One of the true greats of contemporary American animation died overnight, after a 4 year battle with pancreatic cancer. RALPH EGGLESTON loved the entire medium of cinema, and was incredibly knowledgeable about all of it; old movies, new movies, silent movies, and movies in any language. The lot. As to animation, the part of the medium he devoted his life to, Ralph excelled at all its creative aspects; art, animation, & story. He was probably the best all-round artist at Pixar, the studio where he’d been a fixture for decades, production designing TOY STORY, FINDING NEMO, INSIDE OUT, WALL-E, having a hand in many other classics, and winning an Oscar for his short FOR THE BIRDS. Ralph was a sweet kooky man, a true original and will be sorely missed.
I first worked with Ralph in early 2000, on my first ever job working for Pixar, doing freelance visual development on what would become FINDING NEMO. When I met Ralph, he was buzzing about like a bee on speed, talking a mile a minute, ping-ponging between subjects almost too fast for me me to follow. Given how much I came to love the man, it is funny now to remember that my very first impression of him was dread. On that first day, I was excited for the new gig, but feared that working for this coke fiend production designer dude was going to be an utter nightmare, and braced for the inevitable brouhaha.. I couldn’t have been more wrong, as working with Ralph was an absolute dream, and a major leap forward in my career. He encouraged me, inspired me, and pushed me to new levels without ever belittling as some creative leaders tend to do. I soon realised that his frenetic pace was not due to drugs, but simply the way Ralph’s mind naturally operated; at top speed, on about 150 channels at once.
I’m not a morning person by nature but have learned that I get a lot more work done if I get into the studio very early in the morning, when it is still dark outside. Ralph was sure to be already there, and many of my cherished interactions with him come from this early morning quiet time, when we’d sometimes bump into each other at the coffee urn or in a corridor. He’d feed me the latest studio scuttlebutt, current industry gossip (or some Hollywood scandal of the past) one of his anecdotes, laced with his dark sense of humour (and bursts of maniacal laughter) or hold forth on how much he loved (or hated) some movie or TV show. Ralph was rarely lukewarm on a subject, he’d be passionately for it or against it. Very opinionated, there was a hot & devilish side to Ralph sometimes, but he was also very considerate, warm, welcoming & humane. Although he was one of the very pillars of Pixar, he talked easily with everyone, and never put on airs.
Ralph was greatly appreciated at Pixar of course, but I often wondered why this super talented renaissance man with an encyclopedic knowledge of film production (who lived & breathed animation like nobody else) never got to direct a movie of his own, where he could show all that he could do.. To be fair to those that make such decisions, Ralph giggling impishy while talking of plans for an animated musical about serial killers might not reassure that he was a safe bet for helming a 4-quad family movie.. but it sure is fun to consider the alternate universe where he got to make one..
Goodbye my nutty friend!
22 thoughts on “Ralph Eggleston”
Eggman was the first to congratulate me when Pixar hired me and I was still in Europe. He gave me a tour when I visited before that and was just as generous with his time once I got to know him. He’d even tolerate me knocking his door when his ‘do not disturb’ sign was up since he knew I always had a valid question about the art side of the film’s story. Every interaction with him was a learning experience – even on the all too few phone calls I had with him through the pandemic. Last year I asked him to be a guest speaker in one of my Story Classes and sensitive to his health issues insisted he speak for no more than an hour but he had a whole presentation on the Increds 2 prod design that he took us through and went for over 2 hours! Legend.
Yes, Ralph was a very welcoming person. Countless people remember him as being the first ‘big wig’ to welcome them to the studio. He never put on airs. No matter how flustered he might get in production, he was always generous with his time. Thanks for commenting Matt.
Matt, Was that talk recorded? I would love to see it. Worked with Eggman on Brad Bird’s Family Dog. Pamela Thompson, PamRecruit87@gmail.com
I remember seeing a rough assembly of THE FAMILY DOG (it was inked & painted in Sydney at a studio near where I worked) and I was blown away by the whole thing, but discovered many years later that some of my fave bits were animated by Ralph. If ever there was a renaissance man of animation, Ralph was it.
