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Claymation innovator Will Vinton, creator of the California Raisins, dies at 70

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Oct 5, 2018, 1:54 PM EDT (Updated)

Will Vinton, the celebrated director and producer who pioneered the cinematic art form known as Claymation, has died at 70.

Vinton was perhaps best known for creating the California Raisins, who had a hit cover of the Miracles song “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” in 1986. Vinton’s Raisins proved to be so popular in commercials for the California Raisin Advisory Board that they went on to star in prime-time specials on CBS and release a couple albums. There was a time when you weren’t anybody if you didn’t have at least one piece of California Raisins merch.

Other Vinton creations include the rabbit-like Domino’s Pizza Noid and the personified M&Ms Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, and Orange. Beyond commercial characters, Vinton also produced several Claymation fairy tales, including the Oscar-nominated Rip Van Winkle (1978), holiday specials, and the short-lived Eddie Murphy-penned Claymation series The PJs (1999).

Outside of the Raisins, Vinton became one of the defining creative voices of the '80s through his segment Speed Demon in Michael Jackson’s anthology Moonwalker (1988), and his kinder-trauma efforts in The Adventures of Mark Twain (1985) and Return to Oz (1985). The devil scene from Mark Twain went viral a few years back, introducing a whole new generation to Vinton’s work.

Claymation went on to become a copyrighted term by Vinton and influenced an entire generation of stop-motion filmmakers, including Nick Park, Henry Selick, and Tim Burton. Before retiring in 2008, Vinton moved into CGI animation for his M&Ms commercials and feature film The Wild (2006).

On Facebook his children shared a message celebrating their father’s work: “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.”

Will Vinton made a footprint on the world of animation and filmmaking, and his legacy will surely live on through his innovative work.