Joe Ranft was the Oscar-nominated chief writer at Pixar Animation Studios and one of those responsible for the digital animation company's assembly line of blockbuster box-office hits such as Toy Story (1995), Finding Nemo (2003) and The Incredibles (2004).
Ranft was born in 1960 and raised in southern California, and his boyhood passions encompassed film, magic, storytelling and comedy improvisations, a combination that, he said, "all wove together into animation". At the age of 18, Ranft attended the California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts), the traditional training ground for filmmakers. His timing was perfect: animation was on the cusp of a digital renaissance, with 3-D computer-generated imaging (CGI) as the catalyst, and Cal Arts was at the cutting edge. Among his fellow students there were John Lasseter, future creative head of Pixar, and Brad Bird, who would direct The Incredibles.
On graduation in 1980, Ranft joined Walt Disney Feature Animation as a "story man" (storyboard artist/writer) on television specials. From there, he moved on to become a writer on films such as Oliver & Company (1988), The Rescuers Down Under (1990), Beauty and the Beast (1991) and The Lion King (1994). He also tackled non-Disney projects such as The Brave Little Toaster (1987) for Hyperion Animation and James and the Giant Peach (1996) for Allied Filmmakers, before being headhunted by Lasseter in 1991 to become Pixar's head of story.
It was at this point that Ranft's career really took off: as story supervisor, his name was associated with most of the big animation hits of the past decade, including Toy Story (for which he was nominated for an Oscar), A Bug's Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters, Inc (2001), Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. His love of comedy improvisation also led him into supplying many character voices for the films, such as for Heimlich the greedy caterpillar in A Bug's Life, Wheezy the asthmatic penguin in Toy Story 2 and Jacques the eager cleaner shrimp in Finding Nemo.
He was regarded as the foremost storyboard writer and artist of his generation, and in 2000 his peers awarded him an "Annie" (the animation industry's equivalent of the Oscars) for his work on Toy Story 2. The film critic Leonard Maltin summed up Ranft's contribution:
Great storytelling is the foundation of every successful animated feature, and no one understood that better than Joe. . . he was one of the architects of Disney's animation renaissance and Pixar's emergence.
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