Joe Ranft, Key Artist for Pixar's Animated Hits

Day to Day animation critic Charles Solomon remembers Pixar animator Joe Ranft, who died earlier this week in an auto accident in Northern California. Ranft was a key artist behind the animation studio's biggest hits, including Toy Story, Monsters, Inc. and A Bugs Life.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

The animation company Pixar, indeed the whole industry, is mourning the loss of one of the artists behind Pixar's magic. Animator Joe Ranft died Tuesday in a car accident. He was 45. Charles Solomon writes about animation for DAY TO DAY. Here he is with a remembrance.

CHARLES SOLOMON reporting:

Joe Ranft was one of the key artists behind the Pixar studios unbroken string of animated hits. A soft-spoken and gentle man, Joe never sought the limelight. Only a few of the millions of people who saw the "Toy Story" movies, "Monsters, Inc." and "A Bug's Life" would recognize the name Joe Ranft. But at Pixar, and throughout the animation industry, Joe was loved and respected primarily as one of the finest story men of his generation.

The term `story man' means a multitalented artist who writes dialogue, develops the characters and makes sure that the story is emotionally true. As a story man, Joe made thousands of drawings helping directors find the right camera angle, create the right mood and determine the right expressions for the characters.

Telling stories was Joe's passion. He made the audience believe that a toy cowboy was truly lonely, that a blue-haired monster could learn to love a little girl, and that a chubby caterpillar could dream of becoming a beautiful butterfly.

(Soundbite of "A Bug's Life")

Mr. JOE RANFT: (As Heimlich) I'm finished. Finally, I'm a beautiful butterfly. Eugh. My wings! Oh, they're beautiful.

SOLOMON: That's Ranft, as Heimlich the caterpillar in the 1998 Pixar hit, "A Bug's Life." He did temp dialogue for the characters while the films were in production. And often he did it so well, he became the voice, like his role as the asthmatic penguin in "Toy Story 2."

(Soundbite of "Toy Story 2")

Mr. RANFT: (As Penguin) Well, I tried squeaking, but I'm still broken. No one could hear me. (Wheezes) Besides, the dust aggravates my condition.

SOLOMON: Animation is created by a small community of artists that is often rife with feuds and jealousy. Yet during the 25 years he worked in the medium, no one ever had an unkind word for Joe or any doubts as to his abilities. Pixar, the art of animation, and audiences around the world are all the poorer for Joe Ranft's passing.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RANDY NEWMAN: (Singing) You gotta friend in me.

CHADWICK: Charles Solomon writes about animation for DAY TO DAY.

I'm Alex Chadwick. NPR's DAY TO DAY continues.

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