UPDATED with more details: John Lasseter, the architect of Pixar and Disney’s juggernaut animation operations, is taking a leave of absence from his post effective immediately. He holds the title Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, and Principal Creative Advisor for Walt Disney Imagineering.
In a memo to staffers this morning obtained by Deadline, Lasseter wrote he was taking a six-month sabbatical after admitting to “missteps,” and apologizing “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.” (Read the full memo below.)
The news comes amid a wave of allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault in Hollywood, which began with exposes of Harvey Weinstein in the New York Times and New Yorker early last month and has spread far and wide.
“We are committed to maintaining an environment in which all employees are respected and empowered to do their best work,” a Disney spokesperson said in a statement. “We appreciate John’s candor and sincere apology and fully support his sabbatical.”
The Hawaiian-shirt wearing Lasseter is a larger-than-life figure on the Disney lot as the acknowledged creative force behind Pixar and as the visionary who helped revitalize the once-struggling Walt Disney Animation Studios. Many view him as a successor to Walt Disney himself — someone with a childlike sensibility and a passion for animation and the theme parks. (He has creative oversight of all films and associated projects from Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation Studios and Disneytoon Studios along with the Imagineering group.)
But Lasseter’s name also has been mentioned in the context of inappropriate or uninvited behavior.
One woman who worked with Lasseter described him as a very tactile person who expresses himself in weird, uncomfortable ways. Many published profiles of the bearish animator note that he’s known for his hugs — though he’s known for embracing women for awkwardly long periods of time.
“He was like a creepy, geeky uncle who was inappropriate,” said the woman, who requested anonymity.
Female executives at the Emeryville studio also practice a defensive maneuver that’s known as the “head turn.” When Lasseter reaches in for an uninvited kiss, you turn your head so he plants a kiss on your cheek, instead.
Lasseter, who founded Pixar with Ed Catmull, directed the Pixar-launching Toy Story in 1995 which earned a Special Achievement Oscar, and he has executive produced all Pixar features since 2001’s Monsters, Inc. The studio has won eight Oscars and its films have earned more than $10 billion in global box office. He also directed A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Cars and Cars 2.
Today’s news comes as Pixar’s latest tentpole, Coco, readies to hit theaters tomorrow for the long Thanksgiving Day weekend.
Here’s the full memo:
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.