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Joe Ranft
Born Joseph Henry Ranft
March 13, 1960(1960-03-13)
Pasadena, California, United States
Died August 16, 2005 (aged 45)
Mendocino County, California, United States
Occupation Screenwriter, animator, storyboard artist, voice actor, director and magician
Years active 1982–2005
Spouse(s) Sue Barry (1995-2005)

Joseph Henry "Joe" Ranft (March 13, 1960 – August 16, 2005) was an American animator, storyboard artist, voice actor and magician who worked for Pixar and Disney. His brother Jerome Ranft is a sculptor who also worked on several Pixar movies.


Early life

Ranft was born Joseph Henry Ranft on March 13, 1960 in Pasadena, California,[1] but raised in Whittier, California. As a child Ranft developed a love for magic, storytelling, film and comedy. At 15, he became a member of the Magic Castle Junior Group. After graduating from Monte Vista High School, Whittier, in 1978, Ranft began studying in the character animation program at the California Institute of the Arts alongside John Lasseter and Brad Bird.[1] After two years, Ranft's student film Good Humor caught the attention of Disney animation executives, who offered him a job.


In 1980 Ranft joined Disney as a writer and storyboard artist. During his first five years with Disney, Ranft worked on a number of television projects[1] that never got made. Later in his Disney career, he was bumped up into the Feature Animation department, where he was mentored by Eric Larson. Ranft later said of training under the Disney legend: "He always reminds me of just the fundamental things that I tend to forget. You know it like, animation is so complex; 'How many drawings are in there?' and stuff, but Eric always comes back to like; 'What does the audience perceive?'" [2] Around this time, he studied under and began performing with the improvisational group, The Groundlings. He stayed with Disney throughout the 1980s, writing the story on many animated features including Oliver & Company, The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. He also worked on The Brave Little Toaster in 1987 for Hyperion Animation and James and the Giant Peach in 1996 for Allied Filmmakers[1]

Ranft reunited with Lasseter when he was hired by Pixar in 1991 as their head of story.[1] There he worked on all of their films produced up to 2006; this included Toy Story (for which he received an Academy Award nomination) and A Bug's Life, as the co-story writer and others as story supervisor. His final film was Cars. He also voiced characters in many of the films, including Heimlich the caterpillar in A Bug's Life, Wheezy the penguin in Toy Story 2 and Jacques the shrimp in Finding Nemo.[1]

In the movie Monsters, Inc., Ranft had a monster named after him (J.J. Ranft) as most of the Scarers in the film were named for Pixar staff.

He voiced the following Pixar characters:

  • Toy Story - Lenny the Binoculars
  • A Bug's Life - Heimlich the Caterpillar
  • Toy Story 2 - Wheezy the Penguin (speaking voice only, singing voice provided by Robert Goulet)
    • Joe Ranft did the same voice of this character in the beginning of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins
  • Monsters, Inc. - additional voices (including Peter "Claws" Ward)
  • Finding Nemo - Jacques the Shrimp and Bill, Tad's father
  • The Incredibles - additional voices
  • Cars - Red, the fire truck, and Peterbilt

He was also given lead story credit on 1987's The Brave Little Toaster and voiced Elmo St. Peters, the appliance salesman.

His favorite writers were Kurt Vonnegut, Hunter S. Thompson, and Tom Wolfe.


On August 16, 2005 Ranft was riding as a passenger in his 2004 Honda Element when the driver, Elegba Earl, lost control and crashed through the guard rail while heading northbound on Highway 1. The car plunged 130 feet into the mouth of the Navarro River in Mendocino County, California. Both Ranft and Earl were killed in the fall. Another passenger, Eric Frierson, survived by escaping through the sun roof and was hospitalized with moderate injuries.[3][4]

Ranft is survived by his wife of 10 years, Susan, and their children, Jordan and Sophia. He died during production of Cars, which he co-directed. The film and tie-in game are dedicated to his memory, as is Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, which Ranft executive produced. Henry Selick called him "the story giant of our generation."[4]

In Henry Selick's production of Coraline, the moving truck that moves Coraline into her new apartment is emblazoned with the logo for "Ranft Moving, Inc.", named in honor of the late animator. The movers themselves are modeled after Joe and Jerome, and Jerome Ranft voices one of the movers.

Selected filmography


External links

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