“I don’t know if people really understand what I do…” Those were the words of Joe Ranft in a 1998 interview. “I do story for animation…I’m kind of a writer…I draw…I’m the voice of Heimlich.”
Joe Ranft was born in Pasadena, California on March 13, 1960 and grew up interested in movies, drawing, theater and magic. Following his graduation from high school in 1978 he enrolled in the California Institute of the Arts. After two years he left Cal Arts and went to work for Walt Disney Studios and set about establishing his credentials as a story artist. Once at Disney he received training from one of Walt’s “Nine Old Men”, Eric Lawson. Of Lawson, he said, “Eric always reminds me of…the fundamental things.” And it was a lesson well learned as his time was spent mostly drawing storyboards. His contributions for Disney included work on Oliver & Company, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Beauty and the Beast, and others.
While at Disney he met John Lasseter. In the early ‘90s, Joe left Disney and joined Lasseter at Pixar where he was story supervisor on Toy Story. This earned him an Academy Award nomination for best original screenplay. He played a role in all of the Pixar feature animation projects providing story supervision on Toy Story 2, story material for Monsters, Inc., and story on Cars. He contributed vocal talent to both Toy Story projects, A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Cars.
Joe Ranft died tragically in an automobile accident on August 16, 2005.
In remembering their colleague, John Lasseter said that “Joe had a great passion for telling stories, and he told them better than anyone.” Pete Docter said, “Joe was really a major part of Pixar’s soul…” The movie Cars and Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride are dedicated to him.
By now, many of us are familiar with that first preview of WALL·E which begins with the story of four men setting in a café talking about stories. One of those men was Joe Ranft and one of the stories was WALL·E. When we rush out to the cinemas on June 27th, we will witness a portion of the storytelling legacy of Joe Ranft.
Joe was honored posthumously as a Disney Legend in 2006.