TRUSTING THE PROCESS: THE STORYTELLING LEGACY OF JOE RANFT
"CARS" is dedicated to the storytelling legacy of the late Joe Ranft, and the end credits for the film feature a fitting tribute to his enormous talent and contributions.
A storyman extraordinaire who lent his genius for story and character to some of the most memorable animated features of the past twenty-five years, Ranft was one of the greatest collaborators of all time in the ultimate form of collaborative filmmaking. From his days at Disney, where he helped to shape the stories for "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," "Beauty and the Beast," "The Nightmare Before Christmas," "The Lion King," and "James and the Giant Peach," to his decade of achievements at Pixar, where he was head of story on "Toy Story" (for which he shared an Oscar® nomination for Best Original Screenplay), "A Bug's Life," and "Toy Story 2," he established a reputation for being tops in his field. As story supervisor (and co-director) on "CARS," he brought heart, soul, and humor to the film, and left a personal imprint on the character of Mater. Tragically, Ranft passed away in August, 2005 after completing his work on the film.
"Joe was the best story guy I've ever known," observes Lasseter. "He worked with me on every project I ever made. The thing I loved about his humor was that it wasn't just funny lines. It was character-based. He could make me laugh at a moment's notice by becoming a character. Whether he was doing an impersonation of Marlon Brando, a cheeky English boy, or a hilarious country character with outrageous buck teeth, he was able to make me laugh until I'd have tears in my eyes. During his Disney days, he took an improv comedy class at the Groundlings, where he learned one of the first rules of comedy is 'never say no.' This had a big impact on the way we worked together and on the way the story room operated. When you start something, you never stop the creative flow of where it's going. You just keep saying 'yes.' No matter what the idea, let it flow and see where it takes you. And it was amazing. For me, creating a story is like making your way through one of those giant mazes in 'The Shining.' Joe and I basically would get to the entrance of the maze and put our hands on the wall and start walking. You go down every wrong path, but eventually you get out. We would never say 'no,' and we would explore every path. And we would find nuggets, and characters, and discover interesting things all along the way.
"Joe was the heart of our films," adds Lasseter. "He had the biggest heart of any person I've ever known. He had faith in everybody and everything. He was the biggest cheerleader around here. Every story guy would go to him, and he would always give them time. He was everyone's mentor."
"More than any other character that we've created at Pixar, I'm probably proudest of Mater," continues Lasseter. "And part of that is because the character is pure Joe. On every film that we worked on, Joe would always zero in on something that really struck his fancy and it would always make it into the final film. With 'Toy Story,' it was the green army men who moved like they were the Green Berets. In 'A Bug's Life,' it was the scene where the circus bugs found out that the ant colony thought they were warriors by way of a children's elementary school play. For 'CARS,' it was Mater driving backwards. He had this concept that Mater's character was there to teach Lightning McQueen that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. When McQueen first meets this rusty tow truck, he can't stand him. But then he discovers that Mater is pure friendship, and driving backwards is what tow trucks do best. Mater is like your faithful dog who is there to greet you when you come home no matter what kind of a day you've had. Joe was that kind of friend and he will always be an important part of my life."
Ranft also had a huge impact on his "CARS" story team. Steve Purcell, one of the film's story artists recalls, "One of the things that Joe was really excited about as he was winding down on 'CARS' was creating a story community where the story artists were more tuned in to each other and better connected. He would show screenings of Pixar's old story reels to remind us of the process that we went through to get to the finished story. His motto was 'You have to trust the process.' If you stalled on a story point, you've got to work your way through it."
Dan Scanlon, another story artist on "CARS," adds, "Joe's told us not just to refer back to a completed film like 'Toy Story.' Instead, look back at the first reel of the film that was boarded. It was terrible. He encouraged us to analyze how problems were fixed, and how the process can work to make something good from something terrible. It can be very intimidating for a new story person at Pixar when you look at all the great things that have been done. Joe would show us how bad the early versions of some of the hit films were and explain what they did to fix it. He was a very humble guy who encouraged all of us to stay humble and inspired us all with his gift for storytelling."
JOHN LASSETER (Director) made movie history in 1995 as director of the first feature-length computer-animated film, "Toy Story," for which he received a special achievement Academy Award®. He has gone on to further acclaim as director of "A Bug's Life" (1998) and Golden Globe-winning "Toy Story 2" (1999), and executive producer of "Monsters, Inc." "Finding Nemo," and "The Incredibles." Among his most recent milestones, Lasseter was honored by the exhibition community at this year's ShoWest convention with their first-ever "Pioneer of Animation" Award, and received the prestigious "Georges Melies Award for Artistic Excellence." in February from the Visual Effects Society.
An award-winning director and animator, Lasseter continues to serve as executive vice president of creative for Pixar. He has written and directed a number of short films and television commercials at Pixar, including "Luxo Jr." (a 1996 Oscar® nominee), "Red's Dream" (1987), "Tin Toy," which won the 1989 Academy Award® for Best Animated Short Film, and "Knick Knack" (1989). Among his other big-screen credits, Lasseter also designed and animated the Stained Glass Knight in the 1985 Steven Spielberg production "Young Sherlock Holmes."
