Pete Kozachik, the renowned visual effects artist known for his stop-motion expertise in films such as “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “James and the Giant Peach,” “Corpse Bride,” and “Coraline,” has passed away at the age of 72. Kozachik died peacefully on Tuesday in hospice care at his Northern California home due to complications from primary progressive aphasia, a rare form of Alzheimer’s.
Throughout his career, Kozachik made significant contributions to the film industry. He operated a stop-motion camera on “Ghostbusters II” in 1989 and served as the director of miniature photography on “Starship Troopers” in 1997. He also worked as a visual effects cameraman on “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones” in 2002.
Kozachik’s work at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) included films such as “Howard the Duck” in 1986, “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” in 1986, “Innerspace” in 1987, and “Willow” in 1988. He reunited with his frequent collaborator, Phil Tippett, to work on the “RoboCop” sequels released in 1990 and 1993.
Director Henry Selick relied heavily on Kozachik’s expertise as the director of photography for “The Nightmare Before Christmas” in 1993 and “James and the Giant Peach” in 1996, both produced by Tim Burton. Kozachik also worked on Selick’s “Coraline” in 2009 and Burton and co-director Mike Johnson’s “Corpse Bride” in 2005. His contributions to “The Nightmare Before Christmas” earned him an Oscar nomination for best visual effects, which he shared with Eric Leighton, Ariel Velasco-Shaw, and Gordon Baker.
Kozachik’s passion for stop-motion animation began in his childhood. Growing up in Michigan, he started creating his own stop-motion films in the sixth grade after seeing a photograph of VFX legend Ray Harryhausen alongside his creations for “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” in 1958. This realization inspired Kozachik to pursue his own stop-motion filmmaking career.
After graduating from the University of Arizona, Kozachik worked as a middle-school teacher for a year before venturing into directing shows for a local TV station and creating cartoons and industrial films. Soon after, he moved to Hollywood and worked at Coast Special Effects in North Hollywood for several years. Eventually, Kozachik relocated to the Bay Area to handle camera work on features at ILM.
In addition to his work in visual effects, Kozachik also worked on various commercials featuring iconic characters like the Pillsbury Doughboy, Scrubbing Bubbles, and Mr. Clean. He was an advanced scuba diver and underwater photographer and even built his own airplane engine.
Kozachik is survived by his wife of 21 years, Katy Moore-Kozachik, who is also a scenic artist and worked on “Corpse Bride” and “Coraline.” Other surviving family members include his younger brother, Steve, who serves as the vice mayor of Tucson, Arizona, his sister-in-law Ann, and his niece Kimberly.
Despite his illness, Kozachik continued to leave his mark on the industry. In 2021, he received a credit on Phil Tippett’s animated horror fantasy film “Mad God.” He also published his memoir, titled “Tales From the Pumpkin King’s Cameraman.” The title pays homage to the character Jack Skellington from “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” The book includes a foreword by Tim Burton, who described Kozachik’s unique style and his ability to bring inanimate objects to life.
Pete Kozachik’s contributions to the world of visual effects and stop-motion animation will continue to inspire and leave a lasting impact on the industry. His expertise and creativity have left an indelible mark on films that have captivated audiences for decades. He will be remembered as a true visionary in the world of filmmaking.