Mark Gustafson, who alongside Guillermo del Toro directed 2022’s Oscar-winning animated feature Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, died February 1 at 64 following a heart attack. Del Toro confirmed the news on social media, writing that Gustafson was “a pillar of stop-motion animation- a true artist. A compassionate, sensitive and mordantly witty man. A Legend- and a friend that inspired and gave hope to all around him.”
Gustafson’s career began in the early 1980s when he was hired as a PA at the storied Will Vinton Studios, under the veteran Claymation master behind The PJs and films such as The Adventures of Mark Twain and Walter Murch’s Return to Oz in 1985, on which Gustafson collaborated. Gustafson was the Lead Animator and co-wrote the story for the TV comedy special Meet The Raisins! in 1988, which was spun off into the series The Californian Raisin Show a year later. He was the Animation Director for Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox in 2009.
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In addition to winning last year’s Animated Feature Oscar for Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, Gustafson won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Programming (One Hour or Less) for 1992’s A Claymation Easter and he was nominated for three further Emmys. He is a BAFTA and Annie Award winner for Pinocchio, and won a further Annie Award as a director of The PJs in 1999.
This reporter was fortunate to first meet Gustafson in the recording studio as Alexandre Desplat laid down the score for Pinocchio. Over the course of that day at Air Studios in London, as well during post-production of the film in Los Angeles, and on the awards circuit for the film, at Q&As and award shows, Gustafson was kind, generous with his time and forever enthusiastic to explain the intricate work behind the film’s stop motion animation. He delighted in bringing Pinocchio‘s puppets on the tour, and encouraged all those he came across to pick them up and interact with them to learn more about the process to which he dedicated his career.
Gustafson had been developing an animated series called Milepost 88 with ShadowMachine, the company co-founded by Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio producers Alex Bulkley and Corey Campodonico, which he announced shortly after the Oscar ceremony. “In addition to being an absolute legend in stop-motion animation, Mark Gustafson is one of the greatest storytellers working in cinema today,” Bulkley told Deadline when the project was announced.
Del Toro said today that Gustafson “leaves behind a Titanic legacy of animation that goes back to the very origins of Claymation and that shaped the career and craft of countless animators. He leaves friends and colleagues and a historic filmography. Prayers and thoughts go to his beloved wife, Jennifer.”
Del Toro spoke of the journey he had been on with Gustafson “burning the midnight oil during postproduction, or doing daily animation turnovers via Zoom during COVID or being trapped in an elevator in a Cinema in London,” and added, “I am as glad to have met Mark, the human as I was honored to have met the artist. As I said, I admired him before I met him. I loved having had the chance to share time and space with him during the highs and the lows. Always and forever.”
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