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Disney Animation head John Lasseter is taking a leave of absence from Pixar after acknowledging “painful” conversations and unspecified “missteps,” he wrote Tuesday in a memo to staff, obtained by The Hollywood Reporter.
Lasseter’s statement arrived as THR was preparing a story detailing alleged misconduct by the executive at Disney/Pixar.
Lasseter is best known as one of the founders of Pixar, which began as part of the graphics group at Lucasfilm. Along with Ed Catmull, he popularized CGI in animation with early films like Toy Story, A Bug’s Life and Monsters Inc.
In 2006, after Disney purchased Pixar, Lasseter was named the CEO of both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. He has since become the face of all Disney animation, overseeing the recent resurgence of the studio’s namesake brand with properties like Frozen and Moana.
Lasseter, who directed Toy Story and Toy Story 2 among other Pixar films, produces or executive produces every Pixar project and he executive produces every WDA feature. While Lasseter has only won two Oscars (one is a specialty Oscar for his work on Toy Story), Pixar has racked up an impressive eight best animated feature wins.
Under Lasseter’s purview, WDA has picked up three wins, most recently with 2016’s Zootopia.
Pixar films have grossed over $6 billion at the domestic box office. The Emeryville-based company is set to release its next feature, Coco, this week. Pixar is currently working on a sequel to The Incredibles and the fourth Toy Story installment. WDA will release the Wreck It Ralph sequel in 2018.
Lasseter’s full memo to employees is below.
I have always wanted our animation studios to be places where creators can explore their vision with the support and collaboration of other gifted animators and storytellers. This kind of creative culture takes constant vigilance to maintain. It’s built on trust and respect, and it becomes fragile if any members of the team don’t feel valued. As a leader, it’s my responsibility to ensure that doesn’t happen; and I now believe I have been falling short in this regard.
I’ve recently had a number of difficult conversations that have been very painful for me. It’s never easy to face your missteps, but it’s the only way to learn from them. As a result, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the leader I am today compared to the mentor, advocate and champion I want to be. It’s been brought to my attention that I have made some of you feel disrespected or uncomfortable. That was never my intent. Collectively, you mean the world to me, and I deeply apologize if I have let you down. I especially want to apologize to anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of an unwanted hug or any other gesture they felt crossed the line in any way, shape, or form. No matter how benign my intent, everyone has the right to set their own boundaries and have them respected.
In my conversations with Disney, we are united in our commitment to always treat any concerns you have with the seriousness they deserve, and to address them in an appropriate manner. We also share a desire to reinforce the vibrant, respectful culture that has been the foundation of our studios’ success since the beginning. And we agree the first step in that direction is for me to take some time away to reflect on how to move forward from here. As hard as it is for me to step away from a job I am so passionate about and a team I hold in the highest regard, not just as artists but as people, I know it’s the best thing for all of us right now. My hope is that a six-month sabbatical will give me the opportunity to start taking better care of myself, to recharge and be inspired, and ultimately return with the insight and perspective I need to be the leader you deserve.
I’m immensely proud of this team, and I know you will continue to wow the world in my absence. I wish you all a wonderful holiday season and look forward to working together again in the new year.
Disney’s statement regarding Lasseter:
We are committed to maintaining an environment in which all employees are respected and empowered to do their best work. We appreciate John’s candor and sincere apology and fully support his sabbatical.