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Two Guys Named Joe: Master Animation Storytellers Joe Grant & Joe Ranft

General Information:

Media Type: Book
Type: Other
Release Date: 2010-08-03

Geek's Thoughts: Most disneygeeks (especially animation geeks) can probably tell you a little about these two guys named Joe. This hard cover book tells the stories of two legendary animation story tellers, Joe Grant and Joe Ranft. It chronicles the lives, careers, and personalities of two people who have brought smiles and entertainment to most of us. Both men shared a love of film and used their talent to entertain us all.

Joe Grant (1908-2005) had a career that spanned three golden ages of Disney Animation. The original Walt years back in the 30s and the 50s as well as the early 90s. Joe Ranft (1960-2005) was around Disney during its revival in the 90s as well as at the root of the launch of Pixar.

John Canemaker put together a solid book and tries to give an accurate portrayal of these two men and their lives. He covers the highlights, the low lights, the beauty and warts of it all. Everything from office politics (after all this is Hollywood) to shifting cultures is discussed openly. John digs deep into the Disney (and Pixar) archives and tries to convey the real story of these two. He cuts through the hyperbole and fantasy to get at the core of who they are and what they did and in the process takes you on a great trip through the Disney as well as Pixar histories which by itself would make for an interesting read.


I was very curious the interplay of the two Joes, but the book can almost be thought of as two separate books. There is very little overlap conveyed or explored, except for a couple meeting mentions. I take this to mean the two really did not have an opportunity to collaborate on many projects.

The first half of the book looks at Joe Ranft. This Joe, was a talented story person who was at the top of his craft when a tragic car accident took him from us too early. He is best known for his work at Pixar where he worked on all their smash hits from Toy Story up through Cars. Before Pixar he worked with Tim Burton (Nightmare Before Christmas), Disney (Rescuers Down Under) as well as other projects. Joe is a former Cal Arts student, like so many of the Pixar gang.

As with many Joe took a long and winding path though life, but in the end he was able to reach the pinnacle of his field. Two phrases kept popping up as I read through this section. The first is change is constant, whether that is in life or in work. The mantra for one of his classes was Change! Change! Change! And there were quite a few illustrations of how he was always willing to make changes and explore new ideas in his work. The second is how he took on the extra responsibility to mentor/teach those around him both formally and informally. As with all people who have extreme talent it is fun to sit back and observe it. With Joe this comes through in many of the storyboard examples the book provides. The most vivid is the Army Men on the Move boards from Toy Story. They have several pages of the scene in the book and this scene went from the boards through production with no substantive changes.

The second half of the book looks at the Disney Legend Joe Grant. Joe worked directly with Walt Disney for several decades then exited the animation game for nearly 40 years before returning to Disney in his 80s. I had read and heard about Joe Grant being a contributor at Disney into his 80s/90s but what I did not realize is how active and involved he was through these years. The reoccurring theme with Joe seemed to be persistence. He never gave up and just kept going and going, like the Energizer Bunny. He kept churning out ideas and stories. As I sat there reading about Joe Grant I found it hard not to wonder about all the changes he had witnessed. He did caricatures for newspapers before coming to Disney and arrived at the Studio just as Walt was going to break into feature length films. He was there and worked on the story for many of the films we view as classics today. Then he came back to work on another set of Disney classics in the 90s. Trying to put yourself in the shoes of someone with this type of exposure/background is impossible, but fun to think about. What is more amazing is for as much as things changed over time all those decades the key component, the need for a solid story and great gags had not. The other lesson to take from Joe was how he always looked to the future. In the book it was discussed how he did not want to talk about the past but instead focus on the present and the future. He knew where he had been and wanted to look at where we can all go instead.

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