News and Press Information



  For Immediate Release:
Oregon History Museum Exhibit Reveals the Ground-breaking Birth of “Claymation”   

Exhibit features Will Vinton’s personal animation art collection, including drawings, character designs, clay sculptures, storyboards and more

Portland, Ore. – May 10, 2009 – Opening May 15 and running through September 16, the Oregon History Museum will host a special exhibit entitled The Amazing World of Claymation. For the first time, visitors will be able to view the historic animation art collection of Claymation founder and Oregon native, Will Vinton.

The showcase exhibit will draw from Vinton’s personal animation art collection – including drawings, paintings, clay and cast sculptures, videos and storyboards.   This one-of-a-kind show celebrates the quality and quantity of the artistry required to create the award-winning Claymation films.  Museum visitors will get a glimpse of what went into making some of the world’s best-known animated characters, including the Domino’s Pizza “Noid,” the famous California Raisins, and Eddie Murphy’s “Thurgood Stubbs,” from the television show “The PJs.”

The Amazing World of Claymation will illustrate and demonstrate the different steps that comprise the production of an animated feature, including script, character design, production design and storyboards, voice recording, character construction, sets and props, animation, and post-production.  In addition, there will be a focus on Will Vinton’s most notable productions, such as the early short films “Closed Mondays” and “Rip Van Winkle,” the California Raisins TV commercials, the feature film “The Adventures of Mark Twain” – the world’s first all-Claymation feature – and “The PJs” TV series.

“Will Vinton’s influence on the animation industry is of international proportions,” said Oregon Historical Society Executive Director, George Vogt. “His contribution of sophistication and artistry provided the building blocks for the animated film world as we know it today.”

A special media and member exhibit preview to kick off the spring/summer run is scheduled for Thursday, May 14, 5:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Museum hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; noon to 5:00 p.m. Sunday.

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As animated as it gets
Will Vinton breaks out the good stuff — a career’s worth of art, model, designs Claymation maestro is keeping busy since ouster from studio

By JOSEPH GALLIVAN, The Portland Tribune

Tuesday, February 1, 2005 - The animation industry throws a lot of good stuff away. Ask Will Vinton. He's curating "Will Vinton's Animation Art Collection," an exhibition at the Art Institute of Portland of the puppets and drawings that put his former studio on the map.

"I've got 50 times more stuff than can possibly be put in a gallery," he says of the works, made by a wide range of artists, mostly in the Northwest. "I've been collecting it all my career." Typically, at the end of a production, work is taken home by artists or thrown in the trash.

Vinton, after getting an architecture degree from the University of California at Berkeley in the 1960s, made his name in film by excelling in and trademarking Claymation — a stop-motion animation process using small clay figures, usually less than a foot high. The McMinnville native brought a rare Oscar home to Oregon in 1974 for the best animated short film, "Closed Mondays," but his bread and butter has been in advertising.

Movie props always have a certain aura to them, and many in this exhibition hold an analog fascination. Several characters sit on the shelves, some slightly cracked from years of drying out, others thoughtfully housed under acrylic plastic. In addition to set designs and models, there are sketches. For instance, drawings of Mark Twain stand alone as skillful caricature, even though they were preparatory to the making of a model.

"It's a little bit of a dying art, to see all these hand-drawn and hand-sculpted materials," Vinton says. "This is all the original art. Even acetate cels are not really hand-painted anymore; they're Xeroxed and colored by a printer. These days, too, in terms of cel animation, they can bypass all that and do it all on the computer, so you don't have any of those artifacts, apart from those they make specially for gallery purposes."

As he removes the plastic wrap from a tray of clay "sketches" of dogs, the modeling clay's oily smell wafts up. They were created by a modeler he works with, Gary Bialke, for a project based on a script Vinton wrote called "A Dog's Tale."

"They're quite crude and simple, but quite wonderful too," Vinton says. "I've always hired people who are better sculptors than I."

Several tiny white spheres of different sizes, each with a single black dot, are lined up on the tray floor.

"They're eyes," he says. "Well-animated eyes are extremely powerful."

Moving from an analog to a digital world is a common challenge for people over 40, in particular for artists. (The divide is probably not that obvious to youngsters, but this exhibition will rectify that.)

Vinton tries to take the best of both worlds.

He likes seeing animation projected digitally, as at Disney's El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard: "It's solid; it looks like it's painted on the wall. There's no movement like you get with celluloid."

Vinton's cell phone rings about every 10 minutes. In Portland, he teaches and works on projects for his new company, Freewill Entertainment. He spends a couple of days a week in Los Angeles, mostly in meetings. He doesn't really like L.A., so he gets a lot done when he's there.

