Home / Pixar’s Story Board Master Joe Ranft Dies

Pixar’s Story Board Master Joe Ranft Dies

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r.i.p.:  Joe Ranft (1960-2005)

       You’ve gotta love the penguins. 

This year’s surprise hit March of the Penguins is nothing new; the cute flightless birds have been used as an endearing part of family entertainment for a long time.  Even when mischievous, as they are in Batman Returns, The Wrong Trousers, and the recent Madagascar, penguins are lovable.  None are quite as adorable, however, as Wheezy, the broken squeeze toy in Toy Story 2.  Sadly the man responsible for giving us that character, in design and in voice, has been killed.

Story man Joe Ranft, who worked on ideas and storyboards for Walt Disney and Pixar, died in a car crash Tuesday afternoon. In addition to the creative designs he provided for films including Beauty and the Beast and Toy Story (for which he earned an Oscar nomination), he was known best as the voice of Heimlich in A Bug’s Life and more recently as Jacques in Finding Nemo.

I feel a little connection to Ranft, who followed the career path that I had once planned.  A fellow Piscean and Kurt Vonnegut fan, he spent his childhood practicing magic before attending CalArts in the late ’70s.  This was the same time that the school, famous for its cultivation of animators, was fostering the talents of Tim Burton, John Lassiter, Brad Bird, Gary Trousdale and Henry Selick.  After two years there, Ranft was recruited by Disney.  He also studied with the legendary comedy group The Groundlings, which featured Paul "Pee-Wee Herman" Reubens, Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz and Bob Saget.  He credited that improvisational education as a major asset in his development as a storyboard artist.  Eventually he became, as director Peter Docter (Monsters, Inc.) calls him, "the undisputed storyboard master at Pixar".

Joe Ranft was a terrific example of the uncelebrated pieces that form a great film.  He was praised enough in his field to able those unfamiliar with his contributions to discover that he concocted the realtionship between Lumiere the candlestick and Cogsworth the clock in Beauty and the Beast and actualized the entire army men sequence for Toy Story.  He never aspired to be more than a great story-boarder, and in his career as one of the best, he gave the position a significant respect.  Now that he’s gone, we can hope that his success inspires other collaborators to remain as humble and aids in the construction of more great films. 

LA Times Obituary   

Salon.com Interview

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  • Great job on this sad story, FC — it sounds like you had a real connection with this artist.

  • Frank Ranft

    Didn’t kno Joe Ranft – tho fasinated by his technique, kindly face and well kno deeds, contributions – TOY STORY – need to kno more – Am Civil Engineer (probaly fairly well known still in Civil Engineering circles) – interested in STORY BOARDING NEW ORLEANS REDEVELOPMENT that way – Both Katrina and Camile tracked same ‘destructive path’ thru Placamine, (SP) and prospect strong that both spun north from Lake Poncetrain (sp) after twisting there, just north of City Limits, for bit, VACUM CLEANER LIKE, bag open at the top. Feature allowing all described to happen – including FLOODING, thought to be tied to presence of comparatively shallow ‘PLESTICIN’ (sp) it ‘showin’ whole area north of New Orlens to as far as Kingston, Jamaica – that I kno of, for sure; it a STIFF mottled Bown and Grey IMPERVIOUS Clay, indicating once above sea level ‘all there’ and present about ten feet below the ground surface bit North of Donaldsonville, where Chevron refinery located to perhaps 30 feet or so deep, below the water, at Lake Pontcetrain – and about 120 feet below the water surface where I saw it in Kingston Harbor, at ESSO REFINERY SITE there. (Plecticine and liz Taylor, honeymooning with her then current Love there then) Story Boarding to include Strong Barrier at Placimine, for minimizing wave front buildup, it protroding above Sea Level like the Dutch ‘arranged’ for protection of people and property, so easily installed since ground so soft above the Plecticine, everywhere I saw it.

    COE not of the same ‘spirit’ as Joe & me – and certainly could use John Lassiters help in projecting a real solution, and, reenabling a Profession surely in need of the sort of PUSH Story Boarding apt to provide in Getting NEW ORLEANS REDEVELOPMENT RIGHT for a change.
    Frank Ranft