If you look in the credits of several Disney-Pixar films, you might start to notice a pattern: namely, how some of the same crew or cast members keep appearing. Listed here are some of the recurring directors, writers, and other notable people behind some of the best CGI films ever made.
Directors and Writers
John Lasseter was with Pixar since the early days at Lucasfilm. Originally a Disney animator, Lasseter was inspired by TRON to try to make a computer-animated feature film, but was fired while trying to adapt Thomas M. Disch's novella The Brave Little Toaster (which was distributed by Disney but made by independent company Hyperion). At Lucasfilm, he created its first four short films, including his most famous short, Luxo Jr. He also directed Pixar's first feature film, Toy Story, for which he got a Special Achievement Award at the Oscars. After Toy Story 2, he stuck to executive producing Pixar's films for a while, though he still provided creative input into the companies' films. He returned to directing with the film Cars, which, despite performing weaker and not being as well received as the other Pixar films, still got more good reviews than most other animated films that year and made a truckload of money, particularly through merchandising. His latest directorial effort, Cars 2, proved an artistic debacle that shattered the near spotless artistic reputation of the company such as leading to Pixar being shut out of contention for that year's Best Animated Feature Oscar for the first time in the award's history. Not wanting to cause the studio further embarrassment, John snapped into action by postponing the Troubled Production The Good Dinosaur by a year to ensure that the next film in their roster, Inside Out, would be on par with their other classics.
John's eye for quality is no doubt the reason why, when Disney merged with Pixar back in 2006, he was not only made Chief Creative Officer of both Pixar and Disney Feature Animation, but also Principal Creative Advisor for Disney's Imagineering department, meaning he even had creative say in theme park rides. While his decisions at Disney did cause a bit of behind-the-scenes drama (his insistence on changes for Bolt led director Chris Sanders (of Lilo & Stitch) to leave the company), general consensus is that he helped the studio considerably during his tenure. After becoming Chief Creative Officer, he cancelled all of the Disney sequels in production and greenlighted The Princess and the Frog. Lasseter has since opted for DisneyToon Studios to produce more original properties and spinoffs, such as the Tinker Bell films and the spinoff from Cars, titled Planes. Somewhat ironically, the hope for Disney to continue creating traditionally animated feature films depended with him for a long time; despite playing a large part in computer animation becoming more dominant, he expressed interest in bringing 2D animation back.
A few days from the release of Coco, Lasseter publicly announced that he would take a six month sabbatical from the company after a number of female employees came forward with claims of sexual misconduct (this being a few months after Harvey Weinstein and several other Hollywood people were accused of the same, it's safe to assume he didn't want the studio's work to be Overshadowed by Controversy), along with writer Rashida Jones announcing her departure from Toy Story 4 amidst accusations that he mistreated female and minority artists.
In June 2018, Disney announced that Lasseter would no longer hold an office at either Pixar or Walt Disney Animation Studios, ceasing his involvement with the studio at the end of the year. Pete Docter and Jennifer Lee replaced his position at Pixar and Disney Animation, respectively. A year later, up and coming studio Skydance Animation put him on their creative team, a controversial move that resulted in actress Emma Thompson stepping down from a movie the studio was producing.
Shorts and features he's directed:
- The Adventures of Andre and Wally B. (1984)
- Luxo Jr. (1986)
- Red's Dream (1987)
- Tin Toy (1988)
- Knick Knack (1989)
- Toy Story (1995)
- A Bug's Life (1998)
- Toy Story 2 (1999)
- Cars (2006)
- Mater and the Ghostlight (2006)
- Tokyo Mater (2008)
- Cars 2 (2011)
Tropes associated with films he has directed:
- Animate Inanimate Object: His bread and butter. It began in earnest with Luxo Jr. and a handful of other Pixar shorts, continuing on to his two biggest film series', Toy Story and Cars.
- Associated Composer: Randy Newman scored all of his films except Cars 2.
- Author Appeal: Inanimate objects coming to life.
- Awesome, Dear Boy: His reason for becoming an animator: "I get paid to make cartoons!"
- Black-and-White Morality: A Bug's Life, Cars, and Cars 2
- Eagleland: All of his films have Americana in their aesthetic. The Toy Story films play up the fact that Woody is a cowboy and Cars is heavily influenced by the folklore of Route 66 and have a cast mostly consisting of good ol boys. The music for nearly all of them borrow heavily from Aaron Copland.
- Old Shame: John Lasseter's attempt to keep 2D animation alive alongside CGI at Disney. Since the idea flopped, he's refused to speak of it. However, there have been some other brief revivals, such as Mauis tattoos in Moana and a sequence (which, while not directly done by Disney, was handled by many ex-Disney talents) in Mary Poppins Returns afterwards.