I have never been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work directly with Mr. Eggleston but am saddened by the news of his passing nonetheless. His work has inspired and energised me on many occasions and I’ve always felt that I could see underneath the art and find it’s uniquely free form construction. While he may have moved on, he leaves behind a gargantuan volume in the encyclopaedia of animation.
Yes, Ralph leaves behind a vast legacy, not only of the many classic films he worked on at Pixar and elsewhere but of the many people who he influenced both in person and from afar. Sorry that you two animation behemoths never crossed paths, Deane.
Ralph was generous, fun and incredibly knowledgeable. Our lunches together during the Mary Poppins Pixar sojourn was one of my fondest memories of the studio. His incredible instincts and encyclopedic education about our industry and filmmaking in general was always inspiring. RIP
Ralph was VERY well read. There aren’t many people in the animation biz who are as knowledgeable about so many things as he was.
Hahah the coke fiend part really got me. One of my favorite memories was you pitching the first version of the Subconscious sequence on Inside Out and Ralph audibly losing his mind at the potential.
Ha! Yeah, that sequence never made it into the movie but Ralph was a believer! He would bring it up years later. His excitement was exhilarating and intoxicating. It was FUN to make things with him.
Ralph’s brilliant work changed the way we looked at animation. I was lucky enough to have worked with him when the Telluride Film Festival asked him to design a poster. He came up with numerous concept, each brilliant and totally different. Unable to choose just one, we asked for two, not something usually done.
His stories, knowledge and sense of wonder will always be an inspiration.
Thanks for sharing these.
Another beautifully written story Jamie! I had the pleasure of lunching with Ralph and our mutual friend Dave Fulp 2 years ago and touring his art-filled home. A photo I took of him and Dave came up in my feed in January and I re-sent it to them both to which Ralph replied “Hey Kevin & Dave! Hope you’re well!!” If I could post that photo here you would see the warmth and the smile that all of you knew intimately, and that I felt for a moment, and a day. For such an extraordinary being, and because of how we met, there is no goodbye, but an indelible mark he’s left on me and my friends that knew him, and the industry he loved – which will ripple through us and time. Blessings and happy travels to you, Ralph. Though you left us much too soon, I am sure you are smiling wherever you are.
That’s great, and typical of Ralph. Thanks for commenting, Kev.
Ralph didn’t just make cartoon characters, he WAS a cartoon character. I first knew him as a CalArts underclassman. He had an energy like a feral nerd, there was no keeping up with him. I’m very saddened to hear of his passing, he was a super talent and an even more super guy. So long, Eggman.
Yes! Ralph was almost like a hyperkinetic Tex Avery ‘toon sometimes. His hummingbird energy was almost superhuman.
This is a spot-on description of my experiences w/ Ralph while I was working at the cafe. Intimidating, rapid-fire, but also warm, intelligent, and willing to talk to anyone about anything entertainment (even me). I already miss him. <3 </3<3
I’m sorry I couldn’t see him near the end.. but my last memory of being with him in person was of laughing with him at a garden party, so that is a great memory to hold onto.
Thanks for this Jamie!!! Respect and Love! Ralph was one in a Zillion!!!
Yes indeed he was! Thanks for adding your thoughts, A.J.
I loved that man so. The first set I ever saw at the studio – that wasn’t the fellas – were pastel drawings of light and water that Ralph did. And I became OBSESSED with them. I talked about them ALL the time! An early gift from Jeff was a pastel of Nemo near some coral that Jeff as Ralph to do. I wept when I opened it!
I often joke that I know too much useless stuff and too many things. Ralph did too! And whenever we got together it felt like we just shrieked excitedly at each other – ending in a shrill scream of bliss that could be heard by dogs around the world.
Words fail me at this loss. They really do.
yes, I loved him too. The great nut!