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Bill Plympton

Animator Bill Plympton was in Orlando recently for the Florida Film Festival. I caught up with him at Barnes and Noble and asked him a few questions.

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self-portrait
Mr. Plympton, where do you hail from?

I'm from Portland, Oregon, and it rains a lot there. That seems to have influenced a number of people in my neighborhood, Tonya Harding and Gary Gilmore. Either you become a cartoonist or a mass murderer. Fortunately, I became a cartoonist. Matt Groening is from there, John Callahan, Will Vinton. It's an interesting area, it spawned a lot of weird charters.

What brought you into the field of animation?

I've drawn since I was 3 or 4 , and loved watching animation on TV - Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Disney stuff. When I was 14, I sent a packet of drawings out to Disney to try and get some work. They sent a nice letter back saying, "Your work shows promise, but you're too young, come back in 10 years." Oddly enough, when my film Your Face was nominated for an Oscar, they did come back to me. They offered me a job working at Disney, and they offered me a million dollars to work for them, which is hard to turn down. When I got the contract, it was a very inclusive contract. Some people say negotiating with Disney is like good cop/bad cop, but I think it's more like bad cop/antichrist. Now, I don't want to be a Disney basher, because I'm strongly influenced by them. They do great things with marketing, they're the best at distribution, merchandising, and frankly, I think Walt Disney was the premier entertainer of the 20th century, and influenced our culture and that of the world.

Do you have a background in the fine arts or graphics?

I went to college in Portland, and they didn't have animation classes where I took graphic design. When I came out of school, animation was dead - there was no market for it. I wanted to go to New York to be an illustrator or do something with my charters and cartoons. I moved to New York City and I sold my drawing to Penthouse, Playboy, The New York Times, National Lampoon, House Beautiful, [and] Rolling Stone. I still had an urge to be an animator. I did a couple of animations, but technically, they all flopped. Creatively they were pretty interesting, but technically they were bad.

What was your first animated film?

It was [a] thing I did for school called The Turn On. It was a big flop. It was shot upside down, and badly animated, so it never got shown anywhere. Then I did another one in the mid 70's called Lucas the Ear of Corn, which is still available on videotape. Then I did another one called Boom Town, and that was the first one that was commercially viable. I sent it to the London Film Festival and other big film festivals, and that was my first introduction into the whole film festival circuit.

Who were your artistic influences?

Well, [Will] Eisner, of course, and Bob Crumb, Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Walt Disney, Windsor McCay, Andy Frost - those are the big ones. I love the Japanese stuff, especially Miazowi, he's been a big influence. He's brilliant, and kicked American animation up a notch, showing what animation could be.

What's the biggest difference between animation today and when you started?

Well, there's a huge market for it now, people seem to accept it more readily now. You can make a living at it. There are many more kinds of animation style. As we go forward, there'll be a lot more adult animation, that's the next big frontier. People like us who grew up with animation and love it want to see more adult themes in animation.

What's your favorite cartoon right now?

That's a tough one, It's funny, I don't really watch The Simpsons or Futurama or King of the Hill that much.

You've got some ads running for Geico. Did they reject any of your concepts?

They came up with the concepts. They gave me the storyboards and said, "do it." It was very easy, I just did their drawings. All advertising should be that easy. I don't get any residuals for those ads, they just paid me a fee. It was a very good fee. Normally, ads just run for a month, but these have run forever. But I like them, and my mother likes them - they don't have any sex.

How did you get associated with the Florida Film Festival?

I ran into Matt at a film festival somewhere. We started talking, and he said, "you should show your films in our festival," so I did. I came down here and they were impressed, and they wanted someone on the board more animation oriented. They put me on the board and asked me to do the poster and the trailer, and I started showing works there. I like Orlando, and they take good care of me.

You have a recurring charter who's a guy with slicked back hair. Is he someone from your life?

Not really, he's just a boring guy. That way, when something weird happens, it's much more interesting.