After retiring from Pixar, the company he founded, in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal, John Lasseter is again heading an animation studio.
Lasseter, the former creative chief of Pixar and Disney Animation, will lead Skydance Animation beginning later this month, Skydance Media Chief Executive David Ellison announced Wednesday.
“John is a singular creative and executive talent whose impact on the animation industry cannot be overstated,” Ellison said, while highlighting Lasseter’s track record as a technical innovator and master storyteller. Ellison noted that Skydance had not “entered into this decision lightly” and that they were not minimizing “anyone’s subjective views” on such behavior. He referred to Lasseter’s past actions as “mistakes” and said the new hire had promised to “comport himself” professionally.
Lasseter had reportedly sought top animation positions at other studios without luck. Warner Bros. was among the companies leery of working with him, Variety reported.
It has been just more than a year since Lasseter took a leave of absence from Disney after admitting to professional “missteps” in his behavior, without specifically acknowledging the allegations of sexual harassment.
"I'm grateful to David and the Skydance team and know that I have been entrusted with an enormous responsibility,” Lasseter said in a statement. “It is a distinct privilege that I will relish.
“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,” the statement continued. “It has been humbling, but I believe it will make me a better leader."
Lasseter, who began his career as a Disney animator, co-founded Pixar in the 1980s and helped blaze a trail for fully animated digital films, including 1995’s milestone feature “Toy Story.”
The hiring of Lasseter, who will be based in Los Angeles, immediately becomes one of the most controversial employment moves in Hollywood during the #MeToo and #TimesUp era. Having weighed that fact, Ellison said: “John has acknowledged and apologized for his mistakes and, during the past year away from the workplace, has endeavored to address and reform them.”
Lasseter began his leave of absence in November 2017 after multiple women came forward with accounts of inappropriate and harassing behavior by him. Pixar, which is now led by Pete Docter (“Inside Out”), announced last June that Lasseter would leave the Bay Area company at year’s end; Jennifer Lee (“Frozen”) now leads Disney Animation.
Ellison said in his news release: “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.”
Lasseter, who will report directly to Ellison, effectively replaces Bill Damaschke, who will be “transitioning from his current role,” the Skydance news release said.
Skydance Media has such big action-film franchises as “Mission: Impossible” and the forthcoming “Terminator,” but its animation division, formed in 2017, has not yet released a feature. In 2017, Skydance announced that it hired Vicky Jenson (“Shrek,” “Shark Tale”) and Alessandro Carloni (“Kung Fu Panda,” “How to Train Your Dragon”) to direct its first animated features.
Lasseter will oversee the division and help develop its slate of projects, according to Skydance.
Some critics of Lasseter’s hiring voiced their concerns and anger on social media:
In response to the hiring, the Time’s Up organization released a statement that said Skydance Media’s decision to employ John Lasseter “endorses and perpetuates a broken system that allows powerful men to act without consequence.”