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Pete Kozachik, Oscar-Nominated ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ VFX Artist, Dies at 72

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Pete Kozachik, the Oscar-nominated visual effects artist who contributed his stop-motion expertise to such films as The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach, Corpse Bride and Coraline, has died. He was 72.

Kozachik died peacefully Tuesday in hospice care in his Northern California home of complications from primary progressive aphasia, a rare form of Alzheimer’s, his wife, Katy Moore-Kozachik, told The Hollywood Reporter.

Kozachik also operated a stop-motion camera on Ghostbusters II (1989) and served as director of miniature photography on Starship Troopers (1997) and as a visual effects cameraman on Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones (2002).

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At Industrial Light & Magic, he worked on films including Howard the Duck (1986), Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), Innerspace (1987) and Willow (1988) before rejoining frequent collaborator Phil Tippett on the RoboCop sequels released in 1990 and ’93.

For director Henry Selick, Kozachik was director of photography on The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), James and the Giant Peach (1996) — both produced by Tim Burton — and Coraline (2009) and for Burton and co-director Mike Johnson on Corpse Bride (2005).

He shared his Oscar nom for Nightmare‘s best visual effects with Eric Leighton, Ariel Velasco-Shaw and Gordon Baker.

Jack Skellington in 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Growing up in Michigan, Peter Alan Kozachik began making his own stop-motion films in the sixth grade after he saw a photograph of VFX legend Ray Harryhausen next to the Cyclops and Dragon puppets he created for The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and “realized those figures weren’t as big as I thought they were, so it was something I felt I could do,” he recalled in a 2011 interview.

After moving to Tucson and graduating from Catalina High School in 1969 and then the University of Arizona, he worked for a year as a middle-school teacher, directed shows for local TV station KZAZ and did cartoons and industrial films before heading to Hollywood.

He worked at Coast Special Effects in North Hollywood for several years starting in 1979, then moved to the Bay Area to handle camerawork on features at ILM.

Kozachik also did commercials featuring the Pillsbury Doughboy, Scrubbing Bubbles, Mr. Clean and other characters; was an advanced scuba diver and underwater photographer; and built his own airplane engine.

In addition to his wife of 21 years — a scenic artist, she also worked on Corpse Bride and Coraline — survivors include his younger brother, Steve, vice mayor of Tucson, Arizona; sister-in-law Ann; and niece Kimberly.

Despite his illness — he was diagnosed 10 years ago with aphasia, which robs a person of his or her ability to communicate — Kozachik in 2021 got a credit on Tippett’s animated horror fantasy Mad God and published his memoir, Tales From the Pumpkin King’s Cameraman, a title that references the Jack Skellington character (Chris Sarandon) in Nightmare.

Wrote Burton in a foreword for the book: “Watching him work was like seeing a giant hovering over a quiet village or a mad scientist in his laboratory, bringing inanimate objects to life; finding ways, both high-tech and low-tech, to solve problems; and delicately, tactically bringing the miniature sets to life. Pete’s unique style gives you an insight into this special world and the weirdness, excitement, depression, humor, anger, loneliness and creativity of it all.”

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