- Signature Style: Feel-good, emotional, idealistic films about inanimate objects like bikes, toys, or cars, coming to life.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Heavily idealistic, even by Pixar's standards.
The Regulars' lone east coaster (a native of Boston, MA), Andrew Stanton became the second animator hired by Pixar in 1990, after briefly working on the 1980s Mighty Mouse cartoon and screening a few shorts at Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Animation Festival. He worked as a writer for the Toy Story films, Monsters, Inc.., and A Bug's Life (which he also co-directed) before directing Finding Nemo. For the next few years, he worked on his next film as a director, WALLE. Like Finding Nemo, WALLE was a critical and financial success. Also like Nemo, it ranks as one of Pixar's most... er... emotional films, so tissues are highly recommended.
Stanton made his live-action debut in 2012 with Disney's John Carter, which bombed hard enough to take his Protection from Editors with it. His live-action career survived, however, as he would later direct two episodes of the second season of Stranger Things, "Dig Dug" and "The Spy."
Works he's directed/written:
- Toy Story (screenwriter, 1995)
- A Bug's Life (co-director/writer, 1998)
- Toy Story 2 (screenwriter, 1999)
- Monsters, Inc.. (screenwriter, 2001)
- Finding Nemo (2003)
- WALLE (2008)
- John Carter (2012)
- Finding Dory (2016)
- Stranger Things (director of the season 2 episodes "Dig Dug" and "The Spy," 2017)
Tropes associated with films he has directed/written:
- Author Appeal: Both Finding Nemo and Wall-E have a certain "ambient" aesthetic.
- Central Theme: Most of his films are about Love and family.
- Old Shame: Andrew Stanton acted in the Afterschool Special Dear Diary: A Film About Female Puberty. He tried to prevent Lee and Bob bringing it up during the DVD commentary of Nemo, but they managed, much to his embarrassment.
- Rousseau Was Right
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Mostly on the idealistic side.
- White-and-Grey Morality
As of this writing, Pete Docter has directed three feature-length films, his most recent being the 2015 release Inside Out which he also created the story for (the main human character is partially based on his own daughter). Docter has worked on the scripts for the Toy Story films and WALLE, but he is most famous for directing Monsters, Inc. He was also picked by John Lasseter to take care of the English dub of Howl's Moving Castle while Lasseter was busy working on Cars. Somewhat notorious amongst the staff for creating some of the studio's broadest and, as a result, most difficult concepts to realize. But if the responses are anything to go by, this has not been a detriment.
Docter succeeded John Lasseter as Chief Creative Officer of Pixar Animation Studios.
Shorts and features he's directed/written:
One of Lasseter's old friends at Cal Arts, where they were in the same character animation class in Room A113. A latecomer to Pixar, Bird already had some directing experience before coming on board. His most notable pre-Pixar works are the "Family Dog" episode of Amazing Stories and the 1999 Warner Bros film The Iron Giant. He also worked on The Plague Dogs (1982), a dark and gritty British animated film based on the sequel to Watership Down; co-wrote Steven Spielberg's *batteries not included; and directed two episodes of The Simpsons (both centered around Krusty the Clown), as well as the music video for Do the Bartman.
After the financial failure of Giant, Bird moved on to Pixar, where he pitched a little idea he had for a feature film about superheroes. The Incredibles became a huge hit, and Brad was later asked to take over the then-in-production film Ratatouille after the original director, Jan Pinkava, was unable to bring it to a satisfying conclusion. While Ratatouille wasn't as big a financial success, it still did very well at the box office and with the critics.
He was working on a live-action film titled 1906, jointly produced by Disney, Pixar, and (you read that right) Disney's old rival Warner Bros., which centered around the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. After the project was put in Development Hell due to budgetary concerns, Bird would instead make his mark in live-action with Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol and Tomorrowland. He would later return to Pixar with Incredibles 2, the long awaited sequel to The Incredibles, in 2018.
He has also famously threatened in the DVD Commentary for The Incredibles to punch out the next person who calls animation a "genre", as he believes it is a medium that can tell any kind of story as opposed to just one thing.
Shorts and features he's directed:
Lee Unkrich has co-directed and edited films since he joined the team in 1994. Originally an editor on Toy Story and A Bug's Life, he's co-directed three other Pixar films. His first directing project was Toy Story 3. He is also quite fond of Twitter and spent the first few days after Toy Story 3's release reading through fans' tweets and reviews that were sent to him, in many cases replying to them individually thanking them for the support.
