The Who2 Blog

Mark Gustafson Wins a Well-Deserved Oscar

Yes, yes, congrats to Michelle Yeoh and Brendan Fraser and The Daniels and all the famous names. But the really big winner of Oscar night 2023 is Mark Gustafson, director of Guillermo del Toro‘s animated film Pinocchio.

A bearded man peers at a tiny motion picture camera

Mark Gustafson, Oscar-winning animation man. (Photo: House Special)

Pinocchio is an old-school animated film, made with stop-motion and classic mechanical camera moves. Mark Gustafson has been working in that world for 40 years, which happens to be how I know him: he was the director and I was his co-writer on A Claymation Easter Celebration, which won an Emmy as best animated show back in 1992. We worked for animation guru Will Vinton at the time, and Mark was already one of the studio’s hero talents.

He told Oregon Live about his early days at the studio in then-remote Portland, Oregon:

“I started at Will Vinton’s back when I was 20 years old,” Gustafson says. “My first experience in show business, literally the first task I ever did, was Will asking me to find the source of a smell, which turned out to be a dead opossum.” Gustafson found the creature, and recalls depositing in the Dumpster at a burger place in Northwest Portland.

Good times!

After A Claymation Easter I drifted into other pursuits, but Mark went on with his life’s work. The delightful Mr. Resistor, which he made in 1993, shows off the range, manic energy, and dark humor that would one day be a match for Guillermo Del Toro’s own mood.

Among his many other projects, Mark was also animation director for Fantastic Mr. Fox, directed by Wes Anderson from the book by Roald Dahl. Fast company! Especially given that Mr. Fox was voiced by George Clooney. The animation is terrific! That movie was, to be frank, a lot more fun than Pinocchio.

But you can’t deny the magic of the Pinocchio animation. It’s beautiful work. Of course it took Guillermo del Toro’s fame, talent, and Hollywood juice to get the movie made, but it also has Gustafson’s signature wondrous and twisted touches all over.

Other animators from those years at Will Vinton Studios have also made their mark; one current notable is Hal Hickel, animation supervisor for The Mandalorian. (What a complex job that must be!) Another early Vinton animator, Joan Gratz, won an Oscar in 1992 for her thoughtful and remarkable short Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase. But I believe Mark is the old studio’s first Oscar winner since then, and he’s no doubt the highest-profile member of the Vinton alumni.

The greatest miracle for any animator is to pay the bills and keep animating. Mark has managed that admirably; currently he’s a director for the Portland animation firm House Special, still having fun and paying the bills when he’s not winning Oscars for feature films. OregonLive says he is now “focusing on his own project, a stop-motion animation limited TV series.” Good for him, and congratulations on winning an Academy Award. Salute!


Related Biographies

Share this: