'JOE RANFT * Animation
Telling stories in one form or another was Joe Ranft's lifelong passion. Born in 1960 in Pasadena, he grew up in Whittier, where his early interests included movies, drawing, performing in school plays, and doing sleight-of- hand magic.
Joe was widely respected as one of the top story artists in the animation industry. He was one of seven writers nominated for an Academy AwardŽ for best original screenplay for Toy Story, but Ranft spent most of his time drawing storyboards for animated films.
"I don't know if people really understand what I do," Joe said in a 1998 interview. "When I say that I do story for animation, they say, 'Oh, you're a writer!' If I tell them I'm kind of a writer, but I draw, they get this puzzled look. But when I say, 'I'm the voice of Heimlich,' the light bulb goes on and they say, 'Oh, great!'"
(Ranft got the role as Heimlich in A Bug's Life after John Lasseter noticed that his wife, Nancy, laughed harder at Ranft's temporary dialogue during production than she did at the actor hired to voice the caterpillar.)
Ranft entered the character animation program at California Institute of the Arts in the fall of 1978. As a student, he was inspired by Bill Peet's storyboards from the 1946 Disney feature Song of the South.
Joe left CalArts for The Walt Disney Studios in 1980, where he quickly established a reputation as an exceptional story artist, contributing to Oliver & Company (1988), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), Beauty and the Beast (1991), The Lion King (1994) and Fantasia/2000. He oversaw the story on The Rescuers Down Under (1990). While at Disney, he had become friends with John Lasseter, who became the top creative executive at Pixar Animation Studios.
Ranft moved to Pixar to serve as story supervisor on Lasseter's Toy Story, the first computer-animated feature. His understanding of story structure and his talent for creating emotionally complex characters that audiences cared about won him a place in the core group of artists at Pixar.
"Joe was really a major part of Pixar's soul," says Pete Docter, director of Monsters, Inc. "He was one of the key players who made all the films what they are."
Ranft served as story supervisor on Toy Story 2 (1999) and provided the voice for Wheezy the asthmatic penguin. He was credited with additional story material for Monsters, Inc. (2001) and oversaw the story on Lasseter's Cars (2006).
Joe Ranft was killed in an automobile accident on August 16, 2005. A longtime resident of Marin County, he is survived by his wife, Su, their children, Jordan and Sophia -- and a legendary storytelling legacy. "