On February 2019, he stepped down from Pixar, stating he wanted to focus more of his time on his family.
Films he's directed:
Gary Rydstrom is probably most famous for his sound design work on films like Jurassic Park, Titanic (1997), and Saving Private Ryan. His first work for Pixar, in fact, was the sound design for the first five Pixar Shorts directed by John Lasseter. He then became the go-to guy for sound design and mixing from the first Toy Story movie to Finding Nemo and returned in 2012 with Brave. He made his directorial debut with the theatrical short Lifted. He was slated to direct Newt, but following its cancellation, he instead directed Hawaiian Vacation before moving back to Skywalker Sound the year of its release. Outside of Pixar, he has directed the English dubs of four Studio Ghibli films: Tales from Earthsea, The Borrower Arrietty (North American Dub), From Up on Poppy Hill, and The Wind Rises. Most recently, he directed Strange Magic at Lucasfilm.
Shorts and features he's directed:
Joe Ranft worked on scripts and storyboards for many animated films, both Pixar and non-Pixar. After doing story work on The Brave Little Toaster, Ranft worked on several Disney films, from Oliver & Company to Beauty and the Beast to The Lion King. He joined Pixar in 1992, and did story work on Toy Story (the most famous scene he storyboarded being the "Army Men" scene in that film). Ranft went on to write and storyboard other animated films, including most of Pixar's, and also voiced a few characters in several films, including Heimlich the caterpillar in A Bug's Life, Wheezy the penguin in Toy Story 2, and Jacques the shrimp in Finding Nemo. He was later made co-director of Cars.
Sadly, Joe Ranft died in a car crash in August of 2005 and those who knew him were struck hard. Both Cars and Corpse Bride (which he helped produce) are dedicated to his memory. Henry Selick put his caricature into the design of one of the Ranft brother characters, moving furniture, in Coraline.
Films he wrote/directed:
- The Brave Little Toaster (screenwriter, 1987)
- Oliver & Company (story, 1988)
- The Little Mermaid (story, 1989)
- The Rescuers Down Under (screenwriter, 1990)
- Beauty and the Beast (story, 1991)
- The Nightmare Before Christmas (story, 1993)
- The Lion King (story, 1994)
- Toy Story (story, 1995)
- James and the Giant Peach (story, 1996)
- A Bug's Life (story, 1998)
- Toy Story 2 (story, 1999)
- Fantasia 2000 (story, 2000)
- Monsters, Inc.. (story, 2001)
- Cars (writer/co-director, 2006)
Bob Peterson has mainly worked on storyboards and scripts for Pixar. Originally an animator on Toy Story, he moved on to do story work on A Bug's Life and Toy Story 2. He then became a co-writer on the script for Finding Nemo, and worked on the story for Ratatouille. He was the co-director of the film Up, and provided the voices of Roz in Monsters, Inc.., Mr. Ray in Finding Nemo and Dug in Up.
He was to make his directoral debut in The Good Dinosaur but problems with the story pushed back its release date by two years, as John Lasseter didn't want to have any more critical flops after their last three. He would later make a proper directorial debut by directing all ten shorts in the Forky Asks A Question series.
Films he's written/directed:
Originally at Disney, she joined DreamWorks when former studio chief Jeff Katzenberg started the firm up and directed The Prince Of Egypt. She became disenchanted with DWA and jumped to Pixar as a creative team member and director of Brave. Sadly, a bout of Executive Meddling regarding that movie led to her transferring to ILM and then back to Katzenberg and DreamWorks when Disney purchased ILM as part of their Lucasfilm package.
Films she wrote/directed:
Films he's directed:
Joshua Cooley started as a storyboard artist on The Incredibles and several other Pixar films, both feature-length and short. He made his feature directorial debut with Toy Story 4.
Films he's directed:
Randy Newman was, of course, already a well-established singer, songwriter, and composer by the time he was hired to work on the score for Toy Story (despite the skepticism of Disney executives). Since then, he's done the score for nine Pixar films, and he can thank the studio - or, more specifically, Monsters, Inc.. - for finally getting him an Oscar in 2002 (for Best Song) after being nominated fifteen times. He's also responsible for the saddest song in the Pixar canon: "When She Loved Me (Jessie's Song)" from Toy Story 2.
Disney/Pixar shorts and features he's written and performed music for:
Like his cousin, Randy, Thomas Newman already had experience as a composer before he was hired by Pixar. He was first hired to write the score for Finding Nemo, which he got an Oscar nod for. Perhaps not so coincidentally, his second work for Pixar was another Andrew Stanton film, WALLE.