Lasseter was born in Hollywood and grew up in Whittier, California. His mother was an art teacher, and as early as his freshman year in high school he fell in love with cartoons and the art of animation. While still in high school, he wrote to Walt Disney Studios about his passion and he began studying art and learning how to draw human and animal figures. At that time, Disney was setting up an animation program at CalArts, an innovative center studying art, design and photography, and Lasseter became the second student to be accepted into their start-up program. He spent four years at CalArts and both of the animated films he made during that time, "Lady and the Lamp" and "Nitemare," won Student Academy Awards®.
During his summer breaks, Lasseter apprenticed at Disney, which led to a full-time position at the studio's feature animation department upon his graduation in 1979. During his five-year stint at Disney, he contributed to such films as "The Fox and the Hound" and "Mickey's Christmas Carol." Inspired by Disney's ambitious and innovative film "Tron" (1982), which used computer animation to create its special effects, Lasseter teamed with fellow animator Glen Keane to create their own experiment. A thirty-second test, based on a well-known children's book, showed how traditional hand-drawn animation could be successfully combined with computerized camera movements and environments.
In 1983, at the invitation of Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull, Lasseter visited the computer graphics unit of Lucasfilm and was instantly intrigued. Seeing the enormous potential that computer graphics technology had for transforming the craft of animation, he left Disney in 1984 and came to Lucasfilm for what was to be only a one-month stay. One month turned into six and Lasseter soon became an integral and catalytic force of what ultimately became Pixar. Lasseter came up with the idea of bringing believable characterizations to a pair of desk lamps, and so the award-winning short "Luxo Jr." was born.
Lasseter and his wife Nancy live in Northern California with their five sons.
RANDY NEWMAN (Composer, Song & Score) marks his fourth collaboration with Pixar on this film, and reteams with director John Lasseter to create a score worthy of this entertaining and ambitious road trip.
Newman was born on November 28, 1943 into a famously musical family - his uncles Alfred, Lionel and Emil were all well-respected film composers and conductors. Even Randy's father Irving Newman - a prominent physician - wrote a song for Bing Crosby. Perhaps then it's no surprise that at seventeen Randy Newman was already a professional songwriter in his own right, knocking out tunes for a Los Angeles publishing house. In 1968 he made his debut with the orchestral recording, Randy Newman, and before long Newman's extraordinary and eclectic compositions were being recorded by an unusually wide range of artists, from Pat Boone to Ray Charles, Peggy Lee to Wilson Pickett.
Critics rightly raved about Newman's 1970 sophomore effort 12 Songs, and increasingly the public started to take notice with albums like 1970's Live (like Songbook, an opportunity to hear Newman playing alone), and even more so with 1972's classic Sail Away and 1974's brilliant and controversial Good Old Boys. With the 1977 Top Ten Little Criminals, Newman experienced a huge left-field smash in the unlikely form of "Short People." 1979's Born Again was a decidedly barbed piece of work which pictured Newman on the cover in Kiss-styled make-up with a dollar sign on his face. How fitting for a dark piece of work that features "It's Money That I Love," a memorable comment on runaway capitalism that's now reprised on The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. 1. Critics were struck by his musical depth and the literary quality and edge of his character-oriented lyrics.
In the Eighties, Newman was dividing his time between film composing and recording his own albums. In 1981, Newman released his exquisite score for Milos Forman's adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's "Ragtime" - earning him his first two of sixteen Oscar® nominations for Best Score and Best Song. 1983 saw the release of Trouble In Paradise, while the next year saw the release of Newman's Grammy-winning, Oscar®-nominated score for "The Natural." Following some more film work, Newman finally got around to recording another studio album. 1988's Land of Dreams was another breakthrough work marked by some of Newman's most personal and powerful work yet.
In the Nineties, Newman enjoyed massive success with his film work, as well as winning a 1990 Emmy® for his music in the pilot of Cop Rock. Amusingly and surprisingly to many longtime fans, the cutting social critic and sometime brilliant curmudgeon somehow found himself becoming a beloved children's entertainer thanks to his outstanding music for films like 1995's "Toy Story," 1996's "James and the Giant Peach," 1997's "Cats Don't Dance," 1998's "A Bug's Life" and 1999's "Toy Story 2." Newman won three more Grammys for his work on "A Bug's Life," "Toy Story 2" and "Monsters, Inc." Still, Newman also managed to play to the adult audience as well with his darkly hilarious take on Faust - the 1995 recording of which included performances by Don Henley, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor. Towards the end of the decade, Newman put out an impressive four-CD compilation, 1998's Guilty: 30 Years of Randy Newman and a strong new album for DreamWorks, 1999's Bad Love, Newman's first collaboration with Mitchell Froom. In 2002, Newman finally won his first Oscar® for "If I Didn't Have You" from "Monsters Inc."
If it's not Newman's style to look forward with optimism, it's also not his personal preference to look back, whether in anger or in any other emotion. Yet somehow he still does so brilliantly on The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. 1 (2003), his illuminating first effort for the Nonesuch label. The eighteen-song set finds Newman singing and playing piano on powerful new solo versions of his early classics and his more recent gems, as well as a few examples of the Oscar®-winning composer's film music. The album is an intimate and powerful reminder of the enduring work that has established Newman as a songwriter's songwriter - one of the most musically and lyrically ambitious singer-songwriters ever to be at play in the fields of popular music.
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