Interview with Bill Plympton

Bill Plympton is an animator best known different approach to animation.  Bill has created such feature films as “I Married a Strange Person!”, “Mutant Aliens” and the upcoming “Idiots and Angels”.  He also has worked on various short films including “Your Face”, which was nominated for Academy Award.  Bill is also the subject of the upcoming documentary from filmmaker Alexia Anastasia, called “Adventures in Plymptoons!”.  Movie Mikes had a chance to talk with Bill to discuss his work, his inspiration and his current projects.

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Mike Gencarelli: Out of all the characters you have created, do you have a favorite?
Bill Plympton: Well the “Dog” is a particular favorite.  I was shocked with the reception the “Dog” got when I first screened “Guard Dog” at a Baltimore Film Festival.  The audience went crazy and they all mobbed me afterwards.  They just loved the “Dog”.  I never had that kind of experience before.  I thought it might be nice to do a sequel.  So I did the film “Guide Dog”.  That was equally well-loved.  I did “Hot Dog”, where he worked in a fire department.  “Horn Dog”, when we fell in love.  We are doing a new one now called “Cop Dog”, where he sniffs out drugs in an airport.  You know that is going to turn bad.  Throughout his life, he is looking for love, affection and someone to take care of him but he always screws it up.  That film will not be done till next year though, they take a while to make them.

MG: What has been your inspiration for your work?
BP: I have been influenced by so many people, both teachers and fellow animators.  Certainly Walt Disney and Tex Avery have been huge inspirations.  Preston Blair, Charles Adams, R. Crumb, Milton Glaser…I could do on and on.

MG: Tell us about your latest short “The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger”?
BP: It was inspired by a trip I took a couple of years ago in Oregon.  I was driving through this cow country.  I saw thes cows eating grass and I was taken by how intensely these cows were eating this grass.  It seemed like they were trying to buff themselves up in order to make themselves as good of a hamburger as possible.  I thought that could be a funny idea for a film.  When I got back I started playing with that idea.  I thought about it for a year or so. Last fall, I started Bill Plympton’s School of Animation and I was teaching a class, and I thought it would be a great teaching tool to show the process of me making a film from beginning to end.  I wanted to show the students the process a filmmaker goes through in creating a film.  I used “The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger” as a teaching tool.  Each week we would have a different step in the process.  One week was doing storyboards, then layouts, then character design, then backgrounds etc.  They loved it and thought it was great.  The only problem was the original ending I had did not work very well.  It was not a good ending.  So I went back to the beginning of the film and realized the beginning actually held the secret to the ending.  It was the mother’s love.  That is how I came up with the ending.  People, especially women, think it is so emotional and all about love.  People have really responded well to the film.

MG: What is your creating process for coming up with these ideas?
BP: The ideas are just haphazard.  Like I said it could be something I see through my travels.  The idea for the “Dog” films came when I was running around Madison Square Park and I saw this dog parking at a bird.  I wondered why is this big dog afraid of such a tiny bird.  A lot of these ideas are sparks by mysteries of life.  Why is this? Why did this happen? Why do people do this?  How does this come about?  Answering those questions always leads to very wacky ideas.

MG: How do you feel about computers and CGI taking over animation world so to say?
BP: I think a lot of that computer films are quite nice.  I loved “How to Train Your Dragon”.  “Kung Fu Panda” was fabulous.  “Toy Story 3” was great.  I think there is room for all sorts of styles of animation.  There is Nick Parks and claymation.  Then you have Henry Selik and Tim Burton with stop-motion.  You have Japanese (Hayao) Miyazaki with drawn animation.  I think there is room for everybody.

MG: Tell me about the documentary “Adventures in Plymptoons!” directed by Alexia Anastasio?
BP: I have known Alexia for around ten years, maybe longer.  She works with a friend of mine, Esther Bell, who is a filmmaker.  We keep running into each other in film festivals and Comic-Cons and things like that.  Last year, she came to me and said “Someone should do a documentary about you, you are a interesting creature.  You are single handedly making these animated feature films when no one else can do it”.  I said “Yeah that would be really cool.  I would like that”.  So she has been following me around for about a year.  Not just me, she has been interviewing a lot of important people in my life such as filmmakers and actors that know me.  The list is pretty impressive, Terry Gilliam, Gus Van Sant, Sarah Silverman, Matt Groening and Michael Moore.  She also has interviewing my family, my brothers and people I went to high school with.  I think she has about 70 or 80 interviews.  It will be very comprehensive.  I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

MG: Do you have any plans to make another feature film any time soon?
BP: I am actually working on two feature films as we speak.  One film is called “Cheatin”.  It is  about these lovers who become jealous of each other and try to kill each other.  It is sort of along of the lines of “The Postman Rings Twice”.  It is a great dark film, very noir.  It is very similar in style to “Idiots and Angels”.   The other film, I probably should talk about much it is very early in stages, but it is about a whale named Tiffany that wants to be a super model.

MG: Tell us about the upcoming release of “Idiots and Angels”?
BP: This is the newest animated feature I just finished a few years ago.  It has been doing the festival circuit for a year or so now.  We are very excited about it finally getting released in the states.  It got a great release in France, Germany, Spain and Portugal.  America is very difficult to understand animation for adults.  They certain love Pixar and rightfully so.  Dreamworks as well and all the other sorts of kids animation.  But once you start putting adult topics in feature animation a lot of people are afraid, especially the distributors.  They feel there is no big success for something like that.  They feel that animation is primarily a children’s art form.  That really pisses me off because there are so many great ideas you can do with animation and adult topics.  Especially with love, jealousy, fighting and sex for example.  I am hoping I will be able to break through this sort of ignorance about animation as an adult art form.  It is strange Quentin Tarantino, who is a genius filmmaker, can have all sorts of sex and violence in his films.  I try and put the same thing in an animated film and people are like “Oh my God, you can’t do that.  You are going to destroy kids brains”.  I am trying to fight that stereotype with “Idiots and Angels”.  I think that this is my most mature film to date.  It is very spiritual.  It is a morality tale.  It also has great music.  We are very excited about this film.  It open in NY and LA starting October 6, then platforming into Chicago and across the country throughout the Winter and Spring.

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One Reply to “Interview with Bill Plympton”

  1. Awesome interview. Hopefully Alexa’s doc gets backing to do a tour though it’s in a sea of kickstarters.

    His ‘Guard Dog Global Jam’ has a blast so far. Anyone else on here taking part?

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