Pixar’s John Lasseter says iPhone, GoPro could be next film breakthroughs

“John Lasseter remembers the years before he was considered a visionary,” James Rainey reports for Variety. “He told people he wanted to make a full length computer animated film. They told him it would never work.”

“Approaching the 20th anniversary of seminal animated hit ‘Toy Story,’ in November, Lasseter told an audience at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Tuesday that he sees a day when a winning full-length film will be produced by a filmmaker armed only with an iPhone or a GoPro,” Rainey reports. “‘People will tell you, ‘That’s not going to work,’ but yeah, that’s going to work,’ Lasseter said. ‘But the reason they say that is because it’s not what they are used to.'”

“He said the progress of film technology from weighty 35-milimeter cameras, to lighter steady-cams to, now, ubiquitous cell phones, would inevitably change the way films look and feel,” Rainey reports. “‘The GoPro and the iPhone are here,’ he said. ‘[They] give a vibrancy you have never been able to have before… I think a new film grammar is going to come with these things.'”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Of course, Lasseter is right.


  1. As a cinematographer & VFX guy I have to say it’s not about the gear, it’s about the writing, story, character and plotting. I made a movie with 4 Canon 60D’s and one 7D and told the crew “embrace the defects” which worked for this particular project. I also disagree with Lasseter in that I don’t want to limit myself with any recording tool, including iPhones & GoPros. Whole films have already been shot with iPhones so that’s nothing new but I would guess those filmmakers would rather not do it again. Your story and shooting conceit and the tools you select should all be considered. One size does not fit all.

      1. Which I have already taken full advantage of. It’s a bit of Lasseter hyperbole and I appreciate the filmmaker’s sentiment behind it but that’s not all there is to the shooting equation. There are also post requirements and the bit depth dynamic range of GoPro and iPhone fare is almost nil and can fall apart easily. So again it depends on the project, it’s subject matter and level of post ambition. Bottom line is most directors would rather look good than look cheap. But again I appreciate the inexpensive shooting sentiment coming from a much more expensive film recording background. The new decent 4K & HD tools already are cheap and liberating.

    1. Agreed, equipment still matters.

      I decided to make a film of the deep early universe. Exciting stuff.

      But after a few trials with the iPhone I had to switch to the Hubble. The iPhone zoom isn’t there yet. The features it still needs:

      1. gigapixels
      2. High resolution CCD fovea for dramatically better zoom
      3. adaptive atmospheric lens correction
      4. automatic Earth rotation correction
      5. Increased resolution/sensitivity by stitching multi-exposures
      6. preferably sensitivity to additional wavelengths.

      1. Inevitable.
      2. Inevitable, but a bit farther out.
      3. Software update for current static lens correction.
      4. Software update for existing optimal image stabilization.
      5. Software updates.
      6. Looks like the last is coming due to Apple’s patents on screens and cameras that can exchange “invisible” content without interfering with what people see on the screens.

      This all sounds sci fi, but who knows! There may come a time soon when an iPhone alone can do amateur astronomy.

  2. AHEM:

    How one of the best films at Sundance was shot using an iPhone 5S
    A breakout hit made with an $8 app

    Tangerine, a breakout hit from this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is full of surprises. There’s the subject matter: transgender prostitutes working in a not-so glamorous part of Hollywood. And there are the characters: flinty, funny, nobody’s victim. But the story behind the camera is as surprising as what’s in front of it. Particularly because the camera used to shoot Tangerine was the iPhone 5S.


      1. The production team that shot that Sundance hit is that, while they may have used iPhone 5s to shoot the video, they had tons of other expensive (audio, light) that was used during the shooting, in order to make the film look good. Substituting the iPhone with a better DSLR (such as Canon T4i or 60D) would have affected the budget very little, but would have also robbed the producers of an exceptionally powerful promotional gimmick: “We shot the entire film on an iPhone!” Make no mistake: the film succeeded at Sundance because of its story, but the publicity it gained (after, as well as before Sundance) was in great part due to the iPhone gimmick.

        The main point Lassiter is trying to make remains, though: today’s technology has advanced far enough that today, hundreds of millions of people are walking around with a near film-quality video camera in their pockets. Anyone can be a filmmaker…

          1. There are many filmmakers, especially the kind that started independently, such as Tarrantino, Rodriguez or Burns, who claim that you don’t need to make a film before you can call yourself a filmmaker.

            As for my own book, ‘Filmmaker’ is a term of fairly little meaning. Anyone can use it for any purpose and it really doesn’t define anything of importance.

        1. One of the most important parts is sound. If not the most important. You need good microphones as close to the actors as possible. I know of only one adaptor that lets you put a good mic on an iPhone. Lightning is at the top too. It’ easier to fix too light than too dark. Of course what the camera is attached to is at the top of the list. One great thing about small cameras is you can put them in tight spaces and achieve some great angles.

          1. Totally agree. Sound is much more important than image quality. People will easily forgive (if not even ignore) poorly exposed or poorly focused images, but will walk out (or click away) if they are struggling to understand the dialogue.

            Which is rather ironic when one things that on every film set, sound crew is always well below the camera crew. Most go / no-go decisions are made based on the issues related to visuals (overcast, “golden hour”, strong shadows from sun…), while sound crew’s objections (animal noise, traffic noise, wind noise…) are either ignored or rationalised away (“we’ll fix it in the post, or we’ll ADR it”…).

    1. WAX: We are the X

      This was shot mostly with an iPhone 4S (with some shots requiring a GoPro).

      It was a fabulous film and I didn’t even realize that it was shot with an iPhone until afterwards when the director was talking about the production. They didn’t do any promotion or publicity about the fact that it was done using an iPhone (they seemed almost embarrassed about it).

      There’s a documentary about the production that was still being shot at the Cinequest Film Festival. It should be pretty interesting when it comes out.

      I joked with the director about the use of a significantly older iPhone during the after party and suggested the next time he should check with me because I’d be more than willing to loan him an more recent iPhone.

  3. The technology revolution radically lowered the barrier of entry. For an independent filmmaker to make a movie twenty years ago, the sine qua non requirement was at least $20k for film and processing fees. Even if you borrow everything (camera, lights, audio, editing suite, etc), you still had to have tons of cash to buy the film and develop it. And even then, the quality of your result was dependent on the quality of the camera (and lenses) you were able to borrow.

    Sub- $1,000 DSLR (and video) cameras have largely eliminated any mandatory up-front expenses. If you can find a way to borrow everything, you can produce a film at no cost.

    That iPhone (or GoPro) can substitute to just one piece of gear that is necessary to produce a film. While it is quite possible to do it with just an iPhone (and a MacBook Air), the limitations are significant. You’d be constrained to shooting only where there is plenty of light; you’d have to think creatively in order to capture good quality audio; and iMovie would present many additional limitations in what you could do with the material.

    Professional gear (and plenty of money in the budget) allow for many creative choices, which in the end result in a more appealing film.

    However, as peterblood71 said above, the bottom line will always be good storytelling. With a good script and a talented team (director, cinematographer, cast), the film will captivate its audience. Skilled and experienced professionals will know how to overcome significant limitations of inexpensive devices, but ultimately all of it is secondary to a good story.

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