Pixar head of story Joe Ranft, who also lent his voice to such hits as Monsters, Inc, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, was killed in an automobile accident Tuesday. The voice behind Heimlich the caterpiler in A Bug’s Life and Wheezy the Penguine in Toy Story 2 was 45 years old.
Since story is king at Pixar, many co-workers considered Ranft the heart of the leading animation studio. The CalArts grad hitched up with Disney in 1980 and worked on the home video release, The Brave Little Toaster, serving the story department and voicing to the character Elmo St. Peters. He then went on to storyboard and co-write such Mouse House favorites as The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and Fantasia 2000. Ranft received an Oscar nomination for co-writing 1995’s Toy Story with John Lasseter, Pete Docter and Andrew Stanton.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Ranft was a passenger in a car that ran off the road while traveling northbound on Highway 1. The driver was also killed, but a third occupant was able to escape with minor injuries.
A Pixar spokesperson Wednesday told NPR that Ranft was fond of teaching and that the principles which guided his storytelling will live on through his students. The enduring popularity of the Disney and Pixar productions will also ensure that his work is enjoyed by fans of all ages for decades to come.