Today it was announced that John Lasseter has been named the Head of Skydance Animation. The new role for Lasseter was announced by David Ellison, Chief Executive Officer, Skydance Media. Lasseter’s new position will be based in Los Angeles and find him reporting directly to Ellison. He will be responsible for the creative direction and strategy for Skydance Animation. This will include responsibilities covering animated media across all platforms. This will include both creative direction and operations for the division as he leads Skydance Animation’s future artistic growth.

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

“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.” Ellison shared.

“We look forward to John bringing all of his creative talents, his experience managing large franchises, his renewed understanding of the responsibilities of leadership and his exuberance to Skydance as we continue to expand our animation efforts for the global marketplace.”

The former chief creative officer for Walt Disney Animation and Pixar Studios said, “I’m grateful to David and the Skydance team and know that I have been entrusted with an enormous responsibility. 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.”

“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.”

Controversy and Investigation

The hiring of Lasseter by Skydance Media was immediately met with controversy. After citing missteps and taking a year sabbatical, there is still concern about Lasseter’s qualities as a leader with Tims Up questioning the wisdom of putting someone who previously abused a powerful position back in power. However, according to Variety, Lasseter’s contract includes “ironclad” legal protections that hold him financially responsible for any future legal issues that could arise. It also protects Skydance from any previous issues that may arise from Lasseter’s past.

The decision to hire John Lasseter, despite the acknowledged missteps, came after an investigation by an outside law firm hired by Skydance Media. The investigation included interviews with more than 20 people. It also included Lasseter sharing about any allegations about inappropriate behavior. The result was an exhaustive report that was evaluated by the Skydance Media leadership team. One person familiar with the report shared to Variety that neither Disney or Lasseter ever settled any harassment claims during his more than 20 years at Pixar.

“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,” Ellison wrote to Skydance Media employees. “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.”

If at some point it is determined that Lasseter lied to lawyers during the investigation, he will immediately be fired.

Moving Forward

Moving forward, John Lasseter is tasked with turning Skydance Animation into a big player in the animation field. In this new job, he will be receiving a seven-figure salary along with bonus incentives for box office results. Skydance Media hosted a town hall meeting to address questions and concerns about Lasseter’s hiring. He is also expected to address staff and answer questions in the near future as well.

Skydance Media hopes to recreate the successes that John Lasseter brought to Pixar Animation Studios and then the Walt Disney Animation Studios. Currently, Skydance Animation has two animated features in the works. Luck is a comedy about good luck and bad luck and is being co-produced with Paramount Animation. The other is Untitled Action Fantasy. 

Before leaving Disney and Pixar, John Lasseter was considered the leader of modern day animation. He was the Chief Creative Officer for both studios and was considered an influential force behind their successes under his leadership. Only time will tell what both his future and Skydance Animation will look like.