Tribeca 2021 Screening – Many artistic troupes matched out of the creative boon of expression that marked the 1960s and 70s, and one such artistic leader, Will Vinton, became the father (or illegitimate step-father, to some) of claymation, leading a team of artists and writers to revolutionize animation. Directed by Marq Evans, ClayDream follows Vinton’s infamously creative ideas taking seed and blossoming into a roster of iconic, nostalgic characters that have endured beyond the end of his career and solidified his name in animation, despite the many attempts of his opponents to slander it, and even threaten to assassinate him.
Screening in the Documentary section of the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival, ClayDream is by far my favorite biographical documentary from the festival lineup. This documentary is beyond just a rose-colored rundown of Will Vinton’s life and times, instead, it has intrigue from a contentious legal case, it has drama stemming from his personal relationships, most notably with his first co-collaborator Bob Gardner, and even a little bit of magic and whimsy sprinkled in during appearances from the mustachioed central-figure of this documentary. Who would ever think that Nike and claymation have anything to do with each other were it not for director Marq Evans’ brilliant idea to tell this incredible story?
Will Vinton spent much of his adult life dedicated to building a studio that could have been the second happiest place on earth, of course, had his career not been mired in ill-fated partnerships that impeded his rise to usurping the throne of Walt Disney. Having idolized Walt Disney for both his talent in animation and his business prowess in building a corporation, Vinton modeled his company in the same way, mixing artistry with a tunnel-vison-like focus on making a name for himself. His tunnel vision caused him to incur claims that he railroaded Bob Gardner, the sculpture and head artist behind Closed Mondays, Vinton’s’ and Gardner’s Academy Award-winning short film. In the eyes of his colleagues, he was a genius at both of the aforementioned aspects of animation and business, to others, Will Vinton was “frustrating” and an alleged artistic thief.
Having both been based out of eccentric and eclectic Portland, Oregon, Phil Knight, creator of the Nike empire, and Will Vinton formed a partnership at the height of both of their careers. Though Vinton was on a financial downturn in his business not long after partnering with Knight, turning to Knight in an hour of need to keep animators paid, Vinton had already made a name for himself coming off the creation of classic characters such as the California Raisins and The Noid from old Domino’s commercials, as well as popular early 2000s tv shows The Pjs and Gary & Mike. At the same time, Vinton was looking to back away from the entrepreneurial side and reconnect with the artist within, however, the legal battle that ensued eventually pushed him out completely, taking him away from his beloved projects and staff.
Despite this bitter ending of Will Vinton Studios subsequently being renamed Laika — the studio behind ParaNorman and Kubo and the Two Strings — Vinton found sweetness in the fact that his dream for innovative animation lived on, knowing that his studio is the bedrock for future stop motion animation. Director Marq Evans shows the career-long struggle Vinton had with the idea of commerce vs creativity, intermixing the documentary with emotionally palpable recordings of the court proceedings, commentary from a handful of Vinton’s hundreds of artists and colleagues, including the likes of Peter Lord, Michele Mariana, and David Daniels, as well as candid interviews from his ex-wife and family. ClayDream gives a full-picture view from both inside and outside of this auteurist animator, one that brings him back to life for a whole new generation to explore his colorful world of adult animation.
MOVIE RATING – 8 out of 10
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