John Lasseter, the Walt Disney animation executive who took a sabbatical in November following allegations of inappropriate behaviour, will leave the company for good at the end of the year.
Mr Lasseter, who spearheaded hits from Toy Story to Frozen, will have a consulting role until that time, Disney said. He was accused of inappropriate behaviour and said in an apology last year he may have gone too far in some interactions with staffers.
“John had a remarkable tenure at Pixar and Disney Animation, reinventing the animation business, taking breathtaking risks, and telling original, high quality stories that will last forever,” Disney chief executive officer Robert Iger said.
Under Mr Lasseter’s direction, Disney regained its vigour in animation, at the box office and in awards, creating characters that were marketed successfully on everything from theme-park rides to lunch boxes. Pixar films have generated almost $12 billion in global ticket sales.
Disney didn't name a successor. A person familiar with the company's thinking said Jennifer Lee, who shared a best animated feature Oscar for Frozen, is expected to lead Disney's namesake animation studio, while Pete Docter, who picked up Oscars for Inside Out and Up, would get a similar role at Pixar.
Mr Lasseter, 61, served as chief creative officer at both of the company’s animation studios. In his new position, he’ll consult with staffers, but won’t have an office at the company.
“I have decided the end of this year is the right time to begin focusing on new creative challenges,” he said.
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Mr Lasseter was accused of unwanted touching and inappropriate remarks, behaviour that went on for years, but got new scrutiny in the wake of sexual harassment allegations levelled at other Hollywood producers and stars.
The accusations put Disney in a difficult position. The executive was a beloved figure for having helped create such memorable characters as Lightning McQueen from Cars and Nemo from Finding Nemo. The company sold Hawaiian shirts based on Mr Lasseter's trademark attire and parks featured wines from his private vineyard.
Mr Lasseter grew up in Southern California, attended the Disney-family-supported California Institute of the Arts and even worked as a skipper on the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland. In 1984 he joined the computer graphics division of Lucasfilm. That business was renamed Pixar and acquired by Apple’s Steve Jobs.
At Pixar, Mr Lasseter developed the first feature-length, computer-generated film, Toy Story, an instant hit on its release in 1995. The success of that movie and follow-ups such as Monsters, Inc and The Incredibles, prompted Disney's newly installed CEO Iger to buy Pixar for $7.4 billion in 2006. He put Mr Lasseter and Pixar co-founder Ed Catamull in charge of Disney's entire animation business, including the original business begun in 1923.
Pixar's next release, Incredibles 2, is scheduled for release on June 15.