Bill Plympton is a cheater. He admits it freely. He even brings up the fact without being asked. Bill Plympton is a cheater because he doesn’t draw an animation for every frame of a movie, but rather for every three frames.
When you consider that he has drawn six full-length animated feature films completely by himself, the fact that he cheats suddenly doesn’t seem so bad.
“I do every drawing that you see on the screen,” Plympton says. “That’s me. I think I’m the only person in the world who’s ever done six animated feature films and done every drawing. It’s either cool or it’s crazy — I can’t decide which it is.”
His colored-pencil animation is sometimes grotesque. In the film Hair High, a smoking high school teacher coughs up his internal organs on the desk, and the class must help shove them back down his throat. It is also often crass, as seen when a school mascot runs around a football game in a chicken suit with a raging boner, humping everything in sight.
At the same time, his films also contain characters who are endearing.
His favorite character to draw is one he calls “the dog,” a squat yellow pup whose well-meaning adventures usually end in disaster. In Horn Dog, the enthusiastic canine sees the girl dog of his dreams in the park. He devises different ways to woo her, but imagines each of his ideas going horribly wrong. A box of chocolates turns her into a crushing mass of lard, while a pearl necklace gets her head torn off by a swarm of flying clams. Eventually, he settles on playing her a sonnet on the violin, but accidentally lets go of his violin bow and it flies into the air, coming back to stab girl dog’s owner squarely in the back. Horrified, the dog tries to pretend that nothing has happened, propping up the owner’s dead body and holding her face in a smile. Girl dog notices that her owner is dead when her limp body falls, gushing blood, with the violin bow still stuck in her back. Girl dog then proceeds to chase the dog around the park, dragging the dead owner along with the leash.
After watching a couple of Plympton’s films, guts, gore and boobs are no longer surprising to see onscreen.
Plympton grew up in Portland, Ore., and he thanks the city’s notoriously rainy weather for getting him into drawing.
“I always just drew on a rainy Sunday morning by myself,” Plympton says. “I mean, that was my playtime and I just loved it. I brought sketchbooks around wherever I went and was always drawing people or animals or cars or whatever intrigued me that week.”
Plympton says he fell in love with animation first through watching Disney cartoons and drawing Mickey Mouse. He dreamed of someday working for Disney, but his interests soon turned to cartoon characters with a little more attitude than the standard Disney mouse.
“I think Daffy Duck was my favorite character back when I was a kid, even though he wasn’t a Disney character,” Plympton says. “I just thought his humor was so surreal and anarchical that I just really gravitated towards that kind of humor.”
Today, Plympton draws inspiration from heaping servings of ridiculousness he sees at home in New York City.
“New York is such a crowded city, and it’s kind of a cartoon city because people just wear whatever they want,” he says. “So you have a lot of kind of crazy characters wandering the streets, and I find a lot of inspiration from that, the hairstyles, the clothing styles, the weird ways they walk and the crazy movements. Just walking two or three blocks down the street, I get ideas for two or three films right there.”
Plympton and his “Plymptoons” will grace Boulder this week at the Boulder International Film Festival, with the film Adventures in Plymptoons! A documentary by director Alexia Anastasio, Adventures in Plymptoons! is different from Plympton’s other movies in that the animator himself stars in it.
“I’m hoping that this documentary will not only get my name out there as an independent filmmaker, but also inspire younger artists and animators that they don’t have to work for the big studios,” Plympton says. “They don’t have to work for Pixar or Disney or Dreamworks. They can make films on their own and still be successful, and do something that’s different and more imaginative and more interesting.”
The documentary will show at 9:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 17, at the Boulder Theater, and those in attendance will receive an original drawing of “the dog.” Plympton says that there will be some sneak peeks of his newest projects as well.
“It’ll be a wonderful time, and I hope we get a good turnout,” Plympton says. “I think the lifestyle of Boulder really lends itself to animation. I think there are a lot of animation fans that live there because they want something a little different, a little offbeat, kind of out of the Hollywood mainstream kind of films.”