One project he's been working on is a mix of animation and live action called "The Morning After," shot in high-definition video at 24 frames per second.

"We did some of the editing on this G4 laptop," he says, impressed.

What's good, and why

The future he really wants to talk about is the flesh and blood walking these halls — his students. Vinton does one dedicated day a week at the Art Institute, where he has an office. He shows classic animations (including some of his own) to students, and explains why they're good.

"Stop motion is a great place for animators to learn," he says. "The computer's a great tool, but it's a hard tool to access. Animating a stop-motion puppet can give instant feedback. It's intuitive. You're working in real space.

"The computer's just an elaborate pencil or paintbrush. It all comes down to the ability to visualize and draw things. These days it's relatively trivial to shoot your own movie and do the soundtrack. They can do all that without having to learn anything about editing or photography. That doesn't mean it's good, just that they can do it."

Walking his talk

Vinton holds a workshop on breathing life into characters. Students work in teams of three — writer, director, artist — to learn the ways of Hollywood: how to develop character and back story, even how to pitch an idea.

"Some animators say you can tell everything about a character based on how he walks," Vinton says.

"The other side of the bargain is I get to use the staff and facilities and even some of the students. They have unbelievable facilities here, one G5 for every other student, great sound studios."

In its airy, efficient new building in the Brewery Blocks, the Art Institute (which is part of a nationwide chain, the Art Institutes Inc., a part of Education Management Corp.) is very much a vocational school compared to the Pacific Northwest College of Art six blocks to the north. Students get a foundation in drawing, but game development and film are popular courses.

In the 20 months since majority shareholder Phil Knight and his son, Travis Knight, forced him out of his old studio (which he founded in 1975, and which will change its name this year), Vinton has been thinking about the future and the lessons he can pass on. His 14-year-old son is learning animation.

"He's really into Flash animation, but he hasn't touched the models yet," Vinton says.

It's a two-way street. The father constantly calls his son to troubleshoot computer problems.

"He's a technical wizard," he says proudly.


A rare behind-the-scenes look at animation design:
Will Vinton's Animation Art Collection is on display at
The Art Institute of Portland Gallery

Portland, OR (January 26, 2005) – Groundbreaking animation producer/director Will Vinton and his teams have a way of creating truly memorable animated characters, such as the California Raisins, the PJ's, and those lovable M & M's. Now you have the unique opportunity to view animation art and design from Will Vinton's Animation Art Collection, on display at The Art Institute of Portland Gallery, 1122 NW Davis, from February 3 – March 31, 2005.

First Thursday Opening Reception for
Will Vinton's Animation Art Collection
Thursday, February 3, 2005
5:30 p.m. Artist Discussion led by Will Vinton
6:00 – 8:00 p.m. Artist Reception with
live music and light appetizers

  Will Vinton's Animation Art Collection is a celebration of the art and artistry that goes into designing animated characters. The purpose of the exhibit is to honor the many regional artists who have contributed to many of Vinton's animated productions. The show features some well-known animation art (such as 3-D sculptures of the California Raisins and the PJ's), but the essence of this exciting exhibit focuses on educating visitors about the precise, demanding and involved process of creating animation art and design. One piece, entitled "Finding the Perfect Princess," follows artists' journey of defining and redefining sketches and models in search of creating just the right features for an animated character. A section of the exhibit is devoted to the art of storyboarding which offers the viewer a taste of the process animators go through when developing scenes. Visitors will also be able to view early stage design models as well as completed final design models. To complete the exhibit, visitors can watch video character tests for "The PJ's," clips from "The Adventures of Mark Twain," and other animations to complement the sketches, storyboards, sculptures, animation cells, and photographs.
Vinton is the Artist-in-Residence at The Art Institute of Portland. Under his new company, Freewill Entertainment, he continues to break new ground in computer character animation, Claymation and stop-motion animation. He recently released a short film, "The Morning After." He also is working on a graphic novel for Dark Horse Comics, and is writing and developing several new projects for film and television.  
  To kick-off First Thursday receptions for this exhibit, Vinton will personally present his collection to the public in an artist discussion scheduled for both February 3 and March 3 at 5:30 p.m. For more information, please contact The Art Institute of Portland Gallery at 503-382-4801.

