Animator. Nationality: American. Born: 1947 (some sources say 1948); McMinville, Oregon. Career: 1974—first film, Closed Mondays, using clay-animation; the Will Vinton Studios has also done commercials and special effects projects for live-action films. Awards: Academy Award for Closed Mondays, 1974.
Films as Animator:
Mountain Music; Martin the Cobbler
Rip Van Winkle; Claymation (doc)
Legacy; The Little Prince
Dinosaur; A Christmas Gift
The Creation; The Great Cognito
Return to Oz (Murch) (special effects)
The Adventures of Mark Twain
Festival of Claymation; Claymation Christmas Celebration
Meet the Raisins: The Story of the California Raisins (Bruce)
Raisins Sold Out!
Claymation Comedy of Horrors Show (Bruce) (exec pr)
The PJs (Gustafson—series for TV) (+ exec pr)
By VINTON: articles—
Banc-Titre (Paris), June 1980.
American Cinematographer (Hollywood), November 1985.
On VINTON: articles—
Cinefantastique (New York), Winter 1980.
Funnyworld, Spring 1983.
Banc-Titre (Paris), September 1983.
American Cinematographer (Hollywood), May 1985.
CinémAction (Conde-sur-Noireau), no. 51, April 1989.
Cinefantastique (New York), vol. 27, no. 7, 1996.
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Traditionally, the earliest successful use of the medium of clay for animation-cinematography is credited to the American Eliot Noyes whose 1964 work Clay constitutes a rough sketch for the type of animation which Will Vinton was to make famous just a decade later with his award-winning short Closed Mondays. A contrast of the two films provides excellent insight into Vinton's styles and structures.
Whereas Noyes's Clay is best classified as "experimental animation," being the total production of Noyes himself and consisting of a series of rough-hewn representational clay shapes (animals and abstract geometric forms) which metamorphose one-to-another without regard to any narrative or "story," Vinton's production—though likely influenced by Noyes's experiments—is far more open to popular appreciation. Closed Mondays is at once more collaborative than Clay and more realistic, more highly representational in its sculpting of the various elements which mark its mobile mise-enscènes. For while Closed Mondays echoes Clay in its employ of elaborate metamorphoses, its traditional narrative also emphasizes the classical continuity which became the hallmark of Disney's realistic cel-animation. Within Closed Mondays's narrative regard for cinematic scenes (with retained axis-lines, matched action, and clear presentation of diegetic time) are clay constructions which depict human beings, buildings, furniture, and the like in a manner that is charming in its realism. When a bust of the physicist Einstein appears, for example, it is doubtless Einstein, complete with old sweater, mustache, and long unkempt hair. Comparably, Vinton's movements are realistic—with the exception of the intrinsically surreal metamorphoses.
The story of Closed Mondays depicts a drunk who wanders into a museum to enjoy a solitary, sarcastic appreciation of various paintings and sculptures. The drunk's walk, gestures, movements, and speech rest upon an aesthetic of extraordinary verisimilitude. Only his seemingly hallucinatory regards of paintings which "come to life," or sculptures which transform from shape-to-shape by means of clay's wonderful plastic resource for metamorphic meltings and reformations, stand in contradistinction to this same highly representational base.
Closed Mondays was Vinton's first film, and proved so successful (winning an Academy Award) that it came to launch a unique company of clay animators who work under Vinton's direction. They produced: Mountain Music which depicts rock musicians in conflict with natural environments and which culminates in a metamorphic cataclysm; Rip Van Winkle, based upon the original Washington Irving story; The Creation, a revision of the biblical Genesis; and The Great Cognito. An excellent insight into Vinton's small company and realistic clay construction during this period is provided by the 17-minute documentary Claymation, produced at the Will Vinton Studios.
Through this "early period," Vinton's work tended toward short subjects (including some television public service announcements), but he began to enter the realm of features with his award-winning (special effects) work on Disney's Return to Oz. This same transition led to the 1986 release of Vinton's first feature, The Adventures of Mark Twain, designed—as is all of Vinton's work—for both children and adult audiences. Using the actor James Whitmore's voice for the character of Twain, the 90-minute feature retells both Twain's life and a number of Twain's classic tales, such as "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."
Finally, Vinton has realized equal success with popular television commercials as well as music videos. All these productions—from Twain through the commercials and Fogerty's "Vanz Kant Danz"—are marked by Vinton's careful realism-cum-magical metamorphoses.
—Edward S. Small