Plymp­ton ca­reer takes an­i­mated life of its own

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Movies, - By John Bei­fuss


Bill Plymp­ton — long­time artist, car­toon­ist and film­maker — em­braces his rep­u­ta­tion as “the king of in­die an­i­ma­tion.”

“I’m sort of like the David Lynch or Jim Jar­musch of an­i­ma­tion,” says Plymp­ton, who will be in Mem­phis on Mon­day and Tues­day for two pub­lic events.

What pleases Plymp­ton as much as his rep­u­ta­tion is that he ac­tu­ally makes a good liv­ing with his short and fea­ture-length car­toons, which are as dis­tinc­tive for their free-flow­ing sur­re­al­ism, sex and vi­o­lence and dark hu­mor as for their tra­di­tional hand-drawn an­i­ma­tion style, char­ac­ter­ized by fine lines, pen­ciled cross­hatch shad­ing and dis­torted, car­i­ca­ture­like rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the hu­man fig­ure in flux.

“I don’t take gov­ern­ment grants, I don’t take Hol­ly­wood money, I don’t take cor­po­rate money, and ev­ery­body is amazed that I can do this,” said Plymp­ton, 63, in a phone in­ter­view from his New York stu­dio.

In con­junc­tion with In­die Mem­phis and the Mem­phis Col­lege of Art, Plymp­ton screens his lat­est fea­ture, “Id­iots and Angels,” at 7:30 p.m. Mon­day at Malco’s Stu­dio on the Square.

At 7 p.m. Tues­day, he’ll host “A Mas­ter Class with Bill Plymp­ton” at the Col­lege of Art in Over­ton Park. At the free pub­lic event, he’ll screen some short films and clips, demon­strate his draw­ing style, dis­cuss his work and ex­plain how he’s man­aged to re­main in­de­pen­dent in an era when cor­po­rate-fi­nanced an­i­ma­tion is big­ger than ever, thanks to Pixar, “South Park,” the Car­toon Net­work and many other venues. He’ll also give every­one who at­tends a free draw­ing, cre­ated on the spot, he says.

“He re­ally em­bod­ies the spirit of what we’re try­ing to teach,” said Mered­ith Root, head of the an­i­ma­tion depart­ment at the Col­lege of Art. “He man­ages to work with full con­trol of his creative gifts. He re­mains fan­tas­ti­cally in­de­pen­dent... es­pe­cially for an­i­ma­tion, which is so rig­or­ous.”

The Port­land-born Plymp­ton is a life­long doo­dler who was known as a car­toon­ist and il­lus­tra­tor for Rolling Stone, the Vil­lage Voice and other pub­li­ca­tions be­fore he be­gan con­cen­trat­ing on film­mak­ing about 25 years ago, earn­ing Os­car nom­i­na­tions in the Best An­i­mated Short cat­e­gory in 1988 (“Your Face”) and 2005 (“Guard Dog”).

The new “Id­iots and Angels” is Plymp­ton’s fifth fea­ture. But though it ar­rives on the crest of what the artist refers to as “the sec­ond golden-age ex­plo­sion” of an­i­ma­tion (the first was the clas­sic Dis­ney/Warner/Fleis­cher etc. era of 1930-1950), this movie about a cur­mud­geon who awak­ens to find wings grow­ing out of his back is un­likely to be screened out­side of film fes­ti­vals and spe­cial events, thanks to its monochro­matic pal­ette, its lack of di­a­logue (the sound­track fea­tures only mu­sic and sound ef­fects) and its sta­tus as “a dark com­edy about a man’s bat­tle for his soul,” to quote the film’s Web site.

Al­though Plymp­ton prefers to work by his own rules (he fa­mously turned down what he says was a seven-fig­ure deal to work on “Aladdin” for Dis­ney be­cause he wouldn’t own the rights to the char­ac­ters he cre­ated, among other is­sues), he’s no an­i­ma­tion snob. “I love the Pixar films, I love the Blue Sky films,” he said. “I love Dis­ney. When I was a kid, that was my goal in life, to work for Dis­ney.”

Al­though he now thinks work­ing for a stu­dio would be “a has­sle,” he does take out­side jobs that ap­peal to him. He cre­ated the “Heard ’Em Say” mu­sic video for Kanye West, and il­lus­trated West’s “Through the Wire,” a “graphic mem­oir” and song-lyrics gift book to be re­leased Nov. 10.

Plymp­ton said he cre­ates his films mostly by him­self. A fea­ture re­quires up to 30,000 draw­ings, he said, while a short needs “only” about 5,000. He no longer uses short­cuts, but draws the en­tire im­age for each shot, even if only a small part of the pic­ture is go­ing to move dur­ing the scene. “It’s more fun that way.”

He said he en­joys an­i­ma­tion be­cause “there are no lim­its to what can be shown. What­ever the brain thinks of, it’s pos­si­ble to draw it. I like the idea that it’s to­tally cre­ated out of the imagination.”

Bill Plymp­ton will screen “Id­iots and Angels” Mon­day at Stu­dio on the Square.

Bill Plymp­ton, car­toon­ist and film­maker, dis­cusses his work at Mem­phis events next week.

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