It was with great shock to the world having learned of the passing of one of the greatest icons in the stop motion world. With the loss of Will Vinton we not only lost a hero to many but also a kind and generous soul who would go out of his way to spread the love and knowledge he had. Will Vinton passed on October 4th2018 from multiple myeloma in Portland. With this news the community of animators, artists, directors, producers, and fans all stunned by the event have poured out heart warming and generous praises to a man who not only influenced many generations but also inspired a whole industry.
Vinton started his career while still in college studying architecture and filmmaking at the University of California, Berkley, by making short films and animations. Namely Culture Shockbeing his first animated short. In the 1970’s Vinton teamed up with animator Bob Gardner where they worked on animated short films together. Eventually one of their efforts Closed Mondays would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1975. Throughout the 70’s Vinton continued to create animated shorts and documentaries. One film of recognition was called Claymation: Three Dimensional Clay Animation. From this he would later trademark the term Claymation which soon became a household name.
Because of the style of clay animation and the beautiful worlds in which Vinton built his stories, his studio would soon become one of the most recognized animation studios in the world. With productions such asThe Adventures of Mark Twainwhich led the way as one of the first all clay animated features along with California Raisins, Domino’s Pizza Noid, and the M&M television commercials, Vinton had established his name in the industry as a leader in stop motion animation. Many people are unaware however that Vinton stopped animating professionally in the 70’s. This was mainly due to the amount of work it took to produce such iconic works. Yet he had an influential hand in everything his company touched.
Seeing that stop motion animation was being overtaken by the advancements in computer animation he strove to embrace the technology and eventually outfitted his company with a computer animation division which was single handedly responsible for the M&M characters success and performance loved to this very day. However due to financial difficulties in the large amount of capital needed to propel his studio forward and keep up with the times he sought the investment and partnership with co-founder of NIKE, Phil Knight. Initially this was a positive venture which helped build and maintain the studio. Unfortunately Vinton and Knight did not see eye to eye in how the company was run and Vinton had to relinquish the studio that he built to Knight. The studio changed names from Will Vinton Studios to the now LAIKA Studios.
The amount of influence Vinton had on the industry is almost unmeasurable mainly because the amount of talent that has been produced from animators, sculptors, and artists that all either got their start in the industry at Vinton Studios or from being inspired by the works having been produced by this studio. LAIKA is now considered one of the leaders in the stop motion animation industry and it is all due to the origin’s from which Vinton built.
I myself have had interaction with Vinton and to say that this man influenced my career as an animator/producer/director would be an understatement. Having myself been born in the 70’s and witnessing the great amount of classical animation produced in the 80’s, I can say with confidence that Vinton studios and animated works had played a key role in my development as an artist. I was lucky enough to talk to Vinton on two occasions. The first being when I interviewed Will Vinton over the phone for his tribute issue of Stop Motion Magazine. The second time was after I realized that I had forgotten to record the conversation from being so excited and nervous to talk to one of my hero’s. He generously provided me a second chance to interview him and with this I learned how truly kind he was.
In my experience Vinton was soft spoken, kind, open, and generous. To allow a second interview was unheard of with celebrities of his status. He lamented over the loss of the studio even though this can’t be found in the interview within the pages of the magazine. He also talked lovingly about the industry that he helped build and propel into modern times. One thing you won’t find anywhere is that his studio invented the digital frame grabber. They never patented it mainly because they didn’t think there was a demand for such a device. What it consisted of was a VHS tape recorder that would loop and capture a small series of frames. He relished in this achievement and I think this is because he knew they were the first. He also loved the crew and friends he had worked with. Giving such praise to his studio and the ground breaking work they had accomplished.
There are so many amazing animated projects that Vinton oversaw that to name them all would make anyones head spin. My personal favorites are The Adventures of Mark Twainwhere two kids go on a crazy adventure with the famous author. As a kid I watched this film endlessly. It wasn’t just because of the story but was really due to the level of artistry executed in the making of this film. Everything was made out of clay. There had been nothing like it before and after its release. This one film would make anyone involved with it proud and it was obvious that this opus of Vintons work is a masterpiece. Another example of amazing clay animation would be the Dominos Pizza Noid commercials. This little red character made millions of children laugh and propelled the pizza company to be the leader in the industry during the 80’s. What was so great about this little character was both the design and the squash and stretch animation that was reminiscent of the cartoons of old. I have to confess I always wanted to dress as the Noid and bounce around on a pogo stick. Hey, what can I say I was a kid. Then there was the California Raisin’s for which every person in the 80’s would at some point start humming “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” randomly throughout their day. These little raisin characters even had their own toy line and film. Vinton studios had truly created iconic characters that would last generations.
To say that Will Vinton is an icon is an understatement. He is a legend of such great stature that his name will echo throughout future generations as an influential artist, mentor, friend, father, and teacher. We need more people in the industry who’s honesty and influence doesn’t get corrupted by the Hollywood machine. Who’s integrity is for his crew, friends, and family. A person who knows what entertains and rewards the viewer. We not only lost a bright star in the world but lost a brilliant mind, a gentle soul, and afriend to all. Mr. Vinton you will be missed but never forgotten.