In an unexpected development, John Lasseter, the former head of Pixar Animation who stepped down after several allegations of misconduct, has been hired by Skydance to lead its animation division.
The company sent out a press release on Wednesday with the news, as Skydance CEO David Ellison elaborated on the decision in an internal memo to staff. Lasseter will report directly to Ellison, while his responsibilities include “setting the overall strategy and creative direction for Skydance Animation,” “drive the division’s artistic growth,” oversee “production and operations,” and “to ensure a robust slate of animated entertainment across all media.”
Lasseter will take over from Bill Damaschke, who previously led Skydance Animation. The company wasn’t actively looking to replace Damaschke before talks began with Lasseter, who had been in discussions with multiple studios — including Warner Bros. — after his split from Pixar, EW has learned. Ellison is “hopeful” Damaschke “will choose to remain within the Skydance family.”
“John is a singular creative and executive talent whose impact on the animation industry cannot be overstated,” Ellison said in a statement. “He was responsible for leading animation into the digital age, while telling incomparable stories that continue to inspire and entertain audiences around the globe.”
Lasseter, the director of Toy Story and Toy Story 2, produced every Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios feature between 2007 and his departure, including Bolt, Tangled, and Wreck-It Ralph.
In November 2017, Lasseter announced a six-month leave of absence from his responsibilities at Pixar as The Hollywood Reporter published multiple allegations of misconduct. He cited unspecified “missteps” and apologized “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.”
Ellison clarified to staff, as laid out in the internal memo, that the decision was not made lightly and “outside counsel” was employed to “thoroughly investigate the allegations” against Lasseter.
“John has been forthright in taking ownership of his behavior, apologized for his actions and has spent the past year on sabbatical analyzing and improving his workplace behavior,” Ellison wrote, adding that senior leadership “all carefully evaluated the findings of this extensive investigation.”
“I’m grateful to David and the Skydance team and know that I have been entrusted with an enormous responsibility. It is a distinct privilege that I will relish,” Lasseter said in a statement. “I have spent the last year away from the industry in deep reflection, learning how my actions unintentionally made colleagues uncomfortable, which I deeply regret and apologize for. It has been humbling, but I believe it will make me a better leader.”
“I want nothing more than the opportunity to return to my creative and entrepreneurial roots, to build and invent again,” he continued. “I join Skydance with the same enthusiasm that drove me to help build Pixar, with a firm desire to tell original and diverse stories for audiences everywhere. With what I have learned and how I have grown in the past year, I am resolute in my commitment to build an animation studio upon a foundation of quality, safety, trust and mutual respect.”
In a statement provided to EW, Time’s Up denounced the decision to hire Lasseter, stating the move “endorses and perpetuates a broken system that allows powerful men to act without consequence.”
“At a moment when we should be uplifting the many talented voices who are consistently underrepresented, Skydance Media is providing another position of power, prominence, and privilege to a man who has repeatedly been accused of sexual harassment in the workplace,” the statement continues. “People often ask when a man who has abused his power ‘gets’ to ‘come back.’ There is no simple answer. But here are a few first steps: 1) Demonstrate true remorse. 2) Work deeply to reform your behavior. 3) Deliver restitution to those you harmed. That’s the bare minimum. Hiring decisions have consequences. And offering a high-profile position to an abuser who has yet to do any of those things is condoning abuse.”
Read Ellison’s full memo to staff, as obtained by EW, below.