By Nick Romano
January 09, 2019 at 02:57 PM EST

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.”

The studio later announced in June that Lasseter would formally leave the company at the end of 2018. Frozen‘s Jennifer Lee and Inside Out‘s Pete Docter were named his replacements.

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.”

Carlos Osorio/AP/REX/Shutterstock

“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.

Dear Colleagues:

I wanted to share with you first some news that we are announcing today.

Industry visionary John Lasseter is joining us to lead Skydance Animation.  John will be based in Los Angeles and will report directly to me.

Bill Damaschke will be transitioning from his current role, and we are hopeful he will choose to remain within the Skydance family.

The attached press release outlines the news more fully, but I wanted to share a few things that have informed our decision to bring John on board.

First, no one can dispute John’s legacy building Pixar and Walt Disney Animation into the leadership position they now enjoy.  His creative vision and forward-looking approach to animation has transformed the entire industry.  At his heart, John is a storyteller – with a unique ability to tell beautiful and emotionally-driven tales that resonate and inspire audiences around the globe.

Second, I know many of you are aware of John’s admitted mistakes in his prior role helming those studios. 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.

Third, we employed outside counsel to thoroughly investigate the allegations, which we considered serious and have warranted our full attention as we made this important decision. The senior leadership team and I have all carefully evaluated the findings of this extensive investigation.

Let me be clear:  we have not entered into this decision lightly.

While we would never minimize anyone’s subjective views on behavior, we are confident after many substantive conversations with John, and as the investigation has affirmed, that his mistakes have been recognized.  We are certain that John has learned valuable lessons and is ready to prove his capabilities as a leader and a colleague.  And he has given his assurance that he will comport himself in a wholly professional manner that is the expectation of every Skydance colleague and partner.

We are very hopeful and excited about what the coming years will bring, as John’s art transcends generations and cultures, while deeply resonating on a fundamental level with what makes us uniquely human.

The senior leadership team and I will be hosting a town hall for all Skydance Animation colleagues shortly to speak with you directly about this transition.  Additional town halls at SDM and SDI will take place today and tomorrow.

Skydance Animation colleagues, please be on the lookout for a call-to-gather email.   I look forward to speaking with you in person.

Thanks,

David

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