Will Vinton, Claymation & California Raisins Creator, Dies

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Will Vinton, in a 2014 photo via his Facebook page

Will Vinton, who won an Academy Award but earned fame and far more accolades as the creator of the so-called “Claymation” technique which he popularized with the singing California Raisins, died Thursday, October 4, at his Portland, Ore. home. He was 70. Vinton’s death was announced by his children, Billy, Jesse and Alex, on their father’s Facebook page.

The post indicated that Vinton had succumbed to 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.”

Vinton, born November 17, 1947, earned his Oscar in 1975 for Best Animated Short Film for Closed Mondays. Three years later, he produced a 17-minute documentary featuring animation utilizing clay, dubbing it “Claymation.” Vinton trademarked the name.

Vinton and his production teams ultimately created the well known animated characters in the world, including the California Raisins and the “CG” (computer animated) M&Ms “Red” and “Yellow.” The California Raisins, created in 1986, for a Sun-Maid raisins TV commercial for the California Raisin Advisory Board, were a fictionalized R&B musical group made via Claymation.

With Buddy Miles singing lead vocals, the Raisins performed “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” The TV ad proved to be so popular that the characters were licensed for numerous uses, most notably four albums. The first, The California Raisins Sing the Hit Songs, was released by Priority Records in 1987.

Soon, the Raisins were the subject of a primetime TV special, Meet the Raisins!, which aired on CBS in November 1988.

Vinton, known also for his distinctive mustache, won numerous primetime Emmy Awards for such fare as 1987’s A Claymation Christmas Celebration. That same year, he produced a video for John Fogerty’s “Vanz Kant Danz,” from the musician’s Centerfield album.

Much of Vinton’s original artwork is available here.

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