Claydream is a fascinating documentary and a must-watch feature for any aspiring animator.
Published on August 18, 2022
Rating 4 /5
When you think of stop-motion animation, a few studios may come to mind. You may look towards Aardman with their charming Wallace & Grommit series or towards the classic holiday specials of Rankin Bass studios. But how about those California Raisins? Remember those guys? Have you ever wondered who was behind them? Well, they were a product of Will Vinton, a man who was once considered the Father of Claymation. So why don’t more people know about him? Well, he’s had quite the rocky career.
Claydream is the documentary behind Will and his studio that delved into daring, subversive, and even commercial claymation during the 20th century. With his big mustache and iconic smile, it’s hard not to notice a man like Will. His love of stop-motion led to him experimenting with all sorts of shorts. There were hills and valleys to his success. He was denied for festivals but also managed to secure an Oscar win for his shorts. He would later form a team that tried out just about anything wild they could dream up. These were the golden days for this growing animation studio.
Will’s studios always seemed to struggle to expand and find an audience for all the wild ideas. One of their biggest feature films was The Adventures of Mark Twain. In the online era, everybody is familiar with this film as the one with that very creepy sequence involving Satan and a dark scene about contemplating life and death. This scene was trippy but also incredibly terrifying that there was no way this film could be properly marketed towards families. The film was considered a failure and lives on for simply being far too daring for a medium that most hold to a degree that can’t break through to the older crowd.
More success was found when Will made the commercials for the California Raisins. These commercials were such a big hit that the characters even got their own TV special. Will’s studio basically exploded at this point. They got more commercial work for characters such as The Noid for Dominoes. TV shows were being commissioned such as the multi-season FOX show The PJs. Will’s success was growing so large that he was even considering building his own Disneyland of sorts. But his studio expanded far too fast and poor choices in merchandising and payment led to his studio crumbling with overworked and underpaid animators.
Will’s life is covered a bit more extensively in the third act where you really start to feel for him. In addition to having blood cancer, he just really wanted to see animated ideas flourish. He stepped away from this studio and allowed it to expand into what is now known as Laika, developing such stop-motion animated features as Coraline and Missing Link. Vinton, according to interviews, couldn’t be happier with the studio's success. He would die in 2018 but seemed to love being around his family and having a lot of fun towards the end of his life.
Claydream is a fascinating documentary and a must-watch feature for any aspiring animator. It’s not just an important piece of animation history but a fascinating contemplation on what it means to pursue a life full of artistic expression, embracing all of its warts and whimsy. This is a surprising gem of a doc that will make you look at claymation in a much different life.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.