema has enjoyed an internationally astounding success. Let’s take a look at the greats who founded and forwarded this revolutionary art medium, capturing the minds of adults and children alike for ages to come. Did they influence one of your favorite movies? Find out!

John Lasseter, Skydance Animation

John Lasseter is best known for his work on “Toy Story” and for advancing the quality and success of Disney’s Pixar Studios. His entire life until Disney was geared toward getting there, even being one of the first students in the Character Animation Program at the California Institute of the Arts at Disney Studios’ invitation. (He enjoyed his first classes there with student Tim Burton!) From “A Bug’s Life” to “Tangled,” Lasseter proved he could excel in animating stories that move people of all ages.

When he moved to Skydance Animation later in his career, he brought with him the ability to create fundamental relationships between the characters and the audience, understanding what to do to ensure the audience was invested in every movement and line of the character. Skydance Animation’s first film Luck went live in 2022 on Apple TV+. Spellbound, Pookoo, and Ray Gunn are coming along soon as well, reportedly based on The Search for WondLa books.

A Disney animator-inspired kid from the start, John Lasseter is incredibly influential for generations of children — some now adults.

Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli

Academy Award Winner Hayao Miyazaki is best known for “Howls Moving Castle” and “My Neighbor Totoro.” He redefined the anime (Japanese Animation) genre, especially for international fans.

His early influence included airplanes first: his dad was the director of Miyazaki Airplane, a Zero fighter plane manufacturer. Apparent in his lifelong work, flying helped Miyasaki understand the fundamentals of animation. After studying economics, he became an animator at Toei Animation, Asia’s largest animation studio. After producing “Wolf Boy Ken” and “Little Norse Prince,” he left the studio and worked for other studios with those he’d met at this first job (including his wife). Also working on Manga (non-animated cartoons), his style became further developed and loved by his audience.

Despite a Western appreciation for his work, Miyazaki primarily created for a domestic audience, still finding his work loved universally. He made magical girl stories like Kiki’s Delivery Service and Princess Mononoke, which broke box office records in Japan. His influence on Disney productions is obvious in more recent years.

Brad Bird, Skydance Animation

Brad Bird is a colleague of John Lasseter. Originally from Oregon, he produced his first short at age 14, which earned him an apprenticeship at Walt Disney World. From there, he went to the California Institute of the Arts and straight to Disney Studios. He directed some “Amazing Stories” episodes for Spielberg but found major success once he went to Pixar and teamed up with John Lasseter. There, he wrote and directed “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouilles,” major box office hits that both received the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Following that, he made “Incredibles 2.” This animated film was the second highest-grossing animated movie ever.

His understanding of compelling stories and eye for detail make him a key teammate at Skydance Animation — he knows what stories to tell, which is why other industry pros like John Lasseter enjoy working with him.

These three men have shaped the future of animated series and films, and even influence graphic novels and comic books with their styles. They are certainly among the most influential animators in history, and when you look at it, the influences are strong even though Miyazaki worked in a completely different environment (and on another continent) from Lasseter and Bird.

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