Knight Controls Vinton

Nike co-founder Phil Knight has become the majority shareholder in Vinton Studios, the production house that animated the California Raisins.

Knight, who had been a minority shareholder in the Portland, Ore.-based studio since 1998, acquired the controlling share from founder Will Vinton.

“We were looking to raise added capital to continue our long-term strategy,” said president and CEO Jeff Farnath, who declined to disclose Knight’s ownership percentage. “We are aggressively investing in our commercial business. We’re continuing to upgrade our computer-generated animation capabilities and other production capabilities, and it requires money.”

Farnath said this is a personal investment by Knight and that there is no connection between Nike and Vinton Studios.

Knight could not be reached.

The management team remains intact. It includes Farnath; Jeffrey Auerbach, president of the entertainment division; Zilpha Yost, president of the advertising division; and Rich Durkin, vp of commercial sales.

Vinton remains on the board of directors and will continue as producer and director within the 26-year-old studio’s entertainment division. Knight joins the board but will not be a member of the management team or be involved in daily decision making.

Yost said Knight, whom he called a “marketing genius,” would advise on more effective ways to work with agencies, among other things.

Vinton Studios employs 75 people and also has offices in L.A. and New York. The company has also worked on the talking M&M’s ads and Nissan’s “Toys” spot and produced the animated TV series The PJs and the stop-motion series Gary & Mike.