Cel­e­brat­ing the work of Bill Plymp­ton

Cel­e­brat­ing the work of Bill Plymp­ton

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Michael Abatemarco The New Mex­i­can

Bill Plymp­ton isn’t your aver­age animator. In fact, he’s en­tirely unaver­age. It isn’t just that Plymp­ton, self-pro­claimed King of the Indie An­i­ma­tors, is one of very few fea­ture film­mak­ers who still works en­tirely with hand-drawn an­i­ma­tion. It’s that his sto­ries are wildly, fas­ci­nat­ingly un­con­ven­tional.

Take, for in­stance, Re­vengeance, his 2016 film, codi­rected by Jim Lu­jan, about Rod Rosse, the One Man Posse, a bounty hunter in ’70s-era Los An­ge­les who is hired by the former leader of a biker gang, an ex-wrestler known as DeathFace. Rosse’s job is to lo­cate a young fugi­tive named Lana who’s sus­pected of an ar­son at­tack that dec­i­mated the biker gang’s digs. Or take Plymp­ton’s first an­i­mated fea­ture The

Tune (1992). Del, a tal­ent­less, lovelorn song­writer, is tasked by his boss, a slimy mu­sic mogul named Mr. Mega, with de­liv­er­ing a hit song in un­der 47 min­utes, lest he risk los­ing his job and his girl­friend. In search of in­spi­ra­tion, Del finds him­self on a sur­re­al­is­tic odyssey in the mu­si­cal town of Flooby Nooby with its pop­u­la­tion of odd­ball denizens.

Plymp­ton is hon­ored with the Santa Fe In­de­pen­dent Film Fes­ti­val’s life­time achieve­ment award on Satur­day evening, Oct. 20, and the fes­ti­val is screen­ing two of his films back to back — Re­vengeance and his new­est an­i­mated short The Mod­ern Lives — at the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter. He’ll be do­ing a Q&A with the au­di­ence af­ter the screen­ings, when he tends to give out free draw­ings of char­ac­ters from his films to the au­di­ence. Ear­lier that day, SFIFF of­fers a mas­ter class with Plymp­ton at the Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts where he does a draw­ing demon­stra­tion, dis­cusses his ca­reer as an animator, and shows some of clas­sic shorts, clips from fea­ture films, and mu­sic videos he’s worked on.

Plymp­ton usu­ally works solo on his an­i­ma­tion projects, writ­ing and di­rect­ing them him­self, but

Re­vengeance was a change of pace for the animator. “Jim [Lu­jan] lives in Los An­ge­les, and he would come by my ta­ble at San Diego Comic-Con ev­ery year,” Plymp­ton said. “He’d give me DVDs of his short an­i­mated films. The art­work on the cov­ers wasn’t so snappy, so I just laid them aside. A cou­ple of years later, it was a rainy night, and I said, ‘Well, let’s look

at this Jim Lu­jan guy and see what his films are like,’ and I was just stunned by the imag­i­na­tion and the wit and the char­ac­ters that he did.” Plymp­ton con­tacted Lu­jan with an of­fer to work on a project to­gether. Over the next sev­eral months, Lu­jan de­vel­oped a script. “When I got it, I said, ‘It’s hi­lar­i­ous. Don’t change a thing, ex­cept do me one fa­vor: Put a sexy woman in there.’ His films don’t have many sexy women. So he did that. Her name is Ms. Candy, and she was so much fun to draw.”

Plymp­ton’s an­i­mated char­ac­ters are a pure de­light, with their ex­ag­ger­ated fea­tures and idio­syn­cratic quirks. Of­ten, his pro­tag­o­nists re­sem­ble him­self. His di­a­logue is al­ways sharp and witty, too. Al­though Lu­jan can be cred­ited for the writ­ing in Re­vengeance, it’s no less meant to tickle the funny bone. In the film, Lu­jan’s char­ac­ter Rosse searches through the dark ur­ban un­der­bel­lies of Amer­ica for the fugi­tive teenager. He learns that her hit on the biker den was spurred on by the fact that DeathFace killed her fam­ily. Rosse sees his al­le­giances chang­ing. “So what do you want from DeathFace?” he asks Lana. “Re­vengeance,” she says. Rosse replies, “I’m pretty sure that’s not a word,” then awk­wardly pauses in the midst of hear­ing Lana’s dis­turb­ing rev­e­la­tion to an­swer a call from his mom.

In typ­i­cal Plymp­ton fash­ion, the char­ac­ters feel fa­mil­iar, like peo­ple we all know. In all of his films, Plymp­ton takes some chances. He’s not afraid to show a bit of nu­dity now and again, or vi­o­lence ei­ther, but it’s never so over the top as to seem dis­taste­ful. Real heart and em­pa­thy for the char­ac­ters are at the cen­ter of all his films. Even though the char­ac­ters in

Re­vengeance were de­vel­oped by Lu­jan, who also did the ma­jor­ity of the voices, Plymp­ton’s hand-drawn, twitchy style and sig­na­ture strik­ing psy­che­delic vi­su­als seem a nat­u­ral fit.

“Here’s how we split up the work,” Plymp­ton said. “He did like 80 per­cent of the voices, the char­ac­ter de­signs, and the mu­sic. I was the pro­ducer. I did the sto­ry­boards, the lay­outs, all the an­i­ma­tion, and the post-pro­duc­tion. So it is re­ally a two-man op­er­a­tion.” The film went on to re­ceive awards and nom­i­na­tions at in­ter­na­tional film fes­ti­vals and won the Grand Jury Prize for best an­i­mated fea­ture at the Nashville Film Fes­ti­val in 2017. “We’re very happy with the re­sponse, and we’re re­ally ex­cited to bring it to Santa Fe and show it to the peo­ple there be­cause I know they’d love it. Re­mind the peo­ple that it’s a stoner film, so if that’s their in­cli­na­tion, they might en­joy it.”

Plymp­ton hails from Port­land, Ore­gon, where, as a kid, he wanted to be an animator. “I watched Walt Dis­ney on TV, the Mickey Mouse Club and, of course, Warner Broth­ers car­toons on Satur­day morn­ings,” he said. “I love to draw and I love to make peo­ple laugh, so it just seemed nat­u­ral. The un­for­tu­nate thing is, when I got out of col­lege, around 1968, the an­i­ma­tion busi­ness was dead or dy­ing. The only thing out there was Hanna-Bar­bera, and I hated Hanna-Bar­bera. So I felt there was no fu­ture for me in an­i­ma­tion.” Not know­ing how to make an an­i­mated film any­way, he moved to New York City and be­came an il­lus­tra­tor in­stead. Over a span of 15 years, he made il­lus­tra­tions that ran in The New York Times, Vogue, The Vil­lage Voice, and Van­ity Fair, among other pub­li­ca­tions. He also drew car­toons

It isn’t that Bill Plymp­ton is one of the very few fea­ture film­mak­ers who still works en­tirely with hand-drawn an­i­ma­tion. It’s that his sto­ries are wildly, fas­ci­nat­ingly un­con­ven­tional.

The Mod­ern Lives; op­po­site page, from Re­vengeance (both de­tails)

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