Cheatin’ Doesn’t Lie

Animation Magazine - - Features -

Bill Plymp­ton gets hon­est — and a bit weird — about love and sex in his sev­enth an­i­mated fea­ture, all while stick­ing with old-fash­ioned pen­cil and pa­per. By Tom McLean.

“Di­a­log is dif­fi­cult to write and hard to sell over­seas,” he says. “Also, I felt there was a cer­tain po­etry.” It’s also eas­ier from a tech­ni­cal stand­point. “Lip synch is a real bitch to do, so there’s a num­ber of rea­sons why I chose not to use di­a­log. No­body brings it up as a prob­lem.”

De­spite decades of in­die an­i­ma­tion ex­pe­ri­ence, the process of mak­ing a fea­ture is still un­pre­dictable. Cheatin’ is the sec­ond fea­ture on which Plymp­ton has used dig­i­tal tech­niques to ap­ply col­ors in the style of his mag­a­zine il­lus­tra­tion work from the 1970s and 1980s. “I love that look, that warm kind of artsy feel­ing, and I was never able to cre­ate that for an­i­ma­tion,” he says.

His pro­duc­ers de­vel­oped a method for ap­ply­ing those col­ors to Plymp­ton’s an­i­ma­tion, but it proved la­bor in­ten­sive enough to put Cheatin’ over bud­get with about six months’ worth of work to go. Plymp­ton — who says the bud­get on Cheatin’ was about $400,000 — turned to Kick­s­tarter to raise the funds, suc­ceed­ing quickly and ex­ceed­ing the fund-rais­ing goals.

“This opens up a whole can of worms,” says Plymp­ton, who lauds Kick­s­tarter as a way to cir­cum­vent the bi­ases he fre­quently en­coun­ters

Fan-sourc­ing Funds

“Kick­s­tarter is re­ally valid. It’s a breath of fresh air. I don’t have to go out to Hol­ly­wood and do a dog-and-pony show,” says Plymp­ton. “I can go to my fans. They know my films and love my films. They’re part of the whole process, they’re part of the whole re­lease of the film.”

All of which leads Plymp­ton into a bit of a rant about the dif­fi­cul­ties of try­ing to get dis­trib­u­tors and stu­dios to con­sider adult an­i­mated fea­tures as a le­git­i­mate art form: they don’t un­der­stand an­i­ma­tion, they think only CG sells and they think the only au­di­ence for an­i­ma­tion is chil­dren.

Over­seas, it’s a dif­fer­ent story. Plymp­ton says his shorts sell well all over the world and his films are ex­tremely well re­ceived in places like France. “I’m con­sid­ered the Jerry Lewis of an­i­ma­tion in France,” he says. “I got amaz­ing press; almost ev­ery pub­li­ca­tion in France did a write-up on me. It’s a mys­tery.”

But Plymp­ton, 68, has no plans to stop now. His new projects in­clude Foot­prints, which he’s draw­ing with ball­point pen in a more car­toony style. He also has a fea­ture planned called Hitler’s Folly, which Plymp­ton said has a mock­u­men­tary vibe in the vein of This Is ... Spinal Tap. “It’s about Hitler be­com­ing a car­toon­ist,” he says. “He be­comes the Walt Dis­ney of Aus­tria.”

He also is col­lab­o­rat­ing with in­die an­i­ma­tor Jim Lu­jan on a fea­ture ti­tled Re­vengeance about what he calls the sleazy un­der­belly of Los An­ge­les pol­i­tics. “I’ve al­ready started an­i­mat­ing it,” Plymp­ton says. “We’re about 10 min­utes into the film and I hope to have it fin­ished next year.”

The film, which pre­miered at the 2013 Cannes fes­ti­val, is fi­nally mak­ing its way to the United States, with a the­atri­cal run be­gin­ning Aug. 29 fol­low­ing its VOD de­but in mid-July.

Roughly half the film’s run­ning time is an­i­mated in a 2D style in­flu­enced by the works of Fleis­cher Stu­dios — es­pe­cially Su­per­man — and the more ex­per­i­men­tal and adult styles of an­i­ma­tors like Ralph Bak­shi. ‘It was very hard to find (Robin Wright’s) fea­tures be­cause ev­ery time we’d an­i­mate, some­thing would move and once you move it a bit,

it’s not her any­more.’

lacked an

“We re­al­ized it was go­ing to be quite ex­pen­sive project if we were to do it ex­actly the way we had writ­ten it,” says Stassen. “We de­cided to turn a lot of the parts into non­ver­bal parts — so all the giz­mos all the au­toma­tons in the film be­came non­ver­bal char­ac­ters … In the end, it helps the film, be­cause I think that th­ese char­ac­ters are bet­ter as non­speak­ing parts and more ex­pres­sive and more fun to watch and more en­ter­tain­ing than if they had been speak­ing parts. Some­times the bud­getary con­straints can have a pos­i­tive im­pact on the cre­ative side.”

