On a rainy autumn afternoon in 2002, Will Vinton sat alone in a board room, reviewing his severance package.
His desk, now barren, had once displayed the emblems of a storied career: an Oscar, six prime-time Emmys, a slew of Clios and innumerable other honors. He had brought clay animation back to life. But his creations, once animated on silver screens, were now housed in cardboard boxes, frozen in various states of bewilderment.
Over thirty years, Vinton had built his firm, Vinton Studios, into a $28-million-a-year enterprise. He’d produced, directed, and brought to life the most memorable characters of the 80s and 90s -- the California Raisin, Thurgood Stubbs, the “Red and Yellow M&Ms.” He not only coined the term "claymation," but was its unheralded king.
And now he was in the board room, tracing over the language that seized his kingdom. Hours earlier, he’d handed over his company and all of its trademarks to Nike co-founder Phil Knight. The billionaire’s son, an animation intern and ex-rapper with no management experience, would be assuming his place. ...
We've seen versions of this over the entire history of animation.
The Fleischer brothers. (Down in flames in 1942).
Lou Scheimer. (Filmation bought by L'Oreal and shuttered in 1989).
Bluth-Sullivan. (Bankrupt in the 1990s).
Phil Roman. (The company Film Roman goes on, but Phil's removed as CEO).
And Walt Disney came close to going the way of the Fleischers, Lou Scheimer, Don Bluth. After the strike of '41, after Pinocchio and Bambi under-performed, the company was on the ropes. Then World War II happened and the federal government propped Walt Disney Productions up with a big fat training film contract. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The point is, there's often a cob-web-thin divide between success and failure. If a couple of pictures don't go over, if a commercial contract fails to come through or a t.v. series is cancelled, it's Chapter Eleven Time.
Skill, talent and hard work go a long way, but they are sometimes trumped by bad timing and bad luck.
H/t Nathan Loofbourrow.