August 18, 2005


Joe Ranft, circa 1989, pinning sketches to a THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER storyboard. Image from John Canemaker's wonderful book, "Paper Dreams"

I had hoped to start this blog later and under different circumstances, but a tragic event compelled me to post. A few days ago the world lost Joe Ranft, the head of story at Pixar Animation Studios, friend and father, husband and brother. It's a terrible tragedy and by the outpouring of sympathy across the internet, he'll be well missed. He contributed to nearly every film of the second golden age of animation; nearly every film of my childhood.

I met Joe once, and we spoke, but only for a moment. I recall him being warm, laid back, tall and affable. He inquired about my life in high school theatre as he looked over my drawings; what could be better!, I thought. I described stories I was developing: adaptions of childrens books and operas; short films about enigmatic french children and prom dresses and sad moms and steely accountants. "How do you feel about action?" he asked. "Comedies?" He asked about my sensibilities and as we chatted, it became clear that in story, the entirety of the world could come into view if you met it with openness and curiosity. Today, I still approach the world with humility, with empathy: I hope that will make itself clear in my work to come.

Years ago, Pixar posted an interview wherein Joe described his process. In it, he makes one of the most insightful suggestions about drawing I've heard—and it's what I continue to live and swear by:

"Try to draw something that connects with people. Draw things that connect with yourself and try to express that through your drawings so that other people get it. At Pixar, it has to do with character. Whether it's an individual character that you're trying to find the expression of, or the character of the environment. How does it feel? What does it evoke in others? Is it funny, sad, beautiful, irritating, claustrophobic, invigorating? Work on creating expressive drawings—drawings that feel like they're alive."

I think this says a lot about who Joe was and what he valued; we should all aspire to as much.

The first of many