Lee Unkrich, one of the centerpiece creatives at the heart of Disney’s Pixar Animation Studios since its first movie Toy Story, said Friday he is leaving the company after 25 years. The director won two Oscars during his run, for helming Coco (last year) and 2010’s Toy Story 3. He also co-directed Pixar smashes Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc and Finding Nemo.
Unkrich informed Pixar staff of his decision today we hear and confirmed the news on Twitter.
“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.
Pete Docter, who was named chief creative officer of Pixar Animation Studios after the exit of co-founder John Lasseter officially departed, also weighed in on Unkrich’s exit.
“Lee arrived at Pixar as we were crafting Toy Story, and he’s had a profound effect on all Pixar films since,” Docter said. “He literally taught us rookie filmmakers about staging, composition, and cutting. 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. He will be sorely missed — but we are enormously grateful for his tireless dedication to quality, and his ability to touch the hearts of audiences around the world.”
Brad Bird, the Oscar-winning director of The Incredibles, also took to Twitter to acknowledge his longtime colleague. “Thanks for all of it, Lee,” Bird tweeted in reply to Unkrich’s farewell.
Unkrich was an editor on that first Toy Story, as well as on Toy Story 2 as well as Coco, which won the Animated Feature Oscar in 2018 and grossed $807.1 million at the global box office. His other Oscar winner, Toy Story 3, made $1.07 billion worldwide in 2010 — becoming the first animated film to ever go north of the $1 billion mark in box office. Toy Story 3 held the record as the top-grossing animated film in history until it was eclipsed by Disney’s Frozen in 2014.
The Unkrich departure comes during a time of transition for Pixar, which has been readjusting since the exit of Lasseter last year amid alleged inappropriate behavior toward female staffers. Ed Catmull, who co-created Pixar with Lasseter, announced his retirement in October, though he is staying on in a consultant capacity through July. Pixar president Jim Morris remains, with Docter overseeing day-to-day creative operations.
Overall, Pixar’s 20 feature films have won 15 Oscars and earned more than $13 billion in global box office. Its most recent film, Incredibles 2, is now the highest-grossing animated film in U.S. box office history and is likely to get another Oscar nomination when those are announced next week.
Up next for Pixar: Toy Story 4, directed by Josh Cooley, which will hit theaters on June 21.
The animation biz has seen several high-profile transitions already in 2019. Lasseter was hired to run Skydance Animation, a move that David Ellison was forced to defend in company town halls in the wake of Lasseter’s past conduct. Meanwhile, Universal said DreamWorks Animation Group president Chris deFaria would exit the studio in the coming months after two years in the position.
THR was first up with the Unkrich news today.