“Claymation” pioneer Will Vinton passes away at 70

Oscar, Emmy, and Clio Award winner Will Vinton has died at age 70. Vinton was a pioneer in stop motion animation, trademarking the name “claymation” for his process.

He and Bob Gardiner won an Oscar in 1975 for their short animated film Closed Mondays (embedded below). He then founded Will Vinton Studios which produced shorts and television commercials using his techniques. Vinton received three more Oscar nominations for his work in shorts (Rip Van Winkle, The Creation, and The Great Cognito). His special effects work on Disney’s feature film Return to Oz also earned him an Oscar nod.

Vinton is perhaps best known for his work in commercials. His was the studio behind the famous 1980s California Raisins campaign. The Raisins were a pop culture phenomenon for several years, appearing in multiple Emmy Award winning televison specials, four albums, and myriad products. His studio also animated the Domino’s Pizza Noid, and, in the 1990s using CG technology, the Red and Yellow M&Ms characters.

Besides his commercials and Raisins specials, Vinton was also responsible for several other television projects. In 1987 an Emmy-winning special effects segment was done for Moonlighting. Later, his studio did the animation for Eddie Murphy’s Emmy-award winning show on Fox, The PJs, and UPN’s Gary and Mike.

As Will Vinton Studios grew and turned their sights toward feature films, investors were brought in including Nike owner Phil Knight. After a few years, financial problems mounted and Knight took over controlling interest in the company. Vinton was eventually pushed out. Knight invested heavily in the company, eventually rebranding it as Laika.

According to his family he died yesterday after “a 12 year battle with Multiple Myeloma” They published a post on Facebook after his death, which read in part:

“He saw the world as an imaginative playground full of fantasy, joy, and character. He instilled in us the greatest values of creativity, strength, and pride in ones own work. He created stories and characters filled with laughter, music, and powerful lessons that are globally beloved. He brightened any room with his signature mustache, and he continued to make jokes and laugh until the very end. His work will live on in animation history and will continue to inspire creative thinkers and makers.”