Re­tain­ing some of the orig­i­nal at­trac­tion el­e­ment was another goal for the film, which fea­tures sev­eral elab­o­rate chase se­quences. “We did build that in a lit­tle bit, in terms of go­ing out of our way to build good, im­mer­sive kinds of se­quences that do re­mind you of some theme park at­trac­tion,” Stassen says.

Proper Use of 3D

Com­ing from the at­trac­tion world, Stassen is well versed in the use of stereo­scopic 3D and says it is a very im­por­tant el­e­ment in the film. “We re­ally want to use 3D as a tool to re-trans­form the ex­pe­ri­ence,” says Stassen. “We build it in right from the start. We think about 3D; we stage it for 3D.”

Stassen says he’s frus­trated by the state of 3D, which has been hurt by too many films that aren’t con­ceived for 3D con­verted into the for­mat with poor re­sults that dis­ap­point movie­go­ers who of­ten pay ex­tra for it.

“We’ve al­ways put a lot of time and en­ergy into try­ing to cre­ate an im­mer­sive 3D ex­pe­ri­ence, and it’s kind of frus­trat­ing be­cause I see it dy­ing,” he says. When House of Magic was re­leased in Italy, it was not shown any­where in 3D be­cause the pub­lic had re­jected the tech­nol­ogy for all but the big­gest sum­mer tent­pole films, he says.

“At the end of the day, (movie­go­ers) say, ‘Oh, we could have seen that film in 2D,” and it’s not the case with a film like House of Magic,” says Stassen. “The ex­pe­ri­ence is quite dif­fer­ent if you have seen it in 3D than 2D. It still works in 2D but it’s still a much more im­mer­sive and en­ter­tain­ing film in 3D.”

Based in Bel­gium, nWave has a full-time staff of about 120 on its an­i­ma­tion team, kept busy by the stu­dio’s an­nual fea­ture film re­leases. That means ev­ery­one has a full work­load and a tight sched­ule that pro­hibits re-do­ing or tweak­ing scenes short of a ma­jor is­sue.

Global Strat­egy

Thun­der and the House of Magic was con­ceived and pro­duced as an English-lan­guage film, de­spite it hav­ing first played and been a hit in other lan­guages. Stassen says nWave does that de­lib­er­ately to im­prove the chances of sell­ing the film.

“It’s cru­cial be­cause our films — even at a $25 mil­lion bud­get — you have to sell them world­wide, oth­er­wise you never re­coup your in­vest­ment,” he says. “If we were, for in­stance, to do the film first as a French-lan­guage film and dub it into English later, it would be a big prob­lem, be­cause when you go to the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, AFM or Berlin, you wouldn’t have a lan­guage that most buy­ers could un­der­stand.”

The company also sticks with es­tab­lished an­i­ma­tion voice ac­tors in­stead of go­ing after ex­pen­sive A-list live-ac­tion ac­tors. “Un­less you get — in the U.S. mar­ket — A-list tal­ent, hav­ing rec­og­niz­able names doesn’t re­ally make a big dif­fer­ence at the box of­fice,” says Stassen. “So we ended up work­ing with re­ally tal­ented an­i­ma­tion voices rather than well-known ac­tors.”

While nWave’s films have found tremen­dous suc­cess around the world — Stassen says House of Magic was the sec­ond-high­est gross­ing film last Christ­mas in Korea be­hind only The Hob­bit: The Des­o­la­tion of Smaug, and nWave’s 2009 fea­ture Sammy grossed more than $100 mil­lion world­wide yet was never re­leased in North Amer­i­can the­aters — cracking the North Amer­i­can mar­ket has been es­pe­cially tough.

That’s why nWave has teamed up with Shout! Fac­tory, whose plans for the limited the­atri­cal re­lease, fol­lowed by the home video re­lease, are in­tended to help pave the way for broader suc­cess later on, says Stassen.

That fu­ture in­cludes a fea­ture now in pro­duc­tion and due out in 2015 retelling the Robin­son Cru­soe story from the point of view of the de­serted is­land’s an­i­mal res­i­dents, with a decision loom­ing for the company’s 2016 fea­ture.

De­spite the strug­gles in North Amer­ica, Stassen says it’s grat­i­fy­ing to see nWave’s films suc­ceed abroad. “Our films are rec­og­nized as hav­ing in­ter­na­tional qual­ity and can ap­peal to in­ter­na­tional mar­kets, where they are re­ally well re­ceived,” he says.

Bill Plymp­ton drew more than 30,000 frames for Cheatin’. Each was col­ored dig­i­tally, a process that re­quired the in­de­pen­dent an­i­ma­tor to turn to Kick­s­tarter to fund its com­ple­tion.

Ben Stassen

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