Today, two-time Oscar-winning director Lee Unkrich announced that he is leaving Pixar Animation Studios. The Pixar veteran has been with the studio for 25 years, starting off in the editing room for Pixar’s first theatrical film, Toy Story, then going on to co-direct Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo — before ultimately directing the widely successful films Toy Story 3 and Coco.
The Hollywood Reporter (who was given an exclusive interview with Unkrich) noted that Lee informed Pixar employees of his decision this afternoon (Friday, January 18, 2019). “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,” Unkrich noted as he spoke with THR.
If you recall, Oscar-winning producer Darla K. Anderson (who produced both of Unkrich’s films) announced on March 8, 2018, that she was leaving the famed studio as well, “I’ve had a magical and privileged experience working at Pixar for over two decades. The creativity, imagination and innovation at Pixar is second to none. I’m truly grateful to have been a part of this historic journey and hold excitement for my next chapter,” stated Anderson.
UPDATED: Saturday, January 19 – Lee Unkrich shared (via Twitter) the letter that he sent to his Pixar family regarding his departure from the studio (also written out below).
It is with a heavy heart that I must let you know that I have decided to leave Pixar. My last day will be Friday, February 15.
It is impossible for me to adequately express how epic this twenty-five-year journey has been, and how much it has meant to work alongside such fantastic people and phenomenal talents. Many of you are like family to me, and it’s nearly incomprehensible to imagine no longer being here at Pixar with you. But life is about change, and it’s now my time for new challenges and new adventures. 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 been back-burned. And perhaps I’ll have some new stories to tell along the way.
I am incredibly grateful to the leadership at Pixar and Disney for believing in me, mentoring me, and championing me through the years.
I am also grateful to all of you who have poured your heart and souls into the many films we’ve made together, You are the pinnacle of talent and passion, and you’re putting important, meaningful art into the world. My experience with Coco has undeniably shown me how deeply the stories we create can affect both individuals and entire cultures.
I often tell people that the worst thing about working at Pixar is that I have never gotten to see “the new Pixar movie” without having worked on it or knowing everything about it. While it will be many years before I get that opportunity, I look forward to it.
I’ll be first in line to see what you create together.
PRAISE FROM COLLEAGUES
The praise for what Lee Unkrich has accomplished during his time at Pixar is immense, not only for us (the fans) but with his colleagues as well.
“Lee arrived at Pixar as we were crafting Toy Story, and he’s had a profound effect on all Pixar films since. He literally taught us rookie filmmakers about staging, composition, and cutting,” said Docter, Pixar’s chief creative officer. “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.”
“If you look at the sweep of contemporary cinema, it would be difficult to find someone more brilliant in the filmmaking arts than Lee Unkrich,” said Pixar president Jim Morris. “He has been a key player in elevating virtually every one of Pixar’s films.”
Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn: “Lee has left an indelible mark on the world of film, and we are so grateful for the passion and talent he has brought to each movie he has worked on. He’ll always be part of the Disney-Pixar family, and we will miss him.”
Pixar Post — T.J. & Julie