It's a high fiber drama that could only happen in the Pacific Northwest. Will Vinton, the guy who made California Raisins a commercial Claymation phenom, is suing Phil Knight, Nike founder, and the rest of the board that fired him from Will Vinton studios. Big Oregonian story here.
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Squabble in 'Toon Town
JEFF MANNING and KRISTI TURNQUIST
By the fall of 2002, Will Vinton felt as though he had a gun to his head.
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Oregon's richest man, Nike founder Phil Knight, had agreed to bail out Vinton's financially struggling animation studio, where they had made California raisins dance and candies talk. But Vinton was appalled at the terms Knight was demanding.
He decided to appeal to Knight personally, entrepreneur to entrepreneur, Oregonian to Oregonian, at Knight's Nike office. That's how Vinton liked to do business.
But Vinton says Knight visibly recoiled at the emotional pitch. The terms of the deal wouldn't change. From here on out, Knight would call the shots in 'Toon Town.
Within six months, Vinton Studios laid off Vinton, who after 27 years building the company left with almost nothing to show for it. And now, Vinton is fighting back. He intends to file a lawsuit Tuesday against Knight and the studio's other board members, claiming they unfairly forced him out of the company without adequate compensation.
Interviews with those familiar with the company under Vinton and those who witnessed the struggle between Vinton and Knight over control of the company suggest the divorce itself was inevitable.
Knight had built Nike into a $10 billion a year juggernaut that had taken complete command of the athletic footwear and apparel business. His marketing genius captivated the American public while his innovative manufacturing approach made the company fabulously wealthy. By contrast, Vinton had made his mark in the animation industry but had lost out in the high-profile, high-stakes feature film business to more creative and agile competitors.
"It was enormously painful," Vinton said in a three-hour interview last week in which he depicted his unequal clash with Knight as a showdown between financial interests and the artistic impulse at the center of animation. "It's an enormous loss to the idea that a company can survive and grow and be healthy with largely creative and artistic ideals at its core."