In a career that’s seen him bring everything from the California Raisins to the Fantastic Mr. Fox to life, stop-motion animator/director Mark Gustafson’s legacy is nothing short of magic. Most recently, the co-director of Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio became one of the 2023 Oscar winners with Mr. del Toro himself. Sadly, Gustafson has been reported dead at the age of 64, which prompted his collaborator to pen a heartfelt tribute on social media.
Sharing his feelings through a Twitter post, complete with a picture of himself and Gustafson on the Pinocchio set, del Toro honored his friend and collaborator thusly:
I admired Mark Gustafson, even before I met him. 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. 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 post-production, 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.
Mark Gustafson’s passing was confirmed through further reporting from Deadline, which also mentioned that his cause of death was allegedly due to a heart attack. Mark is survived by his wife Jennifer, as referred to in Guillermo del Toro's fitting tribute above.
Beginning his career at the famed Will Vinton Studios, Mark’s experience with Claymation would see him help in the making of projects like the infamously trippy The Adventures of Mark Twain, and the special Meet The Raisins! Also banking credits as a writer/director, Mark Gustafson would expand his resume with TV shows like the Eddie Murphy sitcom The PJ’s.
Although you may have seen one of Mr. Gustafson's most famous works, and hadn't known it for almost 30 years! That's because his stop-motion prowess gave us the 1996 Nissan commercial entitled "Toys." Yes, it's the ad that you think it is, and in case you're confused, we've included it below for reference:
Naturally, besides his co-directing gig on Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, Mark Gustafson’s most memorable credit to modern audiences is serving as the animation director on one of the best Roald Dahl adaptations, Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. His work on both of those films is perhaps the most fitting tribute to his career making some of the best stop-motion movies and TV ever, and for good reason.
With both movies telling stories about the joys of life, as well as its responsibilities and heartbreaks, the impact of Gustafson's craft cannot be understated. Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio especially seems fitting, as it's not only his final credit, but it's also one of those movies we'll still discuss 10 years from now, as well as for the foreseeable future.
Reading through Guillermo del Toro's stories about working with the man, as well as remembering him for his work, those who knew the work of Mark Gustafson would be able to solemnly nod their heads in agreement. It's in that spirit that we here at CinemaBlend send our deepest condolences to Mark Gustafson’s friends and family, as they navigate this time of sorrow and remembrance.