NYC-based independent animator Bill Plympton visited Blue Sky Studios!
This actually wasn’t my first time seeing Bill Plympton talk. He’s visited my department at SVA a number of times, was on a panel I saw a while ago organized by The Academy and the Society of Illustrators, and I tend to bump into him at NYC events, and support his other animation endeavors. I have quite a few post cards with doodles of his iconic guard dog:
It’s always interesting to see Bill talk, because, unlike many artists who cater their talks based on whether the audience is predominantly students or professionals (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), he is always very blunt and sincerely speaks his mind. He doesn’t beat around the bush about his opinions on animation in the US, about being an animation student today, or about himself and his career.
He’s the first one to tell you that he doesn’t make a whole lot of cash from his films, and that any money he makes goes into the next film. He discussed his decision to launch (a successful) kickstarter for his latest film, Cheatin’, his early days as an illustrator-turned animator, and the freedom (despite limited resources) he enjoys today tackling more grown up subject matter. He was encouraging to many artists, reminding them that they can still create their own work about whatever they want despite being at a larger studio.
Always the advocate of broadening the scope of animation in America, Bill’s talks always touch on this, which is why I enjoy them so much. There’s no reason why more films like his can’t exist alongside your Disney musicals. I personally prefer a grey area in between these “kid” and “adult-themed” films, which is why films like The Wind Rises appeal to me on a thematic level. They tell more mature stories but can still be accessible to younger audiences. But Bill is doing what no one else in this country is doing, and doing so without compromise, and I love that. He shows that these darker topics can be digested without being the punchline like you so often find in “adult” animation like South Park. Again, not that there is anything wrong with that, but there is always room for more!
My friend from high school, Eric Francisco, interviewed Bill for the site Geekscape. It’s a really fantastic read, as Eric asked some great questions, many of which I ponder a lot while working at a studio that solely focuses on family-oriented stories. While at Blue Sky, Plympton did briefly share his thoughts on the matter, similar to this bit from the interview:
They get jealous, they have adulterous affairs and divorces, [even] hook up with prostitutes and things like that, but yet they can’t talk about it. They can’t discuss it in their films. They have to do kiddie films. Which seems like lying. They’re betraying their artistic sensibilities. Whereas I can draw about whatever I want and that’s what makes me an artist talking about my own life.
The independent film life is not for everyone, especially with a beast of a medium like animation. But it’s so great to see people like Bill Plympton continue to carve a niche for themselves. And from the looks of some early reviews of Cheatin’ (which just was released to limited theaters), it looks like that niche will be growing even more this year.
Here is a trailer for Cheatin’: