Plymp­ton Goes Noir

The New York indie dar­ling puts the fin­ish­ing touches on Cheatin’, his quirky ho­mage to hard-boiled Hol­ly­wood thrillers. by Ellen Wolff

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The New York indie dar­ling puts the fin­ish­ing touches on Cheatin’, his quirky ho­mage to hard-boiled Hol­ly­wood thrillers. by Ellen Wolff

If any con­tem­po­rary an­i­ma­tor could be said to em­body the indie film­maker spirit, Bill Plymp­ton would be a prime can­di­date. With his sig­na­ture hand-drawn style and adult, icon­o­clas­tic themes, Plymp­ton of­fers a brac­ing an­ti­dote to the 3D fam­ily films that com­prise most of to­day’s an­i­mated fare. “I love Hol­ly­wood films,” he as­serts. “I just want to see more va­ri­ety.”

Plymp­ton’s lat­est ef­fort to ful­fill that de­sire is his sev­enth fea­ture, Cheatin’, made with a 10-per­son crew at his Plymp­toons Stu­dio in NYC. “It’s a love story gone wrong,” ex­plains the writer-di­rec­tor, speak­ing over the back­ground wails of city sirens and his new­born child. In­spired by the noir sen­si­bil­i­ties of nov­el­ist James M. Cain ( The Post­man Al­ways Rings Twice), Plymp­ton spins a tale – us­ing no di­a­logue – of a hus­band’s in­fi­delity and a wife’s cre­ative so­lu­tion. “The wife is able to trans­port her soul into the bod­ies of the floozies he’s hav­ing af­fairs with. She gets to en­joy the love of her hus­band, yet he doesn’t know that it’s his wife he’s mak­ing love to. It’s def­i­nitely not a kid’s film!”

“It’s my dream that peo­ple will see this as part of a genre that hasn’t been suc­cess­ful since Ralph Bak­shi,” says Plymp­ton, re­fer­ring to Bak­shi’s 1972 X-rated hit Fritz the Cat. “There have been a few Euro­pean films, like The Triplets of Belleville, but I think there’s a need for an Amer­i­can film that ad­dresses this huge vac­uum. In this day of graphic nov­els and an­i­mated TV shows that speak to adults, why can’t we have an­i­mated adult films?”

Rais­ing Pocket Change!

Plymp­ton found agree­ment for this at­ti­tude among many an­i­ma­tion fans when he made a pitch to fund Cheatin’ on the crowd-sourc­ing site Kick­starter. “Our goal was to raise $75,000, and we raised an ex­tra 33 per­cent. Our staff worked over­time, so that money was gone very quickly,” he ad­mits. “The film eventu- ally cost a half-mil­lion dol­lars, which is pocket change in Hol­ly­wood.”

Cheatin’ wasn’t the first project Plymp­ton brought to Kick­starter. In 2011, he raised funds there for his restora­tion of Wind­sor McCay’s 1921 an­i­mated clas­sic The Fly­ing House. Typ­i­cally, Plymp­ton has fi­nanced pre­vi­ous projects by us­ing in­come earned from do­ing an­i­ma­tion for com­mer­cials and se­ries like The Simp­sons. But the multi-lay­ered 2D an­i­ma­tion process he en­vi­sioned for the 40,000 draw­ings in Cheatin’ would be un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally la­bor-in­ten­sive, and his Kick­starter video pitch made a point of ex­plain­ing that.

Plymp­ton cred­its pro­ducer De­siree Stavra­cos and art di­rec­tor Lind­say Woods with com­ing up with a look that sug­gested mot­tled wa­ter­col­ors. “Even though we had to hire a bunch

“When I was a kid watch­ing Dis­ney films, I never dreamed I could make my own an­i­mated fea­ture. Now I’ve done seven of them. It’s a whole new world.

Any­body can do it now.”

of artists to cre­ate that look, I was so en­am­ored with it that I thought, ‘What the hell, let’s spend a few ex­tra bucks!’”

As Woods ex­plains, “Bill did the pen­cil art­work, which was scanned, and then the whole thing was col­ored in Pho­to­shop in sep­a­rate lay­ers. Those were then com­pos­ited in Af­ter Ef­fects. Wher­ever we had the op­por­tu­nity, we used Af­ter Ef­fects to im­ple­ment cam­era move­ments to give it three-di­men­sional depth.” To bur­nish the look with a vin­tage-film glow, Stavra­cos then ap­plied Af­ter Ef­fects to the en­tire film.

While this qual­i­fies as the big­gest “dig­i­tal as­sist” used in any of Plymp­ton’s films, he notes that the look ac­tu­ally brings him full cir­cle to the style he used when he be­gan his ca­reer as a mag­a­zine il­lus­tra­tor. “My il­lus­tra­tions were wa­ter­color mot­tling. Winslow Homer and N.C. Wyeth were my in­spi­ra­tions. I’d do crosshatch­ing over the wa­ter­col­ors with an ink pen, blend­ing the tech­niques to­gether. Cheatin’ also blends those tech­niques. It’s the first time I’ve ever been able to recre­ate my illustration style in a movie.”

Plymp­ton has high hopes for Cheatin’— in­clud­ing an Os­car nom­i­na­tion for Best An­i­mated Fea­ture. Though he’s earned nom­i­na­tions for his shorts Guard Dog and Your Face, he knows what an An­i­mated Fea­ture nod would

—Di­rec­tor Bill Plymp­ton

mean. “Peo­ple will say, ‘Wow this thing is raunchy and it got nom­i­nated for an Os­car. We should check it out.’ So that’s my plan. Maybe I’m a Pollyanna, but I think this film has a shot.”

To pro­tect the movie’s Os­car el­i­gi­bil­ity, Plymp­ton won’t be stream­ing Cheatin’ over the In­ter­net, as some would like. “I don’t re­ally need to do that to make my money back,” he ex­plains. “The prob­lem is that to get an Os­car nom­i­na­tion, Academy mem­bers need to see it in the­aters.” He ex­pects this rule will change even­tu­ally, but mean­while, Cheatin’ will have its Euro­pean pre­miere at Spain’s Sit­ges film fes­ti­val (where Plymp­ton has been a four-time win­ner in years past). He’s cur­rently aim­ing for a U.S. pre­miere at Sun­dance, where he’s been nom­i­nated twice for the Grand Jury Prize.

Like a true dyed-in-the-wool indie artist, Plymp­ton be­lieves that the num­ber of in­de­pen­dent fea­ture an­i­ma­tors will con­tinue to rise. “When I was a kid watch­ing Dis­ney films, I never dreamed I could make my own an­i­mated fea­ture. Now I’ve done seven of them. It’s a whole new world. Any­body can do it now.”

Plymp­toons will en­ter Cheatin’ in the 2014 Os­car race. The film will pre­miere at Sun­dance in Jan­uary. To learn more, visit www.plymp­toons.com.

Bill Plymp­ton

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