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, 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, 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!