Joe Ranft, an Oscar-nominated writer and a founding member of the Pixar Animation Studios creative team, was killed on Aug. 16 in a car accident. He was 45.
Born in Pasadena and raised in Whittier, Calif., Ranft attended the California Institute of Arts with director John Lasseter. He joined the story department at Walt Disney Feature Animation in 1980, where he worked on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and co-wrote the films “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King.”
Ranft reunited with Lasseter in 1992 to help transform Pixar into a powerhouse animation studio. For the last 13 years, he worked in story development and provided the voices of Heimlich the caterpillar in “A Bug’s Life,” Wheezy the asthmatic penguin in “Toy Story 2” and Jacques the cleaner fish in “Finding Nemo.” For co-writing the 1995 film “Toy Story,” Ranft earned an Academy Award nomination.
Ranft also supervised the story for “Cars,” a Pixar film scheduled for release next summer, and served as an executive producer on Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride,” which comes out in September. He previously worked with Burton as a storyboard supervisor on “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
Last week, Ranft and his friends, Elegba Earl, 32, and Eric Frierson, 39, were driving northbound on Highway 1 in Mendocino County, Calif., en route to take part in a retreat for a mentoring program. Earl, who was driving, lost control of their 2004 Honda Element, veered off the road and over a cliff. The car plunged 130 feet and crashed into the ocean.
Ranft and Earl died from injuries sustained in the accident. Frierson, who was riding in the back seat, survived by climbing through the car’s sun roof. He was hospitalized with moderate injuries.