The Lone Indie Animator
The Lone Indie Animator
As a form of art, animation has been around for nearly a hundred years. From hand drawn individual pictures packed together to complex 3D virtual movie, it is developing faster than almost any other visual form of media. Although animation is widely used by film-makers, advertisers, instructional film producers and computer specialists, its major popularity lies in creating cartoon feature films. Since the 1980’s it has become standard in many studios to combine hand-drawn animation with computer generated assistance. However, many animators continue to make their productions using hand-drawn animation.
It is this admiration for the art of hand-drawn animation which inspired the topic for this paper about Bill Plympton, an independent animator who produces his work completely on his own using hand-drawings. Bill Plympton was born in Portland, Oregon on April 30, 1946 and his fascination with animation began at a very early age. He began by copying and redrawing his favorite cartoon characters and was soon changing the way he drew them until he started creating different characters from them. When he was fourteen he sent Disney some of his cartoons and asked to work for them. However, they refused on grounds of his age.
In 1968 he moved to New York to begin a year’s study at the School of Visual Arts. Thus began his long tenure as illustrator and cartoonist in that city. Amongst the work he did were designs for magazines such as Cineaste, Filmmakers Newsletter and Film Society Review. Since then, his illustrations have also appeared in the pages of The New York Times, Vogue, House Beautiful, Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair to name but a few. In 1975 he began drawing a political cartoon strip called ‘Plympton’ which appeared in The Soho Weekly News and it was soon syndicated in more than twenty papers by Universal Press.
However, he wasn’t approached to make an animated film until 1983 when the Android Sister Valeria Wasileski asked him to work on a film she was producing, Boomtown (1985). When this film was completed, Bill began work on his own animated film, Drawing Lesson #2 (1988) which was followed by many other films. One of his films, Your Face (1987), received an Oscar nomination in 1988 for best animation. This success continued with One of Those Days (1988), How to Kiss (1989), 25 Ways to Quit Smoking (1989) and Plymptoons (1990). Bill Plympton won many prestigious prizes with his short films and soon decided to make a feature film.
He made The Tune (1992) which was financed completely by Plympton himself although he released sections of the film as shorts to help generate money for its production. One of these shorts won the 1991 Prix du Jury at the Cannes Film Festival. The film is unique because he was the first animator to single-handedly illustrate and color all 30,000 frames of an animated feature film in its entirety. He continued to hit several creative peaks during this decade with Guard Dog, The Fan and the Flower and, more recently, Idiots and Angels (2007).
However, it is well-known that ever since MTV brought his cartoons to the masses, Bill Plympton has become a leading figure in the world of animation (Boston Globe). Bill Plympton 3 Plympton presented a blend of adult themes/humor, colored pencil technique, spectacular draftsmanship and his habit of timing animation on 4s, 6s and 8s. He works from home and accepts his technique is very traditional using pencil on paper or colored pencils on paper. Everything is drawn by hand and he is proud to claim that it is still exactly how it was done 80 or 90 years ago (Boston Globe).
He is considered to be the first animator to draw every frame by himself and usually publishes a graphic novel version during the production of each film to raise money for the completion of the film. Plympton uses a lot of music in his work so that it can be universally understood. He has started to use less dialogue with each recent work and relies heavily on music. He listens to Emmylou Harris while he works as he claims she inspires his creativity. He has also been inspired by and relates to a quote in French by Picasso which, loosely translated, means “I hate good taste: Good taste is death to creativity.
” He used the quote at the beginning of his feature I Married a Strange Person. Plympton believes that tasteful films are bland and boring and prefers the more surreal and bizarre imagery style of animation because he thinks ‘it’s part of the responsibility of an artist to shock, to upset, to make people think differently and to surprise people. ’(A. V. Club) Managing, directing and producing his own work also provide him with the freedom to explore this point of view to the fullest in a variety of genres and media. For inspiration, he sometimes uses his dreams as a basis for film topics as demonstrated in Hair High (Time Out Chicago).
