Will Vinton

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Will Vinton
Will Vinton 2015.jpg
Vinton in 2015
William Gale Vinton

(1947-11-17)November 17, 1947
DiedOctober 4, 2018(2018-10-04) (aged 70)
OccupationAnimator, filmmaker, editor, screenwriter, voice actor
Years active1969–2008

William Gale Vinton (November 17, 1947 – October 4, 2018)[1] was an American animator and filmmaker. He won an Oscar for his work[2] alongside several Emmy Awards and Clio Awards for his studio's work.

Life and education[edit]

Vinton was born on November 17, 1947, to a car dealer father and a bookkeeper mother in McMinnville, Oregon.[3]

During the 1960s, Vinton studied physics, architecture and filmmaking at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was influenced by the work of Antoni Gaudí.[4] During this time, Vinton made a black-and-white feature-length documentary film about the California counter-culture movement titled Gone for a Better Deal, which toured college campuses in various film festivals of the time. Two more films about student protest followed, Berkeley Games and First Ten Days, as well a narrative short Reply, and his first animation, Culture Shock.[5]

Vinton received his bachelor's degree in architecture from UC Berkeley in 1970.[6] He is the subject of the documentary film, 'Claydream,' which will be released in 2021.


Collaboration with Bob Gardiner[edit]

Meeting clay animator Bob Gardiner in the Berkeley, California, area in the early 1970s, Vinton brought him to Portland and they commandeered Vinton's home basement to make a quick 1½-minute test film of clay animation (and the supporting armatures) called Wobbly Wino, completed in early 1973. Gardiner refined his sculpting and animation techniques while Vinton built a system for animating his Bolex Rex-5 16mm camera and they began work in mid-1973 on an 8-minute 16mm short film about a drunk wino who stumbles into a closed art museum and interacts with the paintings and sculptures. Completed in late 1974 after 14 months of production, the film combined Gardiner's sculpting skills and comedy writing talent with Vinton's camera skills. Closed Mondays won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in the spring of 1975, the first film produced in Portland to do so.[7][8]

Vinton and Gardiner parted ways during the production of their second short film, Mountain Music completed by Vinton in 1976. Gardiner focused on producing PSA spots for local political issues (eventually evolving into other artistic media such as music and holograms) while Vinton established Will Vinton Productions (later Will Vinton Studios) in Portland to capitalize on the animation technology Gardiner had developed for their animated short Closed Mondays. Quickly expanding his studio by hiring new animators, Vinton produced dozens of commercials for regional and then national companies.

Going solo[edit]

Still with only a handful of animators, Vinton produced a trilogy of 27-minute fairy tales in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Martin the Cobbler (1977), the Oscar-nominated Rip Van Winkle (1978), and The Little Prince (1979). These films were later released theatrically under the umbrella title Trilogy,[9] and later to video as The Little Prince and Friends. In 1978, Vinton produced the documentary Claymation: Three Dimensional Clay Animation a 17-minute film featuring the behind-the-scenes technical processes used. The term "claymation" was later trademarked by Vinton,[10] and has become synonymous with clay animation in general.

35mm years[edit]

Graduating to 35mm film, other short films were produced during this time: Legacy (1979), Dinosaur (1980),[11] The Creation (directed by Joan Gratz, 1981, Oscar nominated),[12] The Great Cognito (directed by Barry Bruce, 1982, Oscar nominated), and early music videos: a longform "video" called A Christmas Gift for Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary, and Vanz Kant Danz (1987) for Creedence Clearwater Revival's John Fogerty. VHS video compilations of these films were released in the 1980s as Festival of Claymation and Son of Combo II.

Vinton, no longer performing animation himself, later produced special effects scenes for TV shows and movies, including a sequence for Bette Midler's Divine Madness! movie (1980), an Emmy-winning sequence for the Moonlighting TV series (1987), the opening and closing title sequences for the feature comedy film Brain Donors (1992), and his own feature-length movie, The Adventures of Mark Twain (1985). His studio's animation effects for Disney's Return to Oz (1985) were also nominated for a special effects Oscar.

Following his work on Return to Oz, Vinton was hired by the Disney studio to produce animation effects for their Michael Jackson Disneyland-Disney World film, Captain EO in 1986 (September 12, 1986) and the Speed Demon music video for Michael Jackson's musical anthology feature-length film, Moonwalker (1988).

Prominent among his hundreds of now international commercial creations were the California Raisins, the Domino's Pizza Noid, and the M&M's Red, Yellow, Blue, Green and Crispy (Orange) characters.[13][14]

The California Raisins' first big hit was the song "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" in the first of their series of TV spots for the California Raisin Advisory Board. They became such a media phenomenon that they went on to star in their own pair of primetime specials for CBS television, Meet the Raisins (1988) and The Raisins Sold Out (1990). A couple music albums of songs from the specials, produced by Nu Shooz pop rock band leader John Smith were also released.

