Wil Vinton, Claymation Oscar Winner and Co-Creator of ‘California Raisins,’ Dies at 70

Vinton was also worked on films like “Moonwalker” and “Return to Oz ” and television shows like “The PJs”

Last Updated: October 5, 2018 @ 5:44 AM

Will Vinton, the Oscar- and Emmy-winning filmmaker who co-created the animation process known as “claymation” and is best known for the hugely successful “California Raisins” ad campaign, died Wednesday following a 12-year battle with multiple myeloma. He was 70.

“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,” Vinton’s family said in a statement posted on his Facebook account.

“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.”

An Oregon native, Vinton studied architecture and later film at the University of California, Berkeley in the 1960s. His career in animation began after meeting clay animator Bob Gardiner in the early ’70s.

Vinton convinced Gardiner to move to Portland, Orgeon and the two began testing a new clay-based animation process that Vinton would later trademark under the name “claymation.” Their first production was the eight-minute short “Closed Mondays,” which won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1975.

The pair parted ways while working on their second project. Vinton would soon after establish Will Vinton Studios, hiring a team of animators and producing commercials for local and later national ad campaigns.

During this period, he continued to make short films, producing “Legacy” (1979), “Dinosaur” (1980), and the Joan Gratz-directed “The Creation,” nominated for an Oscar in 1982.

In the ’80s, Vinton branched out into special effects, with his work appearing in the Bette Midler film “Divine Madness!” as well as a segment for “Moonlighting,” for which he won an Emmy. He also did animation effects for Disney’s “Return to Oz,” receiving another Oscar nomination.

Vinton produced animation effects for Michael Jackson’s “Captain EO” in 1986, as well as the “Speed Demon” music video from Jackson’s film “Moonwalker” two years later. And in 1985, he directed the claymation feature film “The Adventures of Mark Twain.”

His company produced several successful national and international ad campaigns, most notably the “California Raisins,” “The Noid” for Domino’s Pizza, and the animated M&M’s characters. The “Raisins” campaign, created for California Raisin Advisory Board with character designs by Michael Brunsfeld, was a particularly huge success, launching TV specials, several albums, and the 13-episode “The California Raisin Show,” which Vinton executive produced.

Vinton directed the Emmy-winning “A Claymation Christmas Celebration” in 1987, and in the 1990s produced the Eddie Murphy animated series “The PJs,” which ran for three seasons, ending in 1999.

Vinton lost control of his company in 2002, and sued to retain ownership of his name. Will Vinton Studios was eventually reconstituted as Laika in 2005, and Vinton later founded Will Vinton’s Freewill Entertainment, also based in Portland.