The animation world has recently lost one of its most beloved and respected figures. Mark Gustafson, a celebrated stop motion animation legend, passed away at the age of 64 due to a heart attack. Gustafson, who recently earned an Oscar alongside Guillermo del Toro for their work on “Pinocchio,” began his career in the 1980s. His sudden passing is particularly poignant as it comes at a moment where he was receiving some of the highest levels of global recognition in his career.
Guillermo del Toro shared his grief and respect for Gustafson’s legacy on social media with heartfelt tributes. Del Toro expressed his long-held admiration for Gustafson, which predated even their personal acquaintance. He described Gustafson as a cornerstone of stop motion animation, acknowledging his artistry, compassion, sensitivity, and sharp wit. Del Toro shared how deeply Mark Gustafson inspired and gave hope to those around him. The news of Gustafson’s passing has filled the animation community with a sense of loss and a commitment to honoring his memory.
Del Toro was intent on conveying the depth of his admiration for Gustafson. In his public farewells, he spoke about the emotional impact of Gustafson’s passing and the monumental contribution he made to the art of animation. The Mexican director mentioned Gustafson’s extensive and influential career, which shaped the lives and skills of numerous animators and touched the corners of the animation world. He also passed on his condolences to Gustafson’s wife, Jennifer, and the extended network of friends and colleagues who have been touched by Gustafson’s creative spirit.
The reverence Del Toro felt for Gustafson was accentuated by his disagreement with the adage “Never meet your heroes.” For Del Toro, Gustafson was an exception. He shared personal moments that demonstrated the humanity and warmth of Gustafson—from lengthy post-production sessions to navigating the daily challenges of remote work during the pandemic and even an incident where they found themselves stuck in an elevator in London. Del Toro emphasized that getting to know Gustafson, the person behind the artist, was a profound joy. Loving and cherishing the shared times, both the highs and the lows, Del Toro expressed his gratitude for having met and known Mark Gustafson.
The Oscar-winning duo’s journey with “Pinocchio” demonstrates the amazing collaborative spirit in the movie industry. Del Toro, a filmmaker known for his imaginative storytelling and affection for creature design, found a kindred spirit in Gustafson, a man who helped bring clay to life through the meticulous craft of stop motion animation. Gustafson’s departure from this world leaves a space that will be incredibly hard to fill. Yet, his art, kindness, and humor live on, celebrated by peers, fans, and friends like Guillermo del Toro, who will always treasure the moments they shared and the art they created together. Although Mark Gustafson’s life has come to an untimely end, his creative legacy will inspire and be admired by future generations of animators and audiences around the globe.