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Will Vinton Talks: How He Broke In

December 5th, 2012 by Anne Richardson · 1 Comment · Interviews

Will Vinton, David Altschul, William Fiesterman and Marilyn Zornado at a 25th anniversary screening of The Adventures Of Mark Twain at the Whitsell Auditorium.
Will Vinton and Bob Gardiner won Oregon’s first Oscar in 1975 for their stop motion tour de force, CLOSED MONDAYS. Will grew up in McMinnville and began making films as an architecture student at Berkeley (where he happened to hear lectures given by Sheldon Renan!). The list of award winning animators trained at Will Vinton Studio includes Craig Bartlett, Barry Bruce, Joan Gratz, Brad Schiff (PARANORMAN), Travis Knight (CORALINE, PARANORMAN) and Mark Gustafson (THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX). Will continues to teach stop motion animation at Northwest Film Center.
Anne Richardson: Will, when you arrived here after Berkeley and were starting to make CLOSED MONDAYS, you were able to support yourself with day jobs working as a filmmaker. What was your very first job?
Will Vinton: I was initially hired by Dan Biggs, who was working for Northwestern, Inc. doing industrial documentaries. They had a recording studio and a nice little sound stage. This was in the days when Tektronix was big. Companies like that spent alot of money on media. Georgia Pacific was one of Dan’s big clients.
Anne Richardson: This is training films? Sales films?
Will Vinton: Training, sales, those were the main things. We did corporate image films. Maybe one third of the work was commercials. I was hired to do editing. Maybe about a year into working at Northwestern, Dan wanted to split off and service the Georgia Pacific accounts himself. So we decided to found Odyssey Productions. Bill DeWeese, the industrialist at Esco, had been a client in the past, so they worked out some terms, and he came on board. Reagan Ramsay, myself, Dan Biggs were the worker bees. Bill DeWeese was the president. Dan put together a terrific board of directors: Patty Kaplan, who was head of Evans Products Co.; Tom Moyers, Sr., Moyers Theaters; Bob Farrell, Farrell’s Ice Cream. The idea was to create a base of really good, strong, big clients – Evans, Tektronix, Georgia Pacific, Louisiana Pacific – and to base a company around doing commercials and industrials, but with the intention of growing to do entertainment.
Anne Richardson: Homer Groening set up his own advertising agency in 1958. Were you aware of him?
Will Vinton: Oh yeah. In fact I edited one of his productions. During the time I was freelancing for Northwestern, I did one for Homer which (laughs) I’ve always thought of as a cross between e. e. cummings and Benny Hill.
Anne Richardson: You told me once about finding help when you had to build special equipment to shoot claymation.
Will Vinton:  When I was just starting out, I didn’t have a synchronizer, couldn’t afford one. Somebody told me about Walt Dimick whose father was a machinist and kind of a wild mechanical guy. I went to talk to him, and he felt sorry for me, and gave me a bunch of  sprockets and hardware necessary to build a synchronizing part which allowed me to hold my film in place.
Anne Richardson: Did you have that same kind of mentor relationship with Homer Groening?
Will Vinton: No. I was just hired to do a freelance job. But it was important to me because it was one of my first jobs in Portland.
Anne Richardson: Did you feel inspired by Homer’s career?
Will Vinton: Well, you have to consider the films! Neither the e. e. cummings part or the Benny Hill part seemed to be exactly what I wanted to do. (laughs) What I did like about Homer COMPLETELY was the kind of wild freedom. That anything’s possible, and someone will pay you to do it.
Anne Richardson: Thank you, Will.
A crash course on Will Vinton’s place in Portland film history can be found here.
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