After a year away from the animation industry due to a public fallout with Disney and Pixar over misconduct allegations, John Lasseter has a new high-profile job at a different company in Hollywood. Only nine days after Lasseter’s contract expired with Disney, the animation pioneer has been hired to run Skydance Animation, the animation branch of the company best known for producing tentpole action films like the recent Mission: Impossible and Star Trek movies.
Skydance Media chief David Ellison announced (via The Hollywood Reporter) that John Lasseter will be taking over as the head of Skydance Animation from Bill Damaschke, a former DreamWorks Animation exec who currently holds that position. Damaschke may end up transitioning to a different role in the company, but regardless, Lasseter will start work later this month.
Ellison sent a memo to his Skydance employees explaining that he had hired outside counsel to investigate the claims against Lasseter, promising “we have not entered into this decision lightly.” I encourage you to read the full text of Ellison’s memo at the bottom of this article.
In November of 2017, Lasseter acknowledged making “missteps” and stepped down from his position running Pixar and Walt Disney Animation after sexual harassment allegations were made against him. The Hollywood Reporter interviewed several employees of Pixar and explained that the Toy Story director was “well-known for hugging employees and others in the entertainment community, was also known by insiders for ‘grabbing, kissing, making comments about physical attributes.’ Multiple sources say Lasseter is known to drink heavily at company social events such as premiere parties, but this source says the behavior was not always confined to such settings.”
No one publicly went on the record to share their stories about Lasseter for fear of being blacklisted in the tight-knit animation community. But one former Pixar employee told THR, “To sum this up as unwanted hugs is belittling and demeaning. If it was just unwanted hugs, he wouldn’t be stepping down.” Days later, Deadline published some unsettling quotes from a woman who used to serve as an executive at Pixar:
“He’s very tactile in a weird way. He would rub my leg in a meeting…It was creepy and weird. It got to the point where I wouldn’t sit next to him in a meeting, because it undermined everything I said.”
That same report claimed that Disney was knew about Lasseter’s behavior and put people in place to try to prevent incidents:
Two sources recounted Lasseter’s obsession with the young character actresses portraying Disney’s Fairies, a product line built around the character of Tinker Bell.
At the animator’s insistence, Disney flew the women to a New York event. One Pixar employee became the designated escort as Lasseter took the young women out drinking one night, and to a party the following evening.
“He was inappropriate with the fairies,” said the former Pixar executive, referring to physical contact that included long hugs. “We had to have someone make sure he wasn’t alone with them.”
Directors Jennifer Lee and Pete Docter replaced Lasseter at Disney and Pixar, respectively.
Skydance Animation has not yet released a movie, but they currently have two in development: Luck, “a comedy that pulls back the curtain on the millennia-old battle between organizations of good luck and bad luck that secretly affects our daily lives” that’s being directed by Kung Fu Panda 3 co-director Alessandro Carloni, and an “Untitled Action Fantasy” movie directed by Shrek helmer Vicky Jenson.
Here’s David Ellison’s full memo to his employees, courtesy of THR:
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.
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