“As soon as I heard the concept, I actually was kind of jealous,” Mr. Lasseter said. “It’s a subject that every single person in the world has a relationship with, and that is very rare in a basic concept of a movie.”
But he ultimately threw out almost everything and started over. The primary cast now includes Jane Fonda, who voices a pink dragon who can sniff out bad luck, and Whoopi Goldberg, who plays a droll leprechaun taskmaster. Flula Borg (“Pitch Perfect 2”) voices the overweight, bipedal unicorn, who is a major scene stealer.
“Sometimes you have to take a building down to its foundation and, frankly, in this case, down to its lot,” Mr. Lasseter said.
Mr. Lasseter did not invent the concept of doing real-world research to inform animated stories and artwork, but he is known for pushing far beyond what is typically done. For “Luck,” he had researchers dig into what constitutes good luck and bad luck in myriad cultures; the filmmaking team also researched the foster care system, which informed part of the story. (The lead character grows up in foster care and is repeatedly passed over for adoption.)
As at Pixar and at Disney, Mr. Lasseter set up a “story trust” council at Skydance in which a group of elite directors and writers candidly and repeatedly critique one another’s work. The Skydance Animation version will soon include Brad Bird, a longtime Pixar force (“The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille”) who recently joined Mr. Lasseter’s operation to develop an original animated film called “Ray Gunn.”
Ms. Holmes said Mr. Lasseter was a nurturing creative force, not a tyrannical one.
“John will give you notes on sequences,” she said. “He will suggest dialogue. He will comment on color or timing or effects. He’ll pitch story ideas. He’ll draw something — ‘Oh, maybe it could look like this.’