About The Art Institute of Portland Gallery
Located in the first level of The Art Institute of Portland, the Gallery is host to exhibits featuring works by students, faculty, alumni and outside artists. The Gallery is open to the public Monday – Thursday, 9 am to 6 pm; Friday, 9 am – 4 pm; and Saturday 9 am – 2 pm. To view current and past exhibits, as well as student work from various programs, please visit our Web site at

About The Art Institute of Portland
The Art Institute of Portland (, a regionally-accredited institution located in the heart of the Pearl District, offers Bachelor of Science degree programs in Advertising, Apparel Design, Design Management, Digital Media Production, Game Art & Design, Graphic Design, Interactive Media Design, Interior Design, Media Arts & Animation and Visual & Game Programming; The Art Institute of Portland offers Associate of Arts degree programs in Apparel Design, Apparel Accessory Design, Graphic Design, Interactive Media Design and Interior Design.



Will Vinton, reanimated
His studio lost, the artist faces a new battle to get back in the picture

By MIKE ROGOWAY, The Oregonian

Sunday, January 16, 2005 - Grinning broadly, clasping hands and trading hugs, Will Vinton greeted friends and former colleagues filing into the Portland Art Museum's theater last weekend to see the Oscar-winning animator's first original work in years.

Almost two years after losing his job and three decades after winning his golden statue, Vinton is starting over after a spectacular fall that cost him his animation studio, his livelihood and his house. He risked the firm on a failed run at the big time, then lost his studio in a battle with Oregon's richest man, Nike co-founder Phil Knight.

Still sporting his signature handlebar mustache and bare scalp, the 57-year-old Vinton is back where he began: showing a low-budget short film and dreaming big. He's free of the business entanglements he candidly admits got away from him. And he's unabashedly upbeat about being back in his creative element with the new film, a seven-minute comedy called "The Morning After."

"It represents being a filmmaker again as opposed to being, I guess, an executive," Vinton said.

The film mixes live action and animation in the style of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" as it chronicles the goofy aftermath of an affair between a woman and a cartoon character. Vinton plans to show it at festivals around the country, hoping it will launch a new film career.

He still has plenty of fans in Portland and well-connected friends in the entertainment business. Yet, it's been years since his trademark Claymation became a popular craze, and skeptics doubt Vinton has the creative spark for a second act.

For Vinton, the past two years have been about reasserting himself creatively and pursuing an artistic freedom he said he spent years trying to recapture while running his studio.

"Ironically, I've totally succeeded on that front," Vinton says. "On the financial front, it was very nearly, I would say, a disaster."

Rolling the dice

For that, Vinton doesn't shirk his share of responsibility. Vinton Studios was a victim of unnecessary investments and ill-considered plans, he said, "spending money without any clear way of making it back, which was one of the hallmarks of the '90s."

Originally from McMinnville, Vinton now splits his time between Oregon and Hollywood. His office is at The Art Institute of Portland, a private school in the Pearl District where Vinton has been artist-in-residence since September, giving informal talks about the history of animation and the business of art.

Seated at his desk, Vinton is just a mile from his old studio in Northwest Portland. Arrayed behind him are figures of Vinton Studios' best-known creations -- among them, the California Raisins and the Noid, a pizza-spoiling gremlin invented for Domino's.

Vinton's Oscar, won with Bob Gardiner in 1975 for the animated short "Closed Mondays," stands behind the desk. Flanking the statue are three Emmys he won as producer at Vinton Studios.

Vinton took little else but memories from that time.

His finances were closely tied to the company's, and there was little left for Vinton after he lost his struggle with Nike's Knight.

"I had to readjust immediately, the whole lifestyle," Vinton said. "It's very hard to go from, you know, making a lot of money to scaling (back) your lifestyle and everything around you."

Vinton pulled his two sons out of private school and sold the riverfront home in Oak Grove where he lived with his wife and children for eight years. Vinton now makes his living from writing, speaking engagements and the Art Institute.

It's a comfortable life, he said, but not what he'd grown accustomed to. Looking back, Vinton acknowledged he paid the price for some bad bets.

"There was definitely a time when I was rolling the dice and growing the company," Vinton said. "I was thinking in different terms, that maybe money is the key to getting back to what I want to do."

Amid a popular resurgence in animation, Vinton said, he saw a chance to make the studio into a larger company with bigger creative goals -- along the lines of Pixar Animation Studios, creator of the movies "Toy Story" and "The Incredibles." He brought on professional management and hired more animators to chase bigger projects and increase his studio's profile.

Miscast as a studio executive, Vinton thought business success would free him to spend more time on animation and transform his studio from a boutique into an industry powerhouse. But even then, he admitted, he wasn't sure he'd be able to carry it off.

He didn't.

His studio's employment peaked at 400 in the late '90s, with annual revenues of $28 million. But Vinton Studios didn't land the volume of big-time creative or commercial work it was counting on, and financial crisis ensued. Knight, who'd helped fund Vinton's aspirations, ultimately took control of the struggling studio and forced Vinton out. A nasty court fight followed Vinton's ouster, and he came out on the losing end.

