the adventures of mark twain

Will Vinton, 1947-2018: An Appreciation

A look back at the career of the Oscar-winning Oregonian filmmaker and master of stop-motion animation, who has died at 70.

The innovative Portland filmmaker Will Vinton, best known for his iconic work with stop-motion animation, died on Thursday, October 5, at the age of 70, following a 12-year battle with multiple myeloma. Vinton was the first Oregonian to win an Oscar, and his company, Will Vinton Studios, served as a laboratory, training ground, and creativity magnet for a generation of Portland artists. His legacy survives today in the form of Laika Studios, which has taken stop-motion work to new technological and commercial heights, though not without some controversy along the way. I never had a chance to meet Vinton more than in passing, but if the testimonials and condolences that have emerged over the last few days are anything to go by, his was a genuinely generous soul. His bald head, bushy handlebar mustache, and twinkling eyes denoted a spirit that was independent, mischievous, and bold, even while working in the potentially stifling world of corporate advertising.

Will Vinton in 2017. Photo: K.B. Dixon.

The individual personalities of each of the California Raisins, the in-your-face anarchy of The Noid, and the wistful moments of confused awe experienced by the drunk museum-goer in “Closed Mondays” all seem to stem from an aspect of Vinton himself. Even after his creations became nationwide obsessions, and when his company’s landmark headquarters in Northwest Portland buzzed with activity, there was always the feeling that the work that emerged sprang, at its core, from one especially fertile brain. Needless to say, that’s not the impression one gets, for better or for worse, from the vast majority of the animation on movie screens today. (Television may be another matter.)

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