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Will Vinton, Stop-Motion Animation Pioneer, 1947 – 2018

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Will Vinton

Award-winning stop-motion animation pioneer Will Vinton passed away on October 4, 2018, in Portland, OR, at the age of 70 due to multiple myeloma. Born in 1947, Mr. Vinton experimented with animation using clay figures while working in advertising after college, winning a Best Animated Short Film Oscar in 1974 for “Closed Mondays,” about a drunk hallucinating in an art museum. He set up a studio in Portland to make movies, dubbing his process “Claymation” and landing one of his most recognizable works with an ad campaign for the California Raisin Advisory Board. The California Raisins shot to their place in pop culture history as they danced their way to Marvin Gaye’s hit song “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” eventually spawning a Saturday morning cartoon show, several imitation campaigns (some animated by Will Vinton’s studio), and numerous Claymation sequences for music videos and TV shows (including stop-motion animated sequences in otherwise live-action series, and the animated series The PJs with Eddie Murphy).

At the peak of Will Vinton Studios’ success, more than 400 people were working on both Claymation and computer graphics in the 1990’s, but changing tastes and an advertising downturn led to major financial troubles. In 2002, Mr. Vinton sold his majority stake in Will Vinton Studios to Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike, who renamed the studio LAIKA and has continued producing stop-motion animation. Mr. Vinton himself was eventually forced out of the studio in 2003 after a legal battle, returning to low-budget filmmaking and teaching at the Art Institute of Portland.

(Splash image via The Oregonian/AP)

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