You might not know the name Will Vinton. But if you grew up watching TV in the 1980s and 90s, you definitely know his work. Vinton was the genius behind claymation characters like the California Raisins, the Domino’s Noid, and the M&M’s before they were taken over by CGI. Vinton died yesterday of cancer after a 12-year fight. He was 70 years old.
The claymation of Vinton helped define an era of popular media, with the singing California Raisins, an incredible hit that started as a TV ad for the California Raisin Advisory Board in 1986.
The raisin characters, known for singing Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” were so popular that they appeared on everything from lunchboxes and t-shirts to spin-off video games for Nintendo.
But the California Raisins weren’t Vinton’s first hit. Vinton won an Academy Award for his work co-directing the 1974 short film Closed Mondays. He went on to found Will Vinton Productions in Portland, Oregon and worked on projects for Michael Jackson, including videos for Moonwalker, and the Captain EO attraction at Disney World.
As Cartoon Brew notes, Vinton is even credited with coming up with the term “claymation” and trademarked the word. But as Ad Age explains, the rise of computer animation by companies like Pixar helped strangle the demand for stop motion animation by the 2000s. Vinton’s most recent work included projects like the graphic novel Jack Hightower.
Vinton’s children released a statement to Cartoon Brew about his death:
This morning our father, Will Vinton, passed away surrounded by love from his family. Will had endured a 12 year battle with Multiple Myeloma, although you never would have known of this fight. For the vast majority of that time he continued forward in his life with strength, positivity, and humor, enjoying tropical get-aways, shepherding new creative ventures, and caring for his two sons, daughter and wife. Will was the strongest man we have ever known, both in his work ethic and his mental resolve. He always said, “Do good work and everything else will follow,” and he never gave up on the things that were important to him. 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.
We grieve heavily as our dad leaves a hole in our lives that will be impossible to fill. His wishes were for us to continue the projects he had started; we will try our best to do so. We will honor him in our own work and strive to always embody his lessons. We ask that his passing be a celebration of his life and work. He wouldn’t want us to be sad or discouraged, but rather to celebrate the wonder and beauty of life in his name. We ask for support and understanding for our family during this time.
We love you Dad – Billy, Jesse & Alex
RIP Will Vinton. Your work touched every American who spent any time in front of a TV during the 1980s and 90s.