Who Are Pixar's Best Film Directors?

The Best of the Animation Giant's Creative Talent

Even after 20 years since the release of the original Toy Story, Pixar remains the gold standard in computer animation. One of the reasons why is because Pixar has amassed the most impressive collection of regular filmmakers in animation history. On top of that, Pixar has developed new talent through its acclaimed shorts program and by allowing newer animators to co-direct films with its established veterans. Through the studios two decades, these five animators stand out as the studio’s very best:

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Pete Docter

As one of the first animators hired by Pixar, Pete Docter has played a pivotal role in the studio’s success over the years. He has worked on everything from the first movie to A Bug’s Life to the Oscar-winning short . Docter made his feature directing debut alongside Lee Unkrich and David Silverman on 2001’s Monsters, Inc., and followed that up with the critically acclaimed 2009 film Up, which won the Oscar for Best Animated Film. Most recently, Docter directed 2015's Inside Out, which was a huge box office hit and also won the Oscar for Best Animated Film.

Career Highlight: Without question, the montage detailing Carl and Ellie’s marriage near the start of Up remains one of the most brilliantly conceived and emotionally devastating stretches in animation history, yet one could argue the entirety of Inside Out is just as emotional.

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Andrew Stanton

Like Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton has been with Pixar virtually since its inception and has contributed to many of the studio’s biggest hits. Stanton made his name by directing A Bug’s Life with Pixar head John Lasseter, and then co-directed Finding Nemo alongside Lee Unkrich. In 2008, Stanton made his solo directing debut with WALL-E – which immediately established itself as a high-water mark for Pixar in terms of animation and maturity. Both Finding Nemo and WALL-E won Oscars for Best Animated Film. Though Stanton briefly left Pixar to direct the live action John Carter for Disney, he returned to co-write and direct the long-awaited 2016 Finding Nemo sequel, Finding Dory.

Career Highlight: Audiences were stunned by WALL-E’s opening 40 minutes, which plays out without dialogue as it follows the title character’s exploits.

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Lee Unkrich

Lee Unkrich

Lee Unkrich cut his teeth working as a co-director on Pixar hits , Monsters, Inc, and Finding Nemo, which paved the way for him to make his solo directing debut in 2010 with . Unkrich took inspiration from sources as varied as The Shining and The Great Escape. Toy Story 3 was enthusiastically received by audiences and critics alike – with many reviewers calling it one of the few sequels in Hollywood history to match the impact of its predecessors. Toy Story 3 not only won the Oscar for Best Animated Film, but it is one of the few animated films to be nominated for Best Picture. His next project for Pixar as director is 2017's Coco.

Career Highlight: There’s a sequence near the conclusion of in which Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), and the rest of the toys find themselves facing certain death, with the raw intensity of the scene impacting adults just as strongly as children.

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John Lasseter

It’s impossible to compile a list of Pixar’s best directors without mentioning John Lasseter, the man who is responsible for launching the studio’s feature film legacy with 1995’s after directing many of the company's original shorts. Toy Story earned Lasseter a special achievement Oscar, and he has since had a hand in all of Pixar’s output -- as well as the output from the studio’s parent company, Disney, since he now serves as Chief Creative Officer for all of Disney's animation brands. As director, Lasseter also directed A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Cars, Cars 2, and the upcoming Toy Story 4.

Career Highlight: Unquestionably, the scene in in which Buzz (Tim Allen) flamboyantly flies around Andy’s room is Lasseter’s crowning achievement. It instantly and powerfully demonstrated the potential of computer animation, showed Pixar's powerful character development, and paved the way for every Pixar movie that followed.

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Brad Bird

Unlike everyone else on this list, Brad Bird didn’t start out his career at Pixar. Instead, Bird made a name for himself by working on The Simpsons and directing the critically-acclaimed 1999 animated film . Bird’s obvious talent in animation made him an obvious fit for Pixar, and in 2004, the filmmaker emerged with the studio’s first superhero-oriented adventure, . Ratatouille, released in 2007, cemented Bird’s place as a de facto Pixar filmmaker. Both The Incredibles and Ratatouille won Oscars for Best Animated Film. Though Bird has branched out into directing non-animated films, including Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol and Tomorrowland, he is reuniiting with Pixar to direct The Incredibles 2.

Career Highlight: The Incredibles instantly set a new standard in terms of animated action, with the climactic battle between the main characters and a house-sized robot standing as an obvious high point.

Edited by Christopher McKittrick