John Lasseter is wearing a Hawaiian shirt and looks as colourful as a cartoon. A two-time Oscar winner, and creative head of both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, he's the mastermind behind an astonishing roll call of family favourites. He is in Hong Kong to unveil Pixar and Disney's animation slate for the next two years. The first movie to hit our screens will be Disney's Big Hero 6 , a comedy-adventure that premiered at the Tokyo International Film Festival in October and is up for an Oscar for best animated feature. Lasseter's sandy yellow shirt is decorated with characters from the film. "Isn't it awesome?" he says, in a suite in the InterContinental hotel, in Tsim Sha Tsui. "I've got over 1,000 Hawaiian shirts with about 370 in what I call 'active rotation'." Some years ago, Lasseter's wife, Nancy, suggested that every morning he choose a shirt to complement the work planned for that day. "So I started filing my shirts in my closet by subject matter. I have a section on automobiles, general tropical, mid-century modern, holiday, Disney, Pixar. I love them!" At Pixar, the animation giant he helped to build, Lasseter directed Toy Story , A Bug's Life , Toy Story 2 , Cars and Cars 2 , and executive produced, among others, Monsters, Inc , Finding Nemo , The Incredibles , Ratatouille , Wall-E , Up , Toy Story 3 and Brave . In 2006, Lasseter took on a second job, at Disney - the studio that had fired him 22 years earlier and which had been on a losing streak for some time. He has completely revitalised the company, serving as executive producer on all its subsequent output, including Bolt , The Princess and the Frog , Tangled , Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen , which won Disney its first Oscar for best animated feature and became the highest-grossing animated film of all time. Big Hero 6 is the first animated film to star characters drawn from Marvel, the comic book company Disney acquired in 2009. Set in a fictional metropolis called San Fransokyo (guess which two cities that's a futuristic mash-up of …), the movie is gorgeously rendered using a new system that produces images with a greater photo-realistic quality than ever before. The bright lights and gleaming towers of the Japanese capital are grafted onto California's breathtaking landscape; the Golden Gate Bridge is book-ended by the traditional red torii gates that guard the entrance to Shinto temples. "I love Tokyo, I love Hong Kong," says Lasseter. "Asia has one foot in tradition and history, with its temples and art, alongside the most incredibly futuristic things. That juxtaposition has always been a real inspiration to me." The stars of the movie are Hiro Hamada, a young robotics prodigy, and Baymax, his giant, inflatable, squashy balloon of a robot - like a smooth-skinned Michelin man but much cuddlier. When a devastating event puts Hiro in danger he recruits Baymax and four nerdy friends - the "big hero six" of the title (there have not been five previous Big Hero movies) - and transforms them into a team of hi-tech crime fighters. " Big Hero 6 celebrates science and education," says Lasseter. "The super-heroes in this film don't have any real superhero powers - they're just really bright kids with amazing technology." Funnily enough, many who know Lasseter well describe him in the same way. LASSETER DEVELOPED HIS LOVE of animation as a child, when he'd race home from school to watch Chuck Jones cartoons. "When I was 13, I read a book about Walt Disney and I thought, 'People actually make cartoons for a living? You can actually do that?' That's when I realised what I wanted to do." In 1975, Lasseter was studying at Pepperdine University, in Malibu, when he heard about a new character animation programme opening at the California Institute of the Arts. He made the switch and, on graduating with a degree in animation four years later, landed a job at Disney. His eyes were opened to the potential of computer animation in 1982, when he saw the "light cycle" sequence in the movie Tron . "Walt Disney was always striving to get more dimension in his animation and this was truly three-dimensional. I thought, 'That's what Walt was waiting for.' It was really cool-looking and I knew we could do amazing stuff with it." Lasseter threw himself into making a 30-second experimental short based on Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are , blending traditional hand-drawn animation with computer wizardry. His superiors at Disney didn't share his vision, however, and he was shown the exit. Shortly afterwards, Lasseter was offered a job by Ed Catmull, who was starting a computer division at George Lucas' Lucasfilm. The pair embarked on a collaboration that has lasted more than 30 years. In 1984, Lasseter broke new ground with the first fully computer-animated short, The Adventures of André and Wally B . Featuring complex flexible characters, hand-painted textures and motion blur, it sparked the film industry's interest in the new technology. Two years later, Lucasfilm's computer graphics division was bought by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and given a new name - Pixar. Over the next 10 years, Pixar evolved from being a computer company that made animated commercials on the side to a dedicated animation film studio, and the industry leader. To date, Pixar has won seven of the 11 Oscars that have been awarded for best animated feature and grossed more than US$8.5 billion in global box office receipts. Jobs gave Lasseter the freedom to experiment and innovate. "He loved the association with the artists at Pixar. He said, 'I can't tell a story like that animator, that artist. I know what I can do well, which is to guide them strategically.' He put his faith in us. He protected us and guided us from the business standpoint, and he did an amazing job. "He was awesome - he was like a brother to me. A lot of the stories that came out after his passing got him really wrong. One night he took me out for dinner and said, 'At Apple, when I make a computer, it has a lifespan of three years. In five years, it's literally a doorstop. But John, if you do your job right, what you create can last forever.'" Lasseter made his debut