The California Raisins became a pop culture staple in the 1980s after Will Vinton’s basement animation business burst out onto the mainstream. Vinton died, leaving behind characters that are still well known in American culture today.
Vinton created Claymation, the stop-motion animation using characters made out of clay. Vinton did not create the art of using clay in this type of animation. However, he was a pioneer in using characters made of clay to create short films. The California Raisins are his most popular creations.
Although he was not the first person to use stop-motion clay animation, Vinton did make Claymation a permanent part of American pop culture with his California Raisins. These characters were initially created in 1986 for commercials meant to bring people to the raisins produced from Califonia grapes.
But eventually, the characters stole the spotlight and got their own specials. They took on the personas of a male soul group, covering hits by Marvin Gaye and other Motown singers. They also had four albums made that it on the Billboard Top 100 and they also were nominated for awards–including an Emmy.
The raisins gave way to another commercial character, the Dominoes Pizza Noid that won a cult following as well.
Vinton won an Oscar for his short clay animation film Closed Mondays in 1974 and an Emmy for Claymation Easter in 1992. He died Thursday of multiple myeloma at age 70.