Sunday, April 3, 2011

Will Vinton: Claymation pioneer

Yesterday, as part of their Visiting Artist program, the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design hosted animator and filmmaker Will Vinton. The presentation was inspiring, energizing, and very edutational.  He told us about the many phases of his career, from his first experiments with clay, through the more refined animation  he came to call ClaymationTM (a term he coined and trademarked), and finally to his experiences pioneering computer generated (CG) animation.

It's interesting to note that, regardless of whether he was talking about stop-motion or CG, he referred to both types of animation as "3D".  I'll admit it does make a certain amount of sense.  Clay can be manipulated in three-dimensional space in ways paper drawings cannot.  But I'm not sure whether to be a-Noid annoyed or amused that the term has such a muddy definition.  When another filmmaker says they work in "3D", what is a person to conclude?  Are they a stop-motion animator working with three-dimensional sets and characters?  Do they work with computer-generated imagery?  Or, as theater-goers are again wearing 3D glasses, are they responsible for stereography?

One of the most interesting things Will Vinton showed us from his large body of work, were clips from The Adventures of Mark Twain, a Claymation feature film targeted to grown-ups.  Any film featuring Mark Twain piloting an interplanetary blimp en route to Halley's Comet has got to be good!  Although the film is already available on DVD, there are plans to rerelease the film in theaters for its 25-year anniversary.  I hope it get the chance to see it on the big screen!

After his presentation, Will Vinton opened the floor for questions.  I've always been fascinated with stop-motion animation -- particularly clay.  I grew up with Vinton's Noid, The California Raisins, and his Claymation Christmas Celebration.  I remember dinosaurs and other creatures brought to life by Ray Harryhausen.  I'll admit I watched Art Clokey's Gumby religiously.  And, for over 10 years, I've been totally enamored with Nick Park's Wallace & Gromit and other Aardman Animations productions.

But after studying traditional animation, stop-motion animation has become even more mysterious to me than it ever was.  On paper, we animate from key drawing to key drawing.  Each character is animated one at a time, on its own separate sheet (unless they are touching).  Background elements don't actually interact with the characters, but only appear to.  None of this is true of stop-motion animation. So, of course, I was dying to ask him: how on Earth do stop-motion animators do it all at once?!  Will Vinton's response came down to this: experience, pre-planning and paperwork.  I suppose it would have to...  I guess if I ever want to get involved with clay, I'll just have to spend more time doping and slugging out my animation beforehand.  Man, would I love to take a look at some of Will Vinton's exposure sheets!

Will Vinton's assistant just informed me that the Extras on the upcoming TWAIN HD DVD "should be pretty interesting and show and provide a lot of questions," and include "all the things [I] requested".
Looking forward to it!

Simmon Keith Barney is an animator living in Fort Collins, Colorado.

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