as a director in 1986 with Luxo Jr , a charming two-minute short in which an adult anglepoise lamp hovers protectively over an excited baby lamp hopping after a ball. The lamp was later adopted as Pixar's logo. Luxo Jr scooped a number of prestigious awards, including the silver bear at the Berlin Film Festival, and was the first computer-animated short to be nominated for an Academy Award in the best animated short film category. Two years later, Lasseter earned his first Oscar, for Tin Toy , a short about Tinny, a mechanical one-man-band toy, and Billy, a boisterous baby. Tinny is delighted that Billy wants to play with him but soon realises that Billy's a destructive boy. He dashes under the sofa, where he finds dozens of similarly terrified toys. With its toys that come to life, Tin Toy laid the groundwork for Toy Story , the 1995 film that marked computer animation's coming of age. Starring the good-natured, conscientious Woody and the deluded, irrepressible Buzz Lightyear, along with Mr Potato Head, Slinky Dog, Rex and an army of green plastic soldiers, Toy Story won acclaim from the critics and the hearts of movie-lovers worldwide. As the film's director, Lasseter collected his second Oscar, a special achievement award for "inspired leadership of the Pixar Toy Story team resulting in the first feature-length computer-animated film". Toy Story was inspired by Lasseter's passion for toys. He maintains a huge collection. "As I was growing up a lot of my friends stopped playing with toys, but I kept my Hot Wheels and my GI Joes. I loved them, you know?" But to go from loving toys to dreaming up Toy Story must have required a massive mental leap. Does Lasseter see the world differently to other people? "I love inanimate objects and I love bringing them to life as characters. So often people assume that you just slap a face on them and you're done. No. I have this simple philosophy: I always think that a man-made object is made for a purpose. And if that object were alive it would want to fulfil that purpose more than anything else. "Toys want to be played with by a child. They can get lost, they can get stolen, they can get broken and they can be outgrown. These things cause them anxieties. Toy Story came out of this kind of thinking." Lasseter believes that the best animators have excellent powers of observation and, as adults, maintain a childlike wonder in the way they look at the world. It's this unusual mix - combined with a professional rigour and perfectionism - that makes him a master of his craft. Is there a magic formula for a successful movie? "We have to do three things really well. No1 the story, No2 the characters and No3 the world. "The story has to be really compelling and it's got to be unpredictable, to keep people on the edge of their seats. We create stories in which the audience goes on the journey with the main character, and neither knows how it's going to end up." Lasseter strives to show the audience familiar things in a new way. "So, with Toy Story - everyone knows toys. We added the twist that when you're out of the room, the toys are alive. But we didn't give them a child's personality. We made them like adults with the job of being played with by a child. In fact, one of the deeper emotional aspects of the film is Woody's relationship with Andy, which was almost like a parental relationship." According to Lasseter, it was the toys continually evoking their toyness - think of Slinky Dog getting his spring tangled, Mr Potato Head constantly losing his body parts - that acted as a foil to their adult-style relationships and made the film so entertaining. "We then try to populate that story with really appealing and memorable characters." Lasseter says that during Disney's "second heyday", the era of The Little Mermaid and The Lion King , the main characters often had bland personalities because the studio was apprehensive about making them flawed. The juicy roles went to the villains and comic sidekicks. "When we started on Toy Story, we wanted the main characters to be the most interesting, so we focused on crafting Woody and Buzz Lightyear. "I like for us to pull from our own family experiences. We look at our own lives and our own kids to find the truisms." He builds complexity by exploring how children relate to others. "For Big Hero 6, it took a lot of work to get the relationship between Hiro and his older brother to feel true. They're very physical with each other, in a loving but roughhousing way. I had that with my brother and I see it with my sons," says Lasseter, the father of five boys. The next step is to create a world in which to place the characters and their story. "Not a realistic world, but believable for the story you're telling." To maintain the audience's conviction, Lasseter employs a curious logic that anchors his fictional universe to the world we know. In Luxo Jr , the baby lamp's dimensions were all reduced except for the bulb, because the bulb comes from a shop and is a standard size. In Toy Story , the green plastic soldiers strike out on manoeuvres, but they are toys so their legs remain immobile, permanently moulded to their oval bases. The other key ingredients are a large dollop of emotion and a generous splash of humour. "We always want emotion in our films and that's usually connected to the growth of the main character - how they change through the movie and what they learn. And we want it to be funny. The humour comes not just from funny lines but from the personalities and putting them in certain situations. "We strive to create a movie that adults and kids, male and female audiences, will like. A lot of people think animation's just for kids but that's not true. Walt Disney never made a movie just for kids." IN 2006, THE WALT DISNEY Company bought Pixar for US$7.4 billion. Disney chief executive Bob Iger appointed Lasseter as chief creative officer (and Catmull as president) of both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. Having limped through the 2000s with a series of flops, the studio had lost its mojo. The top brass were considering a move away from animation, believing the world had grown too cynical for the art form. Lasseter disagreed. "I said, 'No!' Hollywood