He was born in Hollywood, the son of Jewell Mae, a high school art teacher, and Paul Lasseter, a parts manager at a Chevrolet dealership. He is an avid NASCAR fan, a personal friend of three-time Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon, and in his spare time — whenever that is — he likes to catch the races at the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma.
Not that John Lasseter, 54, the chief creative officer at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, has much free time to indulge hobbies.
Then again, it’s good to be king: While Lasseter admits his professional duties are exhausting, he cleared enough room in his schedule to mix business with pleasure, grabbing the reins of “Cars 2,” the long-awaited sequel to Pixar’s 2006 hit, due Friday.
To Lasseter, who claims to read “every car magazine, every month,” sliding back into the director’s chair for the first time since the original “Cars” was an easy decision, but a logistical difficulty. Wearing so many hats is an everyday grind.
But he credits the work with keeping him young.
“I’m a big kid,” he says, playfully holding court at Pixar’s compound, where life-size models of the studio’s best-known characters crowd the reception area and employees can be found dancing and practicing yoga on the property’s sprawling lawn.
“I don’t have to grow up,” Lasseter says. “I can wear Hawaiian shirts to work every day. And I get to make ‘Cars 2,’ which is so different from the first movie, but it belongs to the same universe.”
Naturally, he didn’t pass up the opportunity to voice a character named in his honor: John Lessetire. (Gordon also lends his pipes to Jeff Gorvette.)
But what intrigued the Pixar chief most about his latest challenge was not sharing the spotlight with “Cars 2” stars. Instead, he speaks most excitedly about the advances that have revolutionized animation in the five years since the original’s release, and the globe-trotting facilitated by his new movie’s exotic settings.
“When you watch ‘Cars 2,’ you’ll feel like you’ve seen all of Tokyo, Paris and the Italian Riviera,” Lasseter says. “You go to London and drive all over London, fly all over London. It’s remarkable, the vast scale of this film.”
Still, Lasseter, who has always lived on the cutting edge and says he loves 3-D “probably more than any other director,” insists the technology is never the primary concern. “Everything you see has been thought of, designed, modeled, shaded — it’s a ton of work, always in the name of story, because at Pixar, story is king.”
IF YOU GO
Starring Voices of Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer
Written by Ben Queen
Directed by John Lasseter, Brad Lewis
Running time 1 hour 47 minutes