CBS also commissioned three more prime-time specials, A Claymation Christmas Celebration (1988, an Emmy winner), The Claymation Comedy of Horrors, a 1991 Halloween special, and A Claymation Easter (1992). All were later released to video and DVD.

During the 1990s, the Vinton Studios produced the animated series The PJs for the FOX TV network. The series was conceived and executive-produced by Eddie Murphy. Another animated series was produced for the UPN TV network by the Vinton studio, Gary and Mike, now a cult favorite. Both series used a refinement in Vinton's style of dimensional animation. Most of the clay figures were replaced by models of moulded foam rubber, eliminating many of the limitations, and maintenance issues, that are inherent with clay, which had been developed by Vinton and his technical teams as far as it could go. Vinton soon coined a new term for this process, Foamation.

In the 1990s, a variety of Vinton's 400 + animators and technicians helped with new creations and films of their own using the Vinton facilities called the Walkabout Program. Craig Bartlett created his Arnold Escapes From Church short film (1988) which later spawned Hey Arnold!, a cel-animated series for Nickelodeon and generated two more clay-animated short films, The Arnold Waltz (1990) and Arnold Rides a Chair (1991).

Early digital image capture[edit]

The animated series produced for the UPN TV network by the Vinton studio, Gary and Mike was shot using digital video capture system developed for the production by two Vinton engineers Miegel Ginsberg and Gary McRobert.

Computer animation[edit]

The mid-1990s also saw Vinton adding computer animation to his output, used most visibly for his M&M's character commercials. A short CGI film, Fluffy, directed by Doug Aberle, was created during this time. Other CGI films—some combined with clay and stop-motion animation—soon followed. Vinton contributed to a consumer-grade computer animation application called Playmation, developed by Hash, Inc., a computer animation company in Vancouver, Washington. Vinton and associates also dabbled in animation for the internet with a series called Ozzie the Elf.

Retirement, illness and death[edit]

He retired in 2008. He died in Portland, Oregon, on October 4, 2018, of multiple myeloma at the age of 70.[15]

Will Vinton Studios[edit]

Will Vinton Studios
TypeAnimation Studio
IndustryStop Motion
FounderWill Vinton
HeadquartersPortland, Oregon

By the end of the 1990s, the Vinton studio, seeking funds for more feature-length films, had become big enough to bring in outside investors, which included Nike, Inc., founder Phil Knight and his son, Travis, who had worked at the studio as an animator.

In 2002, Vinton lost control of the studio he founded after Knight became the majority shareholder and Vinton failed to garner funds for further feature production in Los Angeles, eventually being dismissed from the studio. Vinton later sought damages for this and sued for ownership of his name. In 2005, the successor to Will Vinton Studios, Laika, was founded. Premiere stop-motion animator/director Henry Selick joined the studio as supervising director.[16]

Vinton later founded a new production facility, Will Vinton's Freewill Entertainment, also based in Portland. In 2005, Vinton produced The Morning After, the first short film under the new company. The film combines CGI and live action. He also taught at the Portland branch of The Art Institutes[17] and maintained an office there as an artist in residence.[18] The Creative Artists Agency in Beverly Hills represented Vinton for production projects,[19] which included a graphic novel called Jack Hightower produced in tandem with Dark Horse comics.[20]


The moving image collection of Will Vinton is housed at the Academy Film Archive.[21] The Academy Film Archive has preserved several of Vinton's films, including Closed Mondays, The Creation, The Great Cognito, Dinosaur, Legacy, and A Christmas Gift.[22]


Feature films[edit]

  • The Wild (2006) – executive producer
  • Brain Donors (1992) – segment director (Intro)
  • Moonwalker (1988) – segment director, producer: Speed Demon by Michael Jackson
  • Festival of Claymation (1987) – director, producer (compilation of short films)
  • Shadow Play (1986) – producer (live-action thriller)
  • Return to Oz (1985) – claymation director, producer (Academy Award Nominee)
  • The Adventures of Mark Twain (1985) – director, producer (Comet Quest: UK: video title)
  • Gone for a Better Deal (1982) – director, producer (live-action documentary)

TV series[edit]

TV specials[edit]

Short films[edit]

