VENICE, Italy – The Venice Film Festival's red carpet was festooned with balloons on Sunday to mark the lifetime achievement award for director and producer John Lasseter and his crew of Pixar directors.
They were rewarded for their work creating a new generation of childhood memories populated with Nemo, Woody and Sulley. It is the first time in festival history that the award honors not just one filmmaker but an entire studio.
Pixar, founded in 1986 and based in northern California, pioneered digital computer animation and has made 10 feature films to date, four of which have won Oscars since the animation category was introduced in 2001.
"We really set out to deeply entertain an audience, not just children but adults as well," Lasseter told reporters Sunday.
Lasseter said he was "tremendously honored" that the festival chose to give the award to the team of five Pixar directors, including Brad Bird ("Ratatouille" and "The Incredibles"), Pete Docter ("Up" and "Monsters Inc."), Andrew Stanton ("Finding Nemo" and "Wall-E"), and Lee Unkrich ("Toy Story 3"). Lasseter directed the first two "Toy Story" movies and "Cars."
"Filmmaking and animation is one of the most collaborative art forms there is in the world, and it is never more collaborative than it is at Pixar," Lasseter said.
Lasseter posed with life-size Carl and Russell, the stars of Pixar's latest runaway hit "Up" on a red carpet imprinted with the Italian logos for Pixar's hits, "The Incredibles," "Up," "Finding Nemo" and the upcoming "Toy Story 3," before receiving the Golden Lion from George Lucas, who helped launch Pixar.
"I think anybody else when they sell a company and the company goes on to be very successful, they would feel like they missed out," Lasseter said. "George Lucas is so proud of us and we are so thankful to him. He is a true visionary."
To mark the occasion, the festival premiered 3D versions of "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2," which are set for theatrical release in the U.S. later in the fall. Children given a rare invite to the festival usually reserved for adults grabbed up free kites and posed next to a life-size model of Woody made out of Legos. Some came dressed as scouts, in homage to Russell.
Pixar merged with Disney three years ago, making Lasseter chief creative for both Pixar and Disney animation, where he is reintroducing hand-drawn animation.
"I felt like if there is a studio in the world who should be doing the highest quality hand-drawn animation, it is the studio that started it all, Disney," Lasseter said.
A few minutes of the first project, "The Princess and the Frog," was screening Sunday evening at Venice, marking the first time it will be seen outside of Pixar, Lasseter said.
An upcoming Pixar film breaks the studio mold of male characters as the central protagonist after its successful string of beloved male figures, from Nemo to Woody to Lightning McQueen. Lasseter said "The Bear and the Bow" is Pixar's first fairy tale, a mother-daughter story set in Scotland and directed by filmmaker Brenda Chapman.
"We believe very strongly in having really strong female characters," Lasseter said, then explaining why it hasn't happened yet: "I mean you are looking at a bunch of guys up here."