Since Lee Unkrich joined Pixar in 1994, he’s been involved with some of the most celebrated animated films in Hollywood history, notably directing Toy Story 3 and Coco. Now, he says, “The time has come for new adventures.”
After 25 years, Unkrich announces he’s leaving Pixar. “I’m not leaving to make films at another studio; instead, I look forward to spending much-needed time with my family and pursuing interests that have long been back-burnered,” he said in a statement provided to The Hollywood Reporter.
In a letter sent to his coworkers, and shared online via Twitter, Unkrich marked Feb. 15 as his last day at the studio.
“It is impossible for me to adequately express how epic this 25-year journey has been, and how much it has meant to work alongside such fantastic people and phenomenal talents,” he wrote. “Many of you are like family to me, and it’s nearly incomprehensible to imagine no longer being here at Pixar with you. But life is about change, and it’s now my time for new challenges and new adventures.”
“I often tell people that the worst thing about working at Pixar is that I have never gotten to see ‘the new Pixar movie’ without having worked on it or knowing everything about it,” he added. “While it will be many years before I get that opportunity, I look forward to it. I’ll be first in line to see what you create together.”
According to Pete Docter, Pixar’s chief creative officer, Unkrich came to the animation house during development on the first Toy Story “and he’s had a profound effect on all Pixar films since.”
He became a supervising editor on 1998’s A Bug’s Life, for which he also contributed various voice roles. Unkrich then co-directed Toy Story 2, Monster’s Inc., and Finding Nemo before taking the helm solo on Toy Story 3. He also contributed to the story of the upcoming Toy Story 4.
“He literally taught us rookie filmmakers about staging, composition and cutting,” Docter said. “His artistry and expert craftsmanship as an editor and co-director became a major reason for the high quality of our filmmaking, and as Lee went on to direct, his ability to find the deep humor and emotion enabled him to create some of the strongest films we’ve made.”
Unkrich’s departure is the latest big change coming to Pixar, which saw John Lasseter, the previous CCO, leave amid allegations of misconduct. Lasseter has since apologized for certain “missteps” and “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.” He then moved over to head animation at Skydance, an appointment that didn’t come without concerns from staff. Docter and Frozen‘s Jennifer Lee were named as Lasseter’s replacements at Pixar.
Anthony Gonzalez, the 14-year-old voice actor behind Miguel in Unkrich’s Coco, bid farewell to his director.
“I am so blessed to have had crossed paths with you,” he tweeted. “Our love for each other will live on forever in every beat of my proud corazón! You are a blessing in our lives! Wishing you the best of the best! Forever your Miguel, Anthony Gonzalez.”
This article has been updated with Unkrich’s full farewell letter to his colleagues.