News of the 64-year-old filmmaker’s death was revealed by del Toro, who eulogized him on Twitter as a “true artist. I admired [Mark], even before I met him. […] A Legend- and a friend that inspired and gave hope to all around him.” He went on to say Gustafson leaves behind “a Titanic legacy of animation. […] I loved having had the chance to share time and space with him during the highs and the lows. Always and forever.”
Born on September 19, 1959, Gustafson started in the 80s as a PA for claymation animation Will Vinton. He’d go on to lead animation on 1998’s TV special for the California Raisins, and which became its own show the following year. His career also includes the short-lived Fox series The PJs and the claymation sequences of Return to Oz, plus serving as animation director for Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Though Gustafson had directed a handful of shorts and TV episodes, Pinocchio marked his directorial debut for a feature film. The 2022 film received widespread critical acclaim and would go to receive nominations for Best Animated Film in several awards circuits, including the Golden Globes. It ultimately won the award at the 2023 Oscars, making it the first animated streaming film at both it and the Globes. Following his Oscar win, Gustafson revealed he was working on an animated series called Milepost 88 with ShadowMachine, a production company that worked on the film.
Like del Toro, ShadowMachine gave its own statement on Gustafson’s death. Highlighting Pinocchio in particular, it said his work “will forever echo in the halls of creativity. […] Mark was genuinely one of a kind, and his absence will be deeply felt across our studio. We celebrate his legacy and the indelible mark he left on the world of animation.”
Gustafson is survived by his wife, musician Jennifer Smieja, and our thoughts go out to her and his other family at this time.
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