By: Gabe Burns
Bill Plympton, Oscar-winning animator and St. Louis International Film Festival honoree, visited Webster University on Nov. 12 to speak to animation students about being an independent animator and the new documentary “Adventures in Plymptoons,” directed by Alexia Anastasio.
“I want to show he’s an artist who does whatever the hell he wants and stands by that,” Anastasio said. “Being a film maker and an artist is how I relate to that.”
Plympton went into illustration after school doing cartoons and caricatures for a variety of publications, such as Rolling Stone and the New York Times. He, however, always had a keen interest in animation.
“I should have gone into animation when I was out of school,” Plympton said. “I don’t know why I didn’t know, technically, how to do it. I didn’t know how to sell it. I didn’t know what to do with it. I wasn’t aware of the festival circuit.”
It wasn’t until the 1980s, when animation made its comeback in American society, that Plympton decided to give it a shot.
His first effort, a short called “Your Face,” consisted of a man singing a song while his head began to spin and make strange faces.
Plympton decided to bring it to a festival, not knowing what to expect, but distinctly rememers sitting in the theater and being able to finally hear people laugh at his work.
“I was floored by the success of ‘Your Face,’” Plympton said.
After the festival, Plympton called all the publications he was working for and told them he was done, and was going to make a living off of animation.
While no one believed him at the time, Plympton has proved to be incredibly successful where many failed. He attributes that much to his humor.
“The combination of humor, dark witty humor and good drawing. I’m a good artist and I know how to tell a story with humor,” Plympton said.
Unlike many others, Plympton has been able to remain completely independent, even turning down a million dollar contract from Disney because he was unwilling to give up the rights to his own work.
With technology improving, the tools to animate have never been better.
“In the ‘80s, there were maybe one or two features films a year. Now there are 20 feature films a year,” Plympton said “And it’s just exploded.”
Even with the tools being so accessible, Plympton recognizes how hard it is to get the work out there and to make money off of it.
“I know people like the films and I know they’re very popular,” Plympton said. “But the distributors are very afraid of animation that’s not for children and if it’s not computer animated. So there’s this sort of wall that I can’t break through.”
Plympton is currently working on “Cheatin,” a full-length feature film.
Though he spent much of his time talking about the business side of his story, Plympton’s most important piece of advice was to be funny.
“Try and make people laugh. I think it’s very important to make people laugh,” Plympton said.