It is a gothic high-school comedy with a ‘Carrie’-like storyline (ASIFA Seattle). However, in Push Comes to Shove (1991) he was inspired by the slapstick of Laurel and Hardy, the comedy duo of the twenties. Looking closely, there is a lot of physical violence in the seemingly innocent and simple fun of the duo and Plympton takes this genre to the next level in his brutal, physical humor. Also, a lot of his ideas and concepts are inspired by urban myths, high school fables, incidents he sees on the street which may have no real explanation but simply feeds his curiosity and real-life characters and events (Animation Magazine).
He keeps a notebook to write down his dreams, ideas and observations. While he was influenced by Tex Avery’s humor, Walt Disney’s imagination and business acumen, Bob Clampett’s style and Roland Topor’s grotesque humor his main influence has been Winsor McKay and finds he relates to him in a number of ways. Similar to Plympton, Winsor McKay started out as a print cartoonist and also did political cartoons in newspapers. He also was an independent and made his own films, doing all of his drawings himself.
Again, like Plympton, he would take realistic situations and turn them into exaggerated surreal imagery which the basis for humor in animation for Plympton. In contrast, one of their few differences is that McKay started working for network television whereas Plympton remained an indie animator. A contemporary of Bill Plympton is the abstract animator Joanna Priestley, who was also born in Oregon and is still based there. While friends, with Plympton calling her the queen of Independent Animation, they have distinctly different styles.
Priestley’s work is abstract and innovative and she draws her inspiration from human behavior, landscape and artwork. Her films relate to human situations such as romance and growing old and combine the abstract with a humorous and touching aspect. Plympton uses much more direct bizarreness, surreal violence and sex in his films. In a similar attitude to Plympton’s, Will Vinton, another contemporary Bill Plympton 4 from Oregon, also tried to sell his work to Disney as a child but went on to make his own name in independent animation (Oregon Cartoon Institute).
Though Plympton has been influenced by many significant names in animation, he has also, in turn, been an influence for others. Erich Stough, a director of South Park, was influenced by Bill Plympton shorts since an early age and found that he liked the style of animation more than the classic Disney style which was around at the time. He admired the way Plympton would use animation to tell a short story in a medium which normally makes it difficult to convey ideas. Another promising young animator who was influenced by Plympton is Adam Elliot who won an Oscar in 2004 with his short film Harvie Krumpet.
He had watched Plympton’s 25 Ways to Quit Smoking before he realized that he wanted to become an animator. He liked the film’s simple minimalism and its droll narration. He has liberal political views and avoided going to the Vietnam War by joining the National Guard. His short film Boomtown (1985) was about his negative views on military spending dating from the Cold War to the present day. He is disillusioned with studios and TV companies who employ new graduates to work on their animated series and sitcoms as opposed to experienced and productive animators such as him.
Yet Plympton feels optimistic about the current status of animated feature films in the U. S. and there are an increasing number of people who are looking to finance independent animated features. Plympton may have been partly responsible for this movement or at the least has inspired it and today there are a large number of animators who are inspired enough to attempt being lone independent animators themselves (Animation Magazine). Bill Plympton 5 References ASIFA Seattle. (2004, June). June Newsletter. Retrieved May 16, 2008 from http://asifaseattle.
com/news/an-04-07. html Sweeny, E. (2005, June 26). In Animation, he’s top drawer. Boston Globe. Time Out staff. (2007, May 24-30). Film. Time Out Chicago. Issue 117. Ball, R. (2006, September 15). Indie Animation King Bill Plympton. Animation Magazine. Oregon Cartoon Institute. (Archives) Oregon Historic Animators: A Brief Outline. Retrieved May 15, 2008 from http://www. oregoncartooninstitute. com/documentary. htm Robinson, T. (2000, April 19). Interviews: Bill Plympton. A. V. Club. Retrieved May 15, 2008 from http://www. avclub. com/content/node/22876