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Pixar co-founder John Lasseter hired to run Skydance Animation

As part of a big and surprising move, Skydance CEO David Ellison has announced via a memo that Pixar co-founder and former Disney animation superstar John Lasseter has been hired to run Skydance Animation. This undoubtedly game-changing hiring comes after Disney relieved Lasseter of his animation executive position, following Lasseter's six-month leave from the studio after being slapped with several accusations of repeated misconduct and "missteps" within the company.

Upon joining Skydance later this month, Lasseter will report directly to Ellison, via the former Disney exec's Los Angeles office.  As per the move, Lasseter will replace Bill Damaschke, Skydance's President of Animation and Family Entertainment. According to a report made by Deadline, Ellison is hoping that Damaschke will remain within the company.

“John is a singular creative and executive talent whose impact on the animation industry cannot be overstated,” said Ellison in a press release. “He was responsible for leading animation into the digital age, while telling incomparable stories that continue to inspire and entertain audiences around the globe.”

He then added, “And yet we did not enter into this decision lightly. John has acknowledged and apologized for his mistakes and, during the past year away from the workplace, has endeavored to address and reform them.”

As the head of Skydance Animation, it will be Lasseter's job to “ensure a robust slate of animated entertainment across all media,” which includes coming up with strategies related to the studio's creative direction and establishment of future endeavors.

In talking about his appointment to the company, Lasseter told news outlets:

“I’m grateful to David and the Skydance team and know that I have been entrusted with an enormous responsibility,” Lasseter said. “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. It has been humbling, but I believe it will make me a better leader.”

He continued: “I want nothing more than the opportunity to return to my creative and entrepreneurial roots, to build and invent again. 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.”

You can read Ellison's memo regarding Lasseter's hire 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

In 2017, Lasseter was accused of "grabbing, kissing, and making comments about physical attributes" to his staff. While the animation guru claims to have learned from his mistakes, many within the industry will be watching him like a hawk as he attempts to guide another studio toward greater ends. Here's hoping for great things as this transition comes to pass, and that Lasseter has truly learned from his past transgressions and then some.

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