Role Models & Heroes: John Lasseter (2013)

By June 23, 2013 November 15th, 2018 Bnei Mitzvah, Heroes & Role Models
The following essay on John Lasseter was written by Jordan Hallerman, a middle schooler, enrolled in City Congregation’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah program. Students spend a year and a half researching their heritage, values and beliefs, and write on a Jewish subject of their choice, their major project; an example of this can be seen below. The process  improves both the student’s writing and critical thinking skills, as well as his/her self confidence and overall maturity.

Jordan Hallerman
June 30, 2013

After discussing with Rabbi Peter what defines heroes and role models, I know that the two can have similar traits, but are not the same. Heroes are known for one act in which they were brave or heroic in a time of need. One example of a hero in our modern society is Captain Chesley Burnett Sullenberger, who is known for landing US Airways flight 1459 on the Hudson River. Captain Sully is a hero because of the heroic act he performed to save all of the people aboard the plane, before leaving the plane himself. He was the last one out, and his quick thinking saved everyone onboard.

A role model, on the other hand, is a different story. Role models are people who are admired for everyday things, like starting a charity, and raising money for a specific cause or making great advancements in a certain field. These are all the qualities of a role model, and qualities of people we may hope to be like. One example of a contemporary role model is Steven Spielberg. Mr. Spielberg is not only a great film maker, but he has used all of the profits from some of his biggest movies, like Schindler’s List, to donate to charities like the Shoah Foundation, which preserves stories of Holocaust survivors for the future. These examples show that a hero is admired for usually one heroic act, while a role model is someone who pursues a career that you may hope to have, as well as someone who represents your core values.

I knew when I first heard about this project that there were a lot of people to consider, since I had to pick either a hero or role model. Yet, for a large part of the process, I always had John Lasseter in the back of my head as a role model choice. He has been an inspiration for me ever since I could talk, and still is today. I picked him not only because he is a pioneer in the field in which I hope to have a career, but he is also a humanitarian, devoting his time to helping the cause of pediatric diabetes. He seems to embody my core values of hard work, determination, and family.

Ever since I could speak I have been a huge fan of Pixar and Mr. Lasseter in particular. When I was 3 and just starting Pre-K, my teachers asked my mother to bring in something to share with the class that told them a little about me. Some kids brought their favorite toy or book; instead, I brought in a whole presentation on Pixar, by printing out photos from their website. It didn’t stop there. For my whole life I have loved Buzz Lightyear. When I was younger, every time a new Buzz toy came out I had to get it, especially the one from Toy Story 2 with the blue belt. I remember going on movie websites with my dad reading articles on Toy Story 3, from it being postponed, to hearing that it was going to happen. I even got the special lamp that features Buzz skateboarding on a small red car. For Halloween, two years in a row, I went as Buzz Lightyear while my friends went as Power Rangers. I also saw the exhibit Pixar: 25 Years of Animation at MoMA when I was only 5 years old. Pixar has been my life for as long as I can remember. Now, I continue to follow Pixar through social media and magazines, eagerly awaiting every film and DVD release.

The creative director and co-founder of Pixar animation studios is Mr. John Lasseter. He was born in a little place called Hollywood, CA on January 12, 1957. Ever since he was little, John wanted to be an animator. He spent his childhood and teen years drawing and learning about animation, soon realizing that his love for the art would pay off. John finally got his big break when he was hired by Disney Animation. There he witnessed the development of one of the first computer animated movies: TRON. John Lasseter was incredibly fascinated by this new wave of entertainment and spent his days at Disney thinking of innovations to advance the animation world, which had always been done in 2d. Sadly, before he got the chance to begin testing his ideas, John Lasseter was released from Disney, with a dream and no job. Yet, he didn’t give up; instead, he kept on moving forward. Over the next 10 years, Mr. Lasseter would meet such visionaries as Steve Jobs and Ed Catmull, who helped him push towards this new way to make an animated feature.

In 1986, Steve Jobs bought Lucasfilm Computer Graphics and turned it into what would become Pixar Animation Studios. From then on Pixar created such acclaimed films as Toy Story, and Monsters Inc., winning countless animation awards and grossing millions. John Lasseter had finally achieved his dream of creating the first computer animated film, and more.

In addition to his work, Mr. Lasseter lives with his wife Nancy Lasseter and their 5 sons ranging in age from 14 to 33. In 2003 Mr. Lasseter’s 9-year-old son Sam was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. “It’s something that no parent ever wants to hear,” he said. “To hear that your son or daughter has a life-threatening, lifelong disease—news like that just shakes your world.” Mr. Lasseter and his wife spent the next several weeks researching Type 1 Diabetes. “I wanted to know the whole history of diabetes,” Mr. Lasseter said. “I wanted some perspective on how far we have to go to find a cure. Looking at Sam, who was so scared….as a parent, it just rips your heart out. That feeling, that moment, I still haven’t been able to shake it. One of the things you go through is to think, ‘Man! If there’s a way I can do anything so this doesn’t happen to other families in the future, then I’m there! Just show me what I can do!”

Soon all of Mr. Lasseter’s Pixar colleagues began sharing their own diabetes experiences and support. One important friend of Mr. Lasseter was John Ratzenberger. Mr. Lasseter said, “John (Ratzenberger) helped out a lot with emotional support. We talked a lot, and he started introducing us to a lot of great people. It’s a wonderful community, the people who are working for a cure for diabetes.”

After Sam was diagnosed, John and Nancy Lasseter quickly decided to use their future films as a means of helping to raise money and awareness for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Through different events, such as a $500-a-seat dinner and auction at Pixar Studios, which was highlighted by a sneak peek at “Finding Nemo”, Mr. & Mrs. Lasseter were able to raise nearly a million dollars for various diabetes foundations.

Mr. Lasseter’s success is a product of hard work and determination, two of my personal values. In the words of John Lasseter himself, “I believe in the nobility of entertaining people and I take great, great pride that people are willing to give me two or three hours of their busy lives.”

His actions as a father assured me that he was someone that I could call a role model. John Lasseter knew he wanted to do something at a very young age, and he didn’t stop until he achieved that goal. I hope to do the same thing when I grow up, by being an animator, and the kind of person who will always be there for my family and friends.