PORTLAND, ORE. -- Will Vinton's animated clay figures first turned up as dancing California raisins, then as "Moonlighting's" Dave and Maddie, and now those odd creations will be spotlighted in a Christmas television special.
The show, scheduled to air at 8:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 21, on CBS (Channel 9), will feature the firm's clay characters, including the raisins, two dinosaur movie critics and a pair of walruses doing an ice ballet to "Angels We Have Heard on High," said Chris Werner of Will Vinton Productions, which created the program.
The basis for the success is Claymation, which Werner said is Vinton's trademarked style of clay animation. It involves repositioning clay figures 24 times for each second of film.
For a 30-second commercial, that means 720 separate shots.
The entire sets, even the backgrounds, for Vinton-produced commercials are made of clay, Werner said. But he refused to give the size of the models.
"This is a trade secret," Werner said of the firm's most popular characters. "Raisins are small. That's all I can say."
Once the characters are developed it takes the company about six to eight weeks to shoot a commercial, Werner said. But the "Claymation Christmas Celebration" took about six months to produce.
"We think some of the musical arrangements are unique," Werner said. "For instance, taking 'Joy to the World' and giving it a rhythm-and-blues, almost Caribbean, beat."
Starting as a "garage operation" in 1975, Vinton's company has won dozens of awards, including an Oscar, and even produced a full-length Claymation movie.
The privately owned company has grown dramatically in the last year, increasing employment about 25 percent to 30 percent since the debut last fall of the raisin commercials for the California Raisin Advisory Board. The firm now has a staff of 55.
The Oscar came in 1976 for an eight-minute film called "Closed Mondays," the story of an art gallery where the paintings and sculptures come to life after a wino wanders in, Werner said.
"The Adventures of Mark Twain," the feature-length film, was released in 1985, but Werner said it did not get extensive exposure.
The raisins, which are featured singing "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," remain the best-known characters produced by the company.
The ads -- three have been done so far and a fourth is in the works -- were a "collaborative development," Werner said.
He said another ad agency thought up the idea, and Vinton decided to use Clayma- tion.
Vinton's company also created the "Noid" character featured in Domino's Pizza commercials, and did the work for the Claymation segment on "Moonlighting," when Dave had a conversation with a constantly changing clay figure of Maddie, who had flown off to Chicago to think about their af- fair.
Werner said the firm also has made a commercial starring the raisins for the Hardee's fast-food chain.
The Christmas show will feature the television debut of a new method of Claymation called "clay painting," Werner said.
He said clay painting, which was developed by one of the company's animators, has already been used in movies.
"The clay painting technique allows you to make it look very much like stained glass that is constantly moving," Werner said.
Werner said the show will be hosted by the dinosaurs Herb and Rex.
"They are an inseparable duo of dinosaurs. Many people call them our parody of Siskel and Ebert," Werner said. "Herb is constantly doing what he can to stuff his face. Rex is a more pedantic, erudite critic."
The raisins will have a three-minute segment in which they will sing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." "But it will be a Motown arrangement," Werner added.