Mark Gustafson, Stop Motion Veteran Who Co-Directed Oscar Winning ‘Pinocchio,” Dies At 64
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Mark Gustafson is a major figure in stop-motion animation and an Oscar-winning codirector of Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,Has died at the age of 64 after suffering from a heart attack.
Gustafson began working as a production assistant at Will Vinton Studios in Portland, Oregon, in the early 1980s after he earned a BFA from Pacific Northwest College of Art. He gradually worked his way through the ranks. Speaking withGustafson fondly recalled his studio days when he was nominated for the Academy Awards last year.
When I started that job, I was sweeping floors and doing errands. ‘Well, I’You’ve made it! This is it.’ And then you work there, and you wind up helping somebody do something, and you do a decent job at that, so they see you differently. Like, ‘Oh, you can sculpt!’ Or, ‘You can help us build armatures. Then they would move me up into that, and I was like, ‘I’ve made it; now I’m sculpting! This is awesome. I know what my career is.’ It just marches along, and you just keep getting different things, and, all of a sudden, I found myself animating and then directing.
While at Will Vinton Studios, Gustafson worked as an animator on 1985’s The Adventures of Mark TwainThe following are some examples of how to get started: Return to Ozand produced a varied body of work that included the shorts Mr. ResistorThe following are some examples of how to get started: Bride of Resistor.
By the mid-1980s, Gustafson found himself in the director’s chairs on the iconic California Raisins commercials, a beloved ad series that turned a group of dried grapes into pop culture icons. The ads were a huge success that the Raisins got a mockumentary. Meet the RaisinsThe 1988 Emmy Award was given to the tv special. Gustafson was the writer, producer, lead animator, and director of this tv special. In a 2002 episode of Food Network’s UnwrappedGustafson explains stop motion basics to a lay audience.
Gustafson received another Emmy nomination for his contributions to Halloween classic short in 1991. Claymation Comedy HorrorsThe 1992 holiday special was the winner of the award. Claymation Easter.
The California Raisins commercials weren’t the only iconic ads that Gustafson worked on while at Will Vinton Studios. He also directed the unforgettable 1997 “Toys”The Nissan commercial that was recognized by as the best commercial of the year. Adweek, Time USA Today Rolling StoneThe following are some examples of how to get started: Car and DriverAmong others. Rob Siltanen was one of the creative directors who were on the spot. Remember to useThe huge splash that the ad created led comedian Jerry Seinfeld, to joke that “More people talked about that Nissan Toys ad than any movie that came out last year.”
Gustafson appeared on the Portland talkshow when the commercial became viral in 1997. AM NorthwestWhere he tries to explain the popularity of the ad. “You never know what’s going to strike people’s fancy,”He said. “I think one of the things is we’re sort of dealing with these iconographic figures… We sort of brought them together and added fun music to that in a 60-second commercial where all we were doing was telling a fun kind of story.”
The Vinton Studios team and Gustafson were driven by the desire to tell stories. This is why so much of their commercial work, as well as their other work, still holds up today.
Gustafson’s cult classic, The Cult Classic, was broadcast on tv in 1999. The PJsEddie Murphy is the co-creator of the series. He won an Annie Award for his work in directing television. In an InterviewGustafson noted that the prospect of creating an entire show using stop motion was overwhelming.
It seems like a bad plan to do so much stop motion. My concern was, `How are we going to maintain the quality?’ I’ve done so many commercials, and they take forever. There’s no way we could have done this if we’d approached it the way we do commercials. We had no choice but to find a new way to produce the show, which would maintain the quality. Nobody here wants to watch shlop. We tried to streamline all aspects of production, so that the focus was on the animation. What it comes down to is getting the animator on the set and in front of a camera so they don’t have to bother with anything else.
Wes Anderson recruited Gustafson to serve as animation director on 2009’s Fantastic Mr. FoxGustafson told the New York Times about his experience working with Anderson. Gustafson, who worked with Anderson on the film, told the Los Angeles Times that, “Honestly? Yeah. He has made our lives miserable,”Before adding that, “I probably shouldn’t say that.”
Gustafson made a personal film as well They Shot in the DarkThe Making of Fantastic Mr. FoxThis witty video hints at the difficulties of communicating with Anderson. The experience couldn’t have been too bad though because Gustafson again served as animation director for Anderson on a 2012 Sony Xperia commercial.
Gustafson’s career reached new heights in 2022, when Netflix released Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, which won the Oscar for best animation feature last year. It also won a Golden Globe and three VES Awards. Five Annies were awarded, including one for outstanding achievement in direction by del Toro & Gustafson.
