Collaborating on Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Collaborating with Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro’s creative partners on working with the Mexican writer-director on his latest project.  

15 February 20237 min read

Ever since Academy Award winner Guillermo del Toro first encountered the story of Pinocchio as a child in Guadalajara, Mexico, the visionary writer-director-producer longed to bring his own version of the fairy tale to the screen. After years of frustrating false starts, the filmmaker partnered with co-director Mark Gustafson (2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox) and co-screenwriter Patrick McHale (2014’s Over the Garden Wall) to finally achieve his lifelong goal. 2022’s stop-motion animated Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio transforms the story of the little wooden boy into a film as singular and special as the puppet himself, earning his team an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature, among many other accolades.

By marrying principles of live-action filmmaking with time-tested animation techniques, del Toro and Gustafson have fashioned a handcrafted fairy tale that stands alongside the Mexican auteur’s most creatively compelling work. “Pinocchio provides a cinematic level of stop-motion from a live-action filmmaker,” says producer Alex Bulkley. “That plays into the costumes, it plays into the camera work, it plays into the production design — it’s all the same visual language Guillermo would use on any of his live-action films.”

In addition to the Academy Award nomination, Pinocchio won the Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature and claimed the same prize at the Critics Choice Awards. The film earned BAFTA nominations for Best Animated Feature, Best Score for composer Alexandre Desplat, who previously scored del Toro’s Best Picture winner The Shape of Water, and Best Production Design for Curt Enderle and Guy Davis. Pinocchio is also nominated for Outstanding Producer of Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures at the Producers Guild of America Awards. 

Here, del Toro’s creative partners discuss collaborating with the legendary filmmaker on their stop-motion masterpiece.

Sebastian J. Cricket, Wood Sprite, and Pinocchio

The Master Filmmaker

“It’s been amazing working with Guillermo because obviously, he’s an artist who’s at the top of his game right now. So, it makes you have to raise your game as well. I like to think that every day working with him is like a masterclass in filmmaking.” 

— Co-director Mark Gustafson

 “To work with a great director like Guillermo was a really fantastic opportunity. I knew from his films, and the way he used his colors, it would be perfect for me to work with him. I think it’s enabled me to push my art and the way I do things. I’ve done a lot of things that I’ve never done on other movies, and probably never could have done because [Guillermo’s] a director who’s much more open to whatever ideas you have. He’s always got time for a new way of doing something and presenting a new way for people to see things.” 

— Cinematographer Frank Passingham

The Passionate Leader

“It’s important to note just how gracious of a creative Guillermo is, as well as Mark. I can’t say enough how gracious he’s been in giving [the animators] latitude to really push the envelope. That doesn’t always happen, and I think that comes from [his having] such a strong confidence in the base knowledge of what stop-motion is. Obviously, Guillermo came from that history and knows the details down to the tiniest little things. So, because of his knowledge, that really allows him to push the animators and the talent on set to put their artistry into the process. It happens pretty much in every shot.” 

— Producer Corey Campodonico

 “Guillermo, he’s such a passionate person. It’s been a joy to work with him as a director. It was inspiring to work with somebody so trusting, so inspiring, so talented, and such a good storyteller. I feel like we all, as a crew, rose to another level working for him.”

— Puppet supervisor Georgina Hayns

Pinocchio and the Black Rabbits

A Visionary Collaborator

“I found working with Guillermo really interesting. He has a particular vision, and I think a director who doesn’t work in stop-motion brings something new to the medium. We are all huge fans of Guillermo del Toro, and we spent a lot of time looking at his films and gathering iconic things that we felt could also be referenced in this film. We were looking at the colors that he uses, textures, shapes of windows, and just general atmosphere. You can probably tell within three seconds that you’re watching a Guillermo film, and we wanted that to be true of this as well.”
— Co-production designer Curt Enderle

“Guillermo’s been fantastic in the way that he completely trusted the animators, a bit like he trusts his actors. He told us again and again that he never tells the actor what to do exactly. Because you’d expect the actor to act. So, he was thinking about the animators being the actors. He would give a general brief to the animator, but most times, he would take their ideas on and go, ‘Oh, that’s a good idea. Let’s do that.’”
— Animation supervisor Brian Leif Hansen

 “Guillermo is so collaborative and is so interested in learning from his partners and having creative back and forth with them. Guillermo’s always been, on every film, meticulous about design and appreciative and in love with the work done by his creative team.”
— Producer Gary Ungar