  • The Little Prince, 25 min. (director, producer)
  • Martin the Cobbler, 26 min. (director, producer)
  • Rip Van Winkle, 26 min. (director, producer) Academy Award Nominee[23]
  • The Diary of Adam and Eve, 24 min. (director, producer)
  • Closed Mondays, 9 min. (co-creator) Academy Award Winner[23]
  • Mr. Resistor, 8 min. (executive producer)
  • Bride of Resistor, 6 min. (executive producer)
  • Dinosaurs! - A Fun-Filled Trip Back in Time!, 17 min. (director, producer)[23]
  • Legacy: A Very Short History of Natural Resources, 7 min. (director, producer)
  • Marvin the Martian in the Third Dimension, 13 min. (producer)
  • A Christmas Gift, 7 min. (director, producer)
  • The Great Cognito, 5 min. (director, producer) Academy Award Nominee
  • The Creation, 9 min. (director, producer) Academy Award Nominee
  • The Morning After, 7:30 (director, producer)
  • Mountain Music, 9 min. (director, producer)[23][24]
  • Wobbly Wino, 2 min. (director, producer)
  • Culture Shock, 17 min. (director, producer)
  • Go Down Death, 10 min. (director, producer)
  • Claymation, documentary, 18 min. (director, producer)[23][25][26]
  • Vanz Kant Danz (John Fogerty music video), 6 min. (director, producer)
  • The Lost 'M' Adventure (3-D short film featuring the M&M's characters), 12 min. (executive producer)
  • Xerox and Mylar, 5 min. (executive producer)
  • The Stars Came Dreaming, 12 min. (executive producer)
  • Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), 8 min. (executive producer)[27]


  1. ^ Sandomir, Richard (October 9, 2018). "Will Vinton, Revolutionary Animator With Claymation, Dies at 70". The New York Times.
  2. ^ "The 47th Academy Awards (1975) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2018-10-29.
  3. ^ Schudel, Matt (6 October 2018). "Will Vinton, California Raisins creator, dies at 70". Mercury News. The Washington Post.
  4. ^ Slade, Eric (April 27, 2017). "The Portland DIY Clay Experiment That Changed Animation Forever". www.opb.org.
  5. ^ "Will Vinton's History (and the History of Claymation and Computer Animation)". WillVinton.net. 2005. Archived from the original on 2012-07-22. Retrieved 2012-06-20.
  6. ^ Richard Sandomir (2018-10-09). "CED Alumnus Will Vinton, Revolutionary Animator With Claymation, Dies at 70". New York Times. College of Environmental Design alumnus Will Vinton (B.A. Arch ‘70), who used his and a partner’s revolutionary stop-motion animation process, Claymation, to win an Academy Award with an early cartoon and to create memorable commercial characters like the California Raisins, died last week in Portland, Oregon. He was 70.
  7. ^ Oscars. "Will Vinton's favorite Oscar® moment" – via YouTube.
  8. ^ Oscars. "An Oscar® opens doors" – via YouTube.
  9. ^ Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de; Billy Budd Films (30 December 1979). "The Little Prince" – via Internet Archive.
  10. ^ Will Vinton Productions (30 December 1976). "Martin the Cobbler" – via Internet Archive.
  11. ^ Will Vinton Productions (30 December 1980). "Dinosaur" – via Internet Archive.
  12. ^ Johnson, James Weldon; Will Vinton Productions; Billy Budd Films (30 December 1981). "Creation" – via Internet Archive.
  13. ^ "Will Vinton: Animator / Filmmaker". The California Raisins. Retrieved 2018-10-29.
  14. ^ "Domino's Pizza (commercials) "The Noid" Puppet original movie prop". www.yourprops.com. Retrieved 2018-10-29.
  15. ^ "Portland's Will Vinton, creator of famous Claymation characters, dies". KATU. October 4, 2018. Retrieved October 4, 2018.
  16. ^ "How the Father of Claymation Lost His Company". priceonomics.com. May 9, 2014. Retrieved 2014-05-18.
  17. ^ "Will Vinton, animator behind the California Raisins, dies". San Francisco Chronicle. Associated Press. October 5, 2018. Retrieved 2018-10-05.
  18. ^ Gallivan, Joseph (February 1, 2005). "As animated as it gets". Portland Tribune.
  19. ^ "Creative Artists Agency Signs Animation Innovator Will Vinton". WillVinton.net. June 4, 2003. Retrieved 2012-06-20.
  20. ^ "Jack Hightower TPB :: Profile :: Dark Horse Comics". www.darkhorse.com.
  21. ^ "Will Vinton Collection". Academy Film Archive.
  22. ^ "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive.
  23. ^ a b c d e "Oddball Films: Will Vinton's Claymation Marvels - Thur. June 12 - 8PM".
  24. ^ "Will Vinton's "Closed Mondays" & "Mountain Music" were highlights of Night Flight midnight movie fave "Fantastic Animation Festival" (1977)".
  25. ^ ClaymationKid. "Claymation Documentary Part 1" – via YouTube.
  26. ^ ClaymationKid. "Claymation Documentary Part 2" – via YouTube.
  27. ^ Día de los muertos (2002) at IMDb

External links[edit]