"I didn't think the downside would be as deep as it was," Vinton said.

Bouncing back

If the dark times slowed Vinton's creative zeal or professional drive, he doesn't show any sign now. If he still harbors bitterness over the studio fight, he won't say so.

Walking around with a copy of the film industry trade paper Variety under his arm and his cell phone ringing continually, Vinton speaks of making specials for MTV or Fox.

"One of the things I find really remarkable about him is he has this perpetual optimism," said Andrew Wiese, a 35-year-old Hollywood screenwriter who has been Vinton's writing partner since he lost the studio. "He has a lot of faith in people and people's good intentions."

The pair wrote a screenplay that didn't sell, then went to work last year on a graphic novel for Dark Horse Comics, the Milwaukie publisher known for titles including "The Mask" and "Hellboy." Dark Horse hired an illustrator to draw up Wiese and Vinton's story and plans to release the 100-page graphic novel "Jack Hightower" late this year.

What Vinton brings to the table, Dark Horse President Mike Richardson said, is dedication to creating memorable characters. "He really gets it and understands what makes these stories and these characters come to life," Richardson said.

Film historian Jerry Beck, author of a new animation history book called "Animation Art," said Vinton developed a style that humanized his characters. Beck said Vinton's clay figures, brought to life with stop-motion photography, had a level of personality no one had achieved before.

"Things that we now take for granted with computer graphics, he was doing it with clay 30 years ago," Beck said.

Although modern animation may be magnificent technically, Beck said, it lacks the human texture that Vinton brought to his craft. That alone ensures curiosity about Vinton's new work, he said.

"If he were just to do little animated films, there'd be a lot of interest in it -- at least in the animation community there would be," Beck said.

Others are more skeptical.

Portland animator Joan Gratz, herself an Oscar winner and a former colleague of Vinton's, said time may have passed Vinton by.

He had an upbeat vision, she said, and Vinton's clay animation was compelling, if not sophisticated. But today, she said, animators and audiences are looking for something darker and more complex than what Vinton produced.

"Part of its charm came from its novelty, and it's certainly not a novelty anymore," said Gratz, who is still loosely affiliated with Vinton Studios.

Other longtime colleagues and collaborators, who asked not to be named, said Vinton's ambition often exceeded his ability. He surrounded himself with talent, one said, but seldom presented clear or compelling ideas of his own.

A second act?

Working for a one-man company he calls Freewill Entertainment, Vinton finds his future resting not on his past successes or failures but on what he, and he alone, does next.

He wouldn't have it any other way.

"I would like the work that I do to speak for itself, really," Vinton said. "That would be my greatest wish."

Many ideas Vinton started on right after parting with his studio are still in early stages. Aside from working on his graphic novel, Vinton is teaming with Mainframe Entertainment Inc., a Canadian studio specializing in computer animation, to develop TV specials or series.

It's too soon to know how the entertainment industry will receive his new film and the many other projects on Vinton's mental drawing board. But on the Friday night he showed off "The Morning After," he looked confident and plainly reveled in the attention as he ushered more than 100 guests into the theater.

Inside, Vinton stepped to the front to introduce his movie and speak briefly of the possibilities ahead. He lifted his finger above his head and waved it in a circle.

"Let's roll it!" he called emphatically. The house lights came down and the film flickered to life.



Animating the Local Creative Culture:
Will Vinton Joins The Art Institute of Portland as Artist-in-Residence

Portland, OR (September 20, 2004) – Local animation guru Will Vinton joins The Art Institute of Portland as Artist-in-Residence. Winner of Oscar, Emmy and Clio awards, Vinton is best known for expanding the world of animation through his work in Claymation and Stop-motion animation. "The Artist-in-Residence position helps further the mission of the College to support the creative community in Portland" said Steve Goldman, President of the College. "It is an honor to forge this new partnership with an artist of Will Vinton's stature and accomplishment. We are confident that Will's work at the College will benefit the local creative community as well as our students, staff and faculty."

As Artist-in-Residence, Vinton will work closely with The Art Institute of Portland staff, faculty and students on a multitude of projects. He will conduct targeted workshops with advanced students and hold open lectures on a variety of topics to the College. In addition, he will help recruit new faculty to the classroom from the professional community and mentor department directors on curricular issues and approaches to the arts. In an effort to expand the College's outreach, he will also help develop contacts in the employment community in the animation and film industries. "The Art Institute of Portland is becoming an important center for animation art and design, and for filmmaking in general - I think there are great opportunities to create deeper connections between the college and the media / design industries," Will Vinton said. "I'm pleased to become a part of this vibrant educational community as a complement to my personal creative endeavors. The College is a very familiar, collaborative, and fun environment."