Pixar features he's written music for:
Michael Giacchino was a fairly unknown composer for video games and TV shows when Brad Bird asked him to do the score for The Incredibles. The jazzy, James Bond-esque score won him two Grammy nominations, and his later score for Ratatouille got him his first Oscar nomination. Up won Best Original Score. Even as he gets more work in feature film scores, he's still writing music for Pixar films and shorts.
Pixar features and shorts he's written music for:
Of course, this page would not be complete without Pixar's "lucky charm", John Ratzenberger, who has done a voice for every single feature film Pixar has made. Known by older audiences as Cliff the mailman from Cheers, it was this role that lead to him being cast for Toy Story. Since then, he's always had a role, however minor, in every feature produced at the studio, to the point where Andrew Stanton just decided to name Ratzenberger's role after him in WALLE, and the practice was lampshaded in a credits sequence in Cars.
The characters he's voiced include:
- Hamm, the piggy bank (the Toy Story films)
- P.T. Flea (A Bug's Life)
- The Abominable Snowman (Monsters, Inc..)
- The school of Moonfish (Finding Nemo)
- The Underminer (The Incredibles)
- Mack (the Cars films)
- Mustafa, the waiter at Gusteau's (Ratatouille)
- John (WALLE)
- Tom, the Foreman of the construction work around Carl's house (Up)
- Gordon, the Guard (Brave)
- Fritz, the Brain Worker (Inside Out)
- Earl, the Velociraptor (The Good Dinosaur)
- Bill, the Crab (Finding Dory)
- Juan Ortodoncia (Coco)
Behind the Scenes
Ed Catmull was recruited by George Lucas in 1979 to head up a group to bring computer graphics and digital editing to film. There, he developed digital image compositing technology for blending multiple images and computer-graphics algorithms such as the Catmull-Rom spline and the CatmullClark subdivision surface. When Steve Jobs bought Lucasarts' digital division and founded Pixar, Catmull was appointed Chief Technical Officer, where he was a key developer of Pixar's RenderMan film rendering system.
Ed currently serves as president of both Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios.
After he was fired from Creator/Apple and founded NeXT, Steve Jobs bought Pixar off of Lucasfilm in 1986 for $10 million, largely on the strength of John Lasseter's belief in the future of computer animation. Jobs continued to pour money into Pixar even as it failed to profit as a medical imaging software company, and allowed it to find its footing producing computer-animated commercials. Jobs' tenacity was ultimately vindicated by the subsequent success of Pixar, and he was the largest shareholder in both Disney and Pixar, with 7% of the shares.
Word of God is that Steve Jobs was fairly hands-on during the production of Toy Story, holding daily reviews and making suggestions to John Lasseter, which resulted in Jobs being credited as "Producer". After Toy Story, Jobs tended to be more of a hands-off leader who trusted the Pixar staff to guide things — though he did intercede from time to time, such as the renegotiation of distribution agreements with Disney, and the design of Pixar's expanded Emeryville studio.
Sadly, Steve Jobs passed away in 2011 of pancreatic cancer.
Producer of A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc., Cars, Toy Story 3, and several Pixar Shorts, Darla has also received special thanks for her involvement with almost every other Pixar project, starting from Toy Story onward. Currently holds the Guinness World Record for having the highest average gross per movie for a producer ($221 million per movie) though given the company she works for that's hardly surprising. The character of Darla was named after her by Stanton as revenge for all the practical jokes she's played on him.
Recently appeared in a tear-jerkingly, awesomely heartwarming video for the It Gets Better project, where she and other gay members of the Pixar family offered words of encouragement to gay teens and by extension just about anyone who feels like they've been Driven to Suicide.
John Lasseter called him "the true unsung hero of animation", so Bud Luckey may not be as new a name as many would think. You seen that "10 Tiny Turtles" hand-drawn sequence featured in the earlier episodes of Sesame Street? That's his animation. Now, his low, elderly, but comforting voice made him a returning voice actor and employee of Pixar. It was he who decided that the "old toy" character in Toy Story would be a cowboy doll and designed Woody's final look. He later wrote, designed, storyboarded, composed, sang, and voiced Boundin', a short inspired by his Montana upbringing and the myths that came with it. He also illustrated over 100 children's books. He passed away of natural causes on February 24, 2018.
Disney/Pixar shorts and features he's written and performed music for:
- Character designer on all Pixar films until his death in 2018.
- Produced and directed the short "Boundin'" (2003).
- Voice of Rick Dicker in The Incredibles (2004) and the short "Jack Jack Attack" (2005).
- Voice of Chuckles the clown doll in Toy Story 3 (2010).
- Voice of Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh (2011).