Bill Plympton @ Blue Sky Studios

NYC-based independent animator Bill Plympton visited Blue Sky Studios!

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Photo taken from Blue Sky Studios Facebook page

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’:

TCM Treasures from the Disney Vault

Sunday, the 15th of March, I had the pleasure of watching a good chunk of a special programming block on TCM (Turner Classic Movies), called Treasures from the Disney Vault. TCM’s site describes the program as follows:

Several times a year, TCM will feature a wide array of Disney classics for the entire family to enjoy, including animated shorts, feature films, live-action movies, documentaries, nature films and made-for-television movies.

This months lineup began with the 1959 classic film “Darby O’Gill and the Little People,” followed by a fun featurette starring Walt himself and Darby actor Albert Sharpe, “I Captured the King of the Leprechauns” (1959). Following this was the Silly Symphony “Babes in the Woods” (1932), and the 1955 featurette “The Story of the Animated Drawing.” Then, starting at midnight, TCM screened 1944’s “The Three Caballeros,” the 2008 documentary “Walt & El Grupo,” and lastly “The Fighting Prince of Donegal” (1966). Each of these had great little intros and outros by Disney/film historian Leonard Maltin.

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I really do hope that–as the site implies–TCM turns this into a series. Preferably one that happens more than just “several” times a year! My one complaint about the program was that it ran so late on a Sunday night, with the final film starting at 3:30am (EST). I understand that the block needed to accommodate multiple time zones (and I don’t hold it against them or anything), but as a result, I was unable to see ‘Donegal.’ I also did not stay up to watch “Walt & El Grupo,” but seeing as how I own that on DVD I did not miss anything new.

The only other issue with the programming was one I did not even notice. Leonard Maltin tweeted the following:

Again, did not even realize this was a thing. Considering this was my first time ever even hearing about Darby O’Gill, let alone watching it, I was less bothered (read: not bothered at all) than those who grew up with it. But I can empathize with film/nostalgia buffs wanting the film presented as un-altered as possible.

I’m not going to sit here now and review each of these films. Perhaps I will in the future (in individual posts), but right now I’m more than happy (elated, actually) to simply acknowledge that this block happened–that this series exists at all. ‘Grateful’ sounds a bit over-dramatic, but that is sincerely how I feel. Very rarely do I get to see a lot of the more obscure live-action Disney films. Similarly, it is also a treat to see many of the black-and-white featurettes that were so prominent when Walt was marketing his films. Sometimes I would be lucky and one of them would pop up as a random bonus feature on a DVD, and would otherwise be non-existent, but it’s nice to see these equally entertaining spots be given a spotlight.

So thanks, TCM! Cannot wait for more.

A Missed Opportunity

I’m kind of mad at myself. And why? Because this is happening tonight:

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The NYC ACM SIGGRAPH chapter is holding an event about the character design and development of Disney’s Big Hero 6. Here are the event details from the site:

Join Character Design SupervisorBill Schwab and Character CG Supervisor, Carlos Cabral as they share the art, process and innovation of  “Big Hero 6” an action-packed comedy-adventure about robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada, who learns to harness his genius—thanks to his brilliant brother Tadashi and their like-minded friends: adrenaline junkie Go Go Tomago, neatnik Wasabi chemistry whiz Honey Lemon and fanboy Fred. When a devastating turn of events catapults them into the midst of a dangerous plot unfolding in the streets of San Fransokyo, Hiro turns to his closest companion—a robot named Baymax —and transforms the group into a band of high-tech heroes determined to solve the mystery. Inspired by the Marvel comics of the same name, and featuring comic-book style action, Bill and Carlos will share what it’s like to bring characters to life at Disney Animation.

The NYIT auditorium is a pretty cozy venue, so I should have known that it would fill up fast, especially considering that tickets were being sold in advance (which tends to not happen when NYC SIG events are held at SVA or FIT, which are a little more spacious). The thing is, I’ve known about this event for a while, before it was even being advertised. And, as usual, I hesitated to purchase my ticket. And, as usual, the event filled up quickly. I’ve been to enough of these types of talks to know what I’m missing. Heck, if I’m lucky I’ll still manage to see some form of this talk at SIGGRAPH or online featurettes. But that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t have loved every damn minute of this.

There are so many reasons I should be attending this event. Many of my friends and classmates from SVA will be there, fellow Blue Skyers and SIG friends will be there, the presentation itself will be dope, networking, a badass write up for this sad little blog, A VIDEO FOR MY NONEXISTENT YOUTUBE CHANNEL!? And I threw it all away. Why?

Because the thought of commuting into NYC is very daunting to me. That’s literally it. I am a homebody through and through, but right now that side of me feels very passively self-destructive.

Perhaps shaming myself via the Internet will teach me to get over myself. Hell, maybe this in itself could become a video for my NONEXISTENT YouTube channel. Because this is not the first time my aversion to social situations has costed me a great opportunity and experience. Hopefully it is one of the last..

1 Down, 11 To Go

It’s very difficult for me to think that January ’15 is already behind us. I still feel as though 2015 has only just begun. I mean, that’s still true, but I still find it moving at an alarming pace.

Once I started working at Blue Sky Studios (as opposed to every other job I’ve had–ever), I did notice that the weeks tended (and continue) to fly by. Tuesdays and Thursdays are usually slightly quieter days in the schedule, but some weeks I swear we just up and decide to skip those days entirely.

Continue reading “1 Down, 11 To Go”

2015

It pains me a little to write something as cliche as what this post is going to be, but I think starting off and being slightly disappointed in yourself is a good way to eventually overcome those feelings. Better to create something and it be something that you hate than create nothing at all. Honestly, I’m not big on New Years. For me, the passage of time isn’t necessarily something I’m keen to celebrate. January 1st is an arbitrary date, but because of the meanings we place on it, and the vacation time, it does provide an ideal chance to reflect and gather one’s bearings. There are truly so many things I want to do and learn.

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