- "Joe was really a major part of Pixar’s soul - he was one of the key players who made all the films what they are."
- —Pete Docter
Joe Ranft (March 13, 1960 - August 16, 2005) was a key creative member of Pixar and was one of the original members of the Brain Trust. He was a screenwriter, animator, storyboard artist, voice actor, and magician.
Joseph Henry Ranft was born on March 13, 1960 in Pasadena, California. Just like John Lasseter, Ranft grew up in Whittier, California and exhibited a fondness for magic tricks, the accordion and art. His parents were very supportive and would encourage Ranft's interest in the arts by buying him paint and brushes and driving him to art classes. In grammar school, Ranft even won a local art contest, which helped further his interest.
Ranft also loved playing around and making people laugh. He would entertain his friends by memorizing routines by Monty Python and imitating Cheech & Chong movies and Warner Bros. cartoons. Ranft loved to read books and Mad Magazine. He gravitated toward anything that was subversive or satirical in nature.
After graduating from Monte Vista High School in 1978, Ranft began studying in the character animation program at the California Institute of the Arts. While Ranft was a freshman, he met seniors John Lasseter and Brad Bird and this led to a lifelong friendship with Lasseter. After two years, Ranft's student film Good Humor caught the attention of Disney animation executives, who thought it was funny and offered him a job.
After working on various projects at Disney that never got off the ground, Ranft received his major credits for screenwriter, screen story, and a key voice on the critically-acclaimed 1987 animated feature The Brave Little Toaster. Ranft subsequently help craft the story on Disney minor and major classics such as Oliver and Company, The Rescuers Down Under, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Beauty and the Beast, The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Lion King, and Fantasia 2000.
Ranft joined his old friend, John Lasseter at Pixar in 1992 to work on Toy Story. Ranft’s involvement was integral to the film as he storyboarded the Green Army Men scene (with Bud Luckey), Sid's room and toys (with Jeff Pidgeon) and the climactic chase scene (with Andrew Stanton) amongst other sequences. Ranft became a co-writer on that feature (for which he earned an Oscar nomination). He subsequently left to work on Henry Selick's James and the Giant Peach before returning to Pixar for the remainder of his career.
In addition to story duties, Ranft was memorable providing the voices of Heimlich in A Bug's Life and Wheezy the Penguin in Toy Story 2. Ranft served as story artist on Pete Docter's Monsters, Inc. and voiced Jacques the Shrimp in Finding Nemo.
Ranft was heavily involved in all facets of John Lasseter's next directorial film, Cars. In addition to the original story and screenplay, Ranft was integral to the character development (with fan favorite, Mater being one shining example) and served as co-director on the film. Cars was a huge success upon its release in the summer of 2006, but, tragically, Ranft did not live to see it happen.
On August 16th, 2005, Joe Ranft was riding as a passenger with his friend Eric Frierson in his Honda Element van which was being driven by his best friend Eleba Earl through Sonoma California's mountainous shores on their way to a spiritural retreat that Ranft volunteered at. Earl lost control of the car and it drove through the guardrail, falling down a 130 feet 90-degrees cliff. The car splashed hard into the mouth of the Navarro River. Ranft and Earl were instantly killed while Frierson climbed out through the sun-roof, swam to shore and called the police. Ranft was 45 years old when he died. Cars and other films were dedicated to his memory.
- Toy Story (1995): Writer (Original Story), Story Supervisor, voice of Lenny
- A Bug's Life (1998): Writer (Original Story), Story Supervisor, voice of Heimlich and Additional Voices
- Toy Story 2 (1999): Story Supervisor, voice of Wheezy and Heimlich
- Monsters, Inc. (2001): Story Artist, voice of Claws Ward and Additional Voices
- Finding Nemo (2003) voice of Jacques
- The Incredibles (2004) Additional Voices
- Cars (2006): Co-Director, Writer (Original Story/Screenplay), voice of Red and Jerry Recycled Batteries (died during the making of the film in 2005).
- Ranft was the first head of story for Pixar, and he voiced Lenny the walking, talking pair of binoculars in Toy Story, Heimlich the caterpillar in A Bug's Life (where he made his voice sound German), Wheezy the penguin in Toy Story 2 (where he made his voice sound kid-like or old man-like), and Jacques the shrimp in Finding Nemo (where he made his voice sound French).
- Ranft was recognized for his work on Toy Story 2, receiving an Annie Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement for Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production (along with Dan Jeup).
- Prior to Pixar, Ranft worked for The Walt Disney Company on films, such as The Brave Little Toaster (in which he voiced Elmo St. Peters), The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and James and the Giant Peach. He also worked on films that weren't from Disney such as The Secret of NIMH, The Land Before Time, Rock-A-Doodle and Corpse Bride (One of the last films Ranft worked on and was dedicated to him).
- His brother, Jerome, is a sculptor designer for Pixar. He said in the Toy Story Filmmakers Reflect Video which was filmed right before his death that he and his brother were exactly like Sid Phillips from Toy Story because they'd melt their toy soldiers when they were kids.
- Ranft also had a cousin (Lisa Ranft), as shown in one of his videos on YouTube (called "(R.I.P JOE RANFT (MY COUSIN)").
- In Monsters Inc., his last name appeared on the scare record board in 3rd place. According to the scare cards, the character's name is actually Joe. Also, that character has a brother who works at Monsters, Inc., according to the scare card, most likely a reference to Joe's brother, Jerome.
- Ranft's son, Jordan, voiced Tad the fish in Finding Nemo.
- John Lasseter and Henry Selick both said that Ranft had the heart of stories and told them better than anyone else.
- Pixar's Cars and Tim Burton's Corpse Bride were the last two films that Ranft worked on, and they both were dedicated to him.
- His real last speaking role was Jerry Recycled Batteries, as Red's dialogue was restricted to crying.
- Ranft's daughter, Sophia, performed the voice of Baby Smitty in Monsters, Inc..