Will Vinton has been a pioneer and visionary in the animation field for quite some time. His innovative style and passion for animation helped put Portland, Oregon on the map as a destination for creative professionals. He coined the phrase Claymation, and went on to introduce several new brands of animation to audiences across the globe by launching the careers of the California Raisins, the Noid, Dinosaurs "Herb & Rex," M&M's "Red & Yellow" and The PJs' Thurgood Stubbs. In his commitment to supporting a thriving local creative community, he co-founded and chaired the Portland Creative Conference for 12 years. Vinton continues to break new ground in computer character animation, Claymation, Stop-motion, and flash animation. Under his new banner, "Freewill Entertainment," his energies are currently focused on developing, directing, and producing unique character animated productions for film, television and advertising. Among his current projects, Vinton is developing a prime-time television series with Fox Broadcasting. Vinton and Freewill Entertainment are represented by Creative Artists Agency (CAA) and managed by Quattro Media.

"We are delighted to add Mr. Vinton's experience and vision to our community," Goldman said. "While we strive to educate new designers and artists, and to help bring fresh talent to the Pacific Northwest, it is also our mission to give back to the community, adding to the effort of leaders in our state who champion the important cause of the arts. Mr. Vinton's work has inspired many of our students and faculty, and we believe this is a partnership with great possibility."



Claymation king molds CAA pact
Oscar-winner created Calif. Raisins, M&M ads


June 5, 2003 – Two months after ankling the animation studio that bears his name, Claymation king Will Vinton will sculpt new projects with the helping hands of the Creative Artists Agency.

The Oscar-winning Vinton is best known for developing Claymation, the painstaking process of creating characters out of clay and then shooting the their minutely shifted poses frame by frame. His resulting distinctive stop-motion work has been repeatedly honored, most notably for popular ad campaigns featuring the California Raisins and "Red" and "Yellow" M&Ms candies.

Recent projects have included exec producing WB series "The PJs" with Eddie Murphy and Imagine TV and UPN's "Gary & Mike." His studio also created 1985 animated feature "The Adventures of Mark Twain." He's now focusing on developing and directing a range of animated feature and other projects. CAA will represent Vinton with an eye toward getting those projects off the ground.

Vinton founded Will Vinton Studios in 1976, after winning an Oscar for best animated short with Bob Gardiner for "Closed Mondays." He was nominated four other times for Oscars and also received multiple Emmy and Clio awards.

Knight plight

But the company struggled in the recent soft advertising market, cutting staff by three-fourths in several rounds of layoffs during a series of cash crises. Last year, Vinton and CEO Jeff Farnath cut a deal with Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight, an investor who already owned a minority share, to pour more money into the Oregon toon shop while it sought the long-term financial harbor of a feature film deal.

Within six months of Knight's assuming majority ownership, however, Vinton was gone, ankling the board in mid-April after Farnath laid him off from his staff position. In late May, Vinton filed a $3.1 million suit against Knight, Knight's son and two other board directors with Nike ties, claiming he was unfairly forced out without adequate compensation. Farnath said Vinton had turned down three severance offers.




BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., June 4, 2003 – Creative Artists Agency (CAA), the world's leading talent and literary agency, announced today that Will Vinton is now a client.

A leader and innovator in stop motion and 3D animation, Vinton has won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short, been nominated for four additional Academy Awards and been a multi-winner and nominee for Emmys and Clios. Creator of the animation technique using plasticine clay, Vinton coined and trademarked the term Claymation®. He created the California Raisins and M&M’s “Red” and “Yellow” characters of television commercial, entertainment, and merchandise fame. He also founded Will Vinton Studios to further explore 3D animation and production.

Vinton recently Executive Produced the television series THE PJS (in partnership with Eddie Murphy and Imagine Television) for the WB, and GARY & MIKE (a partnership with Big Ticket Television) for UPN.

Vinton continues to design ground-breaking animation methods, and is currently focusing on developing, directing, and producing unique animated productions.

About CAA
Creative Artists Agency is a talent and literary agency with offices in Beverly Hills and Nashville. CAA represents many of the most creative and successful artists working in film, television, music, theatre and video games, and provides a range of strategic marketing services to corporate clients. The agency serves as the access point through which artists, consumers and global brands intersect to create, acquire and sell entertainment properties, and to enrich entertainment and brand experiences. Youth Intelligence, a leading youth market research and trend forecasting company, is a division of CAA.



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