Joe Ranft

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“Joe had a great passion for telling stories, and he told them better than anyone,” John Lasseter says. “He was funny, poignant, original, and he had an infallible sense for how to structure a story.” – John Lasseter

“Joe was really a major part of Pixar’s soul.,” He was one of the key players who made all the films what they are.” – Pete Docter

Joseph Henry Ranft was born March 13, 1960 in Pasadena, California. Just like John Lasseter, Joe grew up in Whittier, California and exhibited a fondness for magic tricks, the accordion and art. His parents were very supportive and would encourage Joe’s interest in the arts by buying him paint and brushes and driving him to art classes. In grammar school, Joe even won a local art contest, which helped further his interest.

Joe also loved playing around and making people laugh. He would entertain his friends by memorizing routines by Monty Python, Cheech & Chong movies and imitating Warner Bros. Cartoons. Joe loved to read books and Mad Magazine. He gravitated toward anything that was subversive or satirical in nature.

After graduating from Monte Vista High School, in 1978, Ranft began studying in the character animation program at the California Institute of the Arts. While Joe was a freshman, he met seniors John Lasseter and Brad Bird and this led to a lifelong friendship with Lasseter. After two years, Ranft’s student film Good Humor caught the attention of Disney animation executives, who thought it was funny and offered him a job.

After working on various projects at Disney that never got off the ground, Ranft received his major credits for screenwriter, screen story, and a key voice on the critically acclaimed 1987 animated feature The Brave Little Toaster. Joe subsequently help craft the story on Disney minor and major classics such as Oliver and Company, The Rescuers Down Under, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Beauty and the Beast, The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Lion King and Fantasia 2000.

Joe joined his old friend, John Lasseter at Pixar in 1992 to work on Toy Story. Joe’s involvement was integral to the film as he storyboarded the green army men scene (with Bud Luckey), Sid’s room and toys (with Jeff Pidgeon) and the climactic chase scene (with Andrew Stanton) amongst other sequences. Ranft became a co-writer on that feature (for which he earned an Oscar nomination). He subsequently left to work on Henry Selick’s James and the Giant Peach before returning to Pixar for the remainder of his career.

Upon his return, Ranft co-wrote the smash hit A Bug’s Life and worked as story editor on Toy Story 2. Joe was rewarded with an “Annie” for his work on Toy Story 2.

In addition to story duties, Ranft was memorable providing the voices of Heimlich in A Bug’s Life and Wheezy the Penguin in Toy Story 2. Joe served as story artist on Pete Docter’s Monsters, Inc. and voiced Jacques the Shrimp in Finding Nemo.

Joe was heavily involved in all facets of John Lasseter’s next directorial film, Cars. In addition to the original story and screenplay, Ranft was integral to the character development (with fan favorite, Mater being one shining example) and served as co-director on the film. Cars was a huge success upon its release in the summer of 2006, but tragically, Ranft did not live to see it happen.

Joe Ranft was killed in an automobile accident on August 16, 2005. A longtime resident of Marin County, he is survived by his wife, Sue and their children, Jordan and Sophia. He was 45.

“Joe was the story giant of our generation.” “He could do these beautiful sweet gags for a family film and then do these weird, depraved cartoons of anyone who needed to be skewered.” “We’d do hundreds of drawings, and Joe was always the guy who was able to go back in and say, ‘This is about the process; let’s try it again.’ ” – Henry Selick

Filmography

  • Sport Goofy in Soccermania. (1986) (original story)
  • Brave Little Toaster (1986) (original story, screenplay, storyboard artist, directing animator)
  • Oliver & Company (1988) (original story)
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1989) (storysketch artist: animation)
  • The Little Mermaid (1989) (storyboard artist)
  • The Rescuers Down Under (1990) (screenplay, story supervisor)
  • Back to the Future: Animated Series (1991) (storyboard artist)
  • Beauty and the Beast (1991) (original story)
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) (storyboard supervisor)
  • The Lion King (1994) (original story)
  • Toy Story (1995) (original story)
  • James and the Giant Peach (1996) (storyboard supervisor)
  • The Brave Little Toaster to the Rescue (1997) (additional characters)
  • A Bug’s Life (1998) (original¬†story, story supervisor, voice of Heimlich)
  • Toy Story 2 (1999) (story supervisor, voice of Wheezy)
  • Fantasia 2000 (1999) (additional art: story)
  • Monsters, Inc. (2001) (additional story material, story artist)
  • Corpse Bride (2005) (executive producer)
  • Cars (2006) (original story, screenplay, co-director)
  • Mater and the Ghostlight (2006) (original story, end credits designer)

Tidbits

  • As a student, Joe was inspired by Bill Peet’s storyboards from the 1946 Disney feature Song of the South.
  • Both Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride and Cars are dedicated to his memory.
  • His brother Jerome Ranft works as a sculptor at Pixar.
  • In Henry Selick’s Coraline, the moving truck proudly displays “Ranft Moving, Inc.”, named in honor of Joe. The movers are modeled after Joe and Jerome. Jerome even agreed to voice one of the movers.
  • There’s a great tribute to Joe over at Facebook. It includes pictures and many remembrances from family and friends.
  • Joe’s love of magic is remembered in this loving tribute at the Toy Story Midway Mania queue at Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios.

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Interviews

2719 Hyperion – April 23, 1999

Pixar – Artist’s Corner – January, 2002

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