is cynical but the world needs these stories. What I wanted to do was bring back the classic Disney fairy tale but tell it for today's audiences." Lasseter reinvigorated the ailing studio with a string of successful movies, including The Princess and the Frog , Bolt and Tangled . His hot streak culminated last year with Frozen . The wintry tale of sisterly love and loyalty has earned global box office receipts of more than US$1.25 billion, making it the most successful animation and the fifth highest grossing film in history. A tribute to girl-style gutsiness, Frozen was part of a deliberate modernisation strategy aimed at making Disney's output relevant to a contemporary audience. "My wife is incredibly strong, my mother was incredibly strong, I'm surrounded by strong female producers and associates at Pixar and Disney. I don't know one female who's sitting around waiting for a guy to come and save her," says Lasseter. "I call Frozen the anti-Disney princess movie. We lured everyone into thinking it was going to be your typical love story but we flipped the conventions in so many ways." Frozen 's glacial world was conjured from extensive research. Artists were dispatched to Norway to survey the mountains, fjords, architecture and culture; art and lighting teams booked into an ice hotel to investigate how light reflects and refracts on snow and ice; staff - both male and female - practised walking, running and falling in deep snow while wearing long skirts. The studio even brought in a live reindeer to help animators model the character Sven. "We do a tremendous amount of research before making any film to try and get the details right," says Lasseter. "For Finding Nemo , I made sure everybody became scuba divers so they could experience the underwater world. For Big Hero 6 , the team met child prodigies and the experts who work with them." Disney's turnaround isn't only the consequence of an injection of creative energy and an updated approach to storytelling. Although the two studios are entirely separate, Lasseter transplanted philosophies and working practices he'd developed at Pixar and profoundly restructured the way creative talent is nurtured and managed at Disney. He and Catmull converted it from an executive-driven studio to a filmmaker-driven one. Ideas used to be generated by development executives and handed down to filmmakers; now directors pitch their own ideas to Lasseter. At Pixar, every project is workshopped through the Brain Trust. After the team who made Toy Story spiralled off to work on their own projects, the group continued to meet to review each others' work and provide feedback in the form of notes. "We were like best friends and we really trusted each other," says Lasseter. "We always spoke on an equal level and we all knew the others were being honest." As the studio grew, this informal arrangement took on a formal structure and evolved into the Brain Trust. When Lasseter took the helm at Disney, he discovered that development executives ("people who'd never actually made films before") were giving the directors notes that were mandatory but often contradictory. The directors were often too busy implementing those changes to focus on the movie they were supposed to be making. So, he did away with the existing hierarchies and introduced a similar system to that at Pixar, called the Story Trust. "We are a group of peers. None of our notes are mandatory and my notes have no more importance than an animator's notes." The trust meets every three months and everyone reviews everyone else's work. "True honesty is really, really hard! When someone has spent months working on a set of story reels, and they've put their heart and soul into it, and it's just not working, it's hard to be brutally honest. But you have to be. And it's really rough for the person hearing it, but they have to say, 'They're not doing it just to beat me up, or to show that they're in charge, they're doing it out of love for this movie and wanting this movie to be the best it can be.'" Lasseter says it took two years for the team to have faith in the process and be honest with each other: "In my opinion, there's no other way of working. If you're surrounded by yes men, you're going to make a terrible movie. "I always want to tell people they're doing a good job. It means something to hear that from your boss. I give them a hug - it's who I am. At Pixar they call it John Juice - it's encouragement. Hugs are great, hugs are like medicine." Industry insiders have tipped Big Hero 6 as a strong contender for next year's Oscar for best animated feature. Are awards important to him? "They're nice. Everyone has their own personal sense of satisfaction, of a job well done. For some people it's nominations and Oscars, for others it's box office figures. For me, satisfaction comes from watching an audience watch a movie and being truly, deeply entertained. That's why I do what I do. I have the best job in the world." Big Hero 6 goes on general release in Hong Kong on Thursday . Seven animated films to look out for in 2015 and beyond Upcoming Pixar Animation Studios releases: Inside Out , in which the characters are each of the emotions felt by an 11-year-old everygirl called Riley. The Good Dinosaur is set in a world in which the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs missed Earth, and the massive animals are now in charge. It's both a coming-of-age tale and a boy-and-his-dog story that flips the convention on its head, with a boy as the dog and a dinosaur as the boy (it'll all make sense when you see it). Finding Dory , in which we learn the answer to the question the blue tang fish asked in Finding Nemo: "Where is my family?" Lava is a musical love story, inspired by tropical islands and ocean volcanoes, that takes place over millions of years. John Lasseter also unveiled plans to be back in the director's chair for Toy Story 4 . Upcoming Walt Disney Animation Studios releases: Zootopia is due for release in 2016 and follows a fast-talking wily fox and a self-righteous police rabbit. Moana is about a spirited teenager from the South Pacific embarking on an impossible mission to accomplish her ancestors' quest to find a fabled island.