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Will Vinton, Laika, and the Knights

July 20th, 2007
California Raisin
Fish food

I live in Portland, Oregon. It’s known for rain, beer, and Nike HQ. Apart from its rather confused reputation as a haven for granola-munchin home-brewin Nike-wearin sporty types, it’s also turned into something of an animation town, if only because of Will Vinton. Vinton, with his handlebar moustache and Claymation posse, rode herd on the Portland animation scene for many years until his studio was eaten by a much larger fish: Nike’s Phil Knight, whose son worked for Vinton.

Vinton was forced out and is attempting to start over, as detailed in the Oregonian (“Will Vinton, reanimated,” 01/16/05); his studio was renamed Laika, and is expanding.

An article in this month’s Fast Company titled “The Knights’ Tale” presents a fairly sympathetic view of the Knights’ takeover and subsequent involvement.

Taking the two articles together, it seems fairly straightforward: Vinton tried to expand the company beyond its capacity, the business started to fail, and Knight stepped in to save his son’s job. Messy, but not Raymond Chandler messy; Vinton got away with his good looks, has started another studio, and is trying to stay in the game. Laika’s apparently working on some interesting stuff, not least Coraline, a stop-motion film to be watched with 3D glasses, based on a novella by Neil Gaiman. The movie is scheduled for a January 2009 release.

Two lessons from the whole story: money is a weapon, and always read the fine print.

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