In 1999, The PJsIn an interview, Gustafson answered a question about the future of stop motion. His answer was prophetic and is still relevant today. “It’s hard to say. I don’t think stop motion will ever be as big as cel or computers. I’m sure stop motion will always have its niche,”He predicted. Certainly, his appearance on stage at last year’s Academy Awards proved that theory.
Gustafson worked with PinocchioShadowmachine is working on a new mystery series called Milepost 88.
Jennifer Smieja is Gustafson’s wife. There is currently no information available about other survivors.
As the news of Gustafson’s death spread over the past day, friends and colleagues paid tribute. Gustafson’s Pinocchio co-director Guillermo del Toro PostingsHis thoughts and condolences on social media:
I admired Mark Gustafson, even before I met him. A true artist and a pillar of stop-motion animation. A compassionate, sensitive, and mordantly funny man. A Legend, and a friend who inspired and gave hope for all those around him. He died yesterday. Today, we honor and mourn him.
He leaves a Titanic legacy in animation that dates back to the origins of Claymation, and has shaped the careers and crafts of countless animators. He leaves behind friends and colleagues, as well as a filmography that is historic. Jennifer, his beloved spouse, is in our thoughts and prayers.
They say “Never meet your heroes…”I disagree. You cannot be disappointed by someone being human… We all are. You can burn the midnight oil in postproduction or do daily animation rotations via Zoom at COVID, or be trapped in an elevator while in a London Cinema.
I am just as honored to have been able to meet Mark as I am to have known the artist. As I said before, I admired Mark before I met him. I was so happy to have shared time and space with him through the highs and lows. Always and forever.
Jenn Ely is a frequent collaborator of Gustafson’s on commercials, both at HouseSpecial and Laika House. Pinocchio,Share these thoughts with others:
He was not someone who tried to be the center of attention. He could be dry and acerbic and really blunt at times— but he was also smart, generous, thoughtful, and weird in the very best way. He loved wigs. He also liked sci-fi and self-deprecation. He was funny. King of the one liner, sometimes he’d leave a conversation on a comment under his breath and two minutes later I’d catch myself laughing out loud alone at my desk, finally realizing what he’d actually said. He could be very serious and quiet, but then say something totally out of the blue.
I was intimidated by his presence. He brought in my first commercial job just as Laika House began to transition to House Special. I had just experienced two very difficult situations as my first job in this industry and I began to wonder if I’d made the right choice. Mark pulled me into a stop motion spot for ice cream when I was in between jobs. He didn’t just give me a job; he gave me one of my first healthy experiences working in animation. It was a lot of fun! I was too serious and anxious about him. He probably felt uncomfortable. He was a hero to me, and I didn’t want to let him down. This was against his casual attitude. “nothing to see here” nature. Despite this, he kept hiring me.
For the next several years I worked on more than half of Mark’s projects at House. The other directors at House began hiring me, and they helped me build the foundation I needed to transition to a sustainable career as a freelancer. It was during that time I learned how to do this job and who I am. Mark was a huge piece of that and I don’t know what my journey would look like without him.
Mark had a great sense of style. His style always leaned towards what stop-motion does best. With Mark, you didn’t always know what was serious and what was a joke, but his deep love for the medium was always clear, and he embraced all the warmth and imperfectness it brings. You knew that working with him would be special because his work was filled with humor and heart. His feedback and his way of thinking about story design influenced who I became as an illustrator.
Kirby Atkins worked at Will Vinton Studios from the mid-1990s onwards, and wrote and directed this feature. MosleyHe fondly recalled his time aboard the Gustafson.
It was my first full time job in animation and, to tell the truth, I was a bit disappointed to land at a studio that did stop-motion when cgi and Pixar/PDI was the place to be. It didn’t take long, however, before Mark turned my world around. He was moving real stuff around– in front of a real camera– and he put such soul, humor, and heart-warming quirk into his craft that I’ve never looked at my job with such a lazy eye again. Rest in peace, Mark. You inspired me to make art that sticks.
Thiago Calçado, who worked on PinocchioGustafson now works at Laika and paid his respects by saying:
I used to describe Guillermo as the director who tells you the story and Mark as the one who shows how you tell. Mark is a true master. His deep understanding of cinematography and all aspects of filmmaking, including framing, editing, cuts, and framing, has left a lasting impression. Pinocchio. He makes it look easy. Mark is not only a director, but a source of inspiration, mentor, friend, and a guiding influence.
Original content by www.cartoonbrew.com: “Mark Gustafson dies at 64, a stop-motion veteran who co-directed the Oscar-winning ‘Pinocchio'”
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