Mark Gustafson, Oscar Winner for ‘Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,’ Dies at 64

Mark Gustafson, who won an Oscar last year for co-directing the animated feature “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” died on Thursday, The Oregonian reported. He was 64.

Guillermo del Toro, Gustafson’s co-director on the dark reimagining of the classic tale of Pinocchio, posted a tribute to him on Friday morning.

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“I admired Mark Gustafson, even before I met him,” del Toro wrote on X. “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. He passed away yesterday. Today we honor and miss him.”

“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” released on Netflix in late 2022, won the Oscar for best animated feature last year. It also received a Golden Globe, three Visual Effects Society Awards and five Annie Awards, including outstanding achievement in directing for del Toro and Gustafson.

The stop-motion film reinvented the story of Pinocchio and took place in Fascist Italy after World War I. Geppetto loses his son in a bombing and carves Pinocchio from a tree planted at the grave. While he learns what it means to be human, Pinocchio is repeatedly brought back from the dead and later joins the circus and military.

Del Toro continued in his tribute to Gustafson, “He 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. They say, ‘Never meet your heroes…’ I disagree. You cannot be disappointed by someone being human. We all are. 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… 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.”

Gustafson began his animation career in the 1980s and dabbled in several kinds of animation. His claymation work can be seen in the 1987 TV special “Claymation Christmas Celebration,” “The PJs” series starring Eddie Murphy and the TV special “Meet the Raisins,” starring the iconic California Raisins.

He was also the animation director for Wes Anderson’s 2009 Oscar-nominated film “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and worked on the claymation in “A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas.”

He is survived by his wife, Jennifer.

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