The ‘King of Indie Animation’ on laughing, crying, idiots, and angels.
If you turned on your television in the late 1980s or early 1990s, you’ve seen Bill Plympton’s work. His off-beat animated short films, including 1988 Academy Award nominee Your Face, 25 Ways to Quit Smoking, How to Kiss, and One of Those Days, ran incessantly on MTV—mercifully cutting into “Downtown” Julie Brown’s on-air time.
Before he became an animator, Plympton was a successful print cartoonist. His work appeared in Playboy, Pentouse, Rolling Stone, and other national magazines. By the early 1980s, his comic strip, Plympton, was syndicated in newspapers across the country.
Plympton grew up in Portland, Oregon, where the wet weather kept him inside with his drawings. At 14, he sent some of his cartoons to Disney; they told him that while he showed promise, he was too young to work as an animator. Following the breakout success of Your Face, Disney finally offered him a job, which he turned down.
In 1992, he released his first feature-length film, The Tune, for which he personally drew and colored each of the 30,000 cells. More features followed, including I Married a Strange Person (1998) and Hair High (2004). His short film Guard Dog earned him another Oscar nomination in 2004. Plympton has also animated music videos for Kanye West (2005) and “Weird Al” Yankovic (2006).
His latest feature film, Idiots and Angels, which Plympton wrote, directed, animated, produced, and distributed, has won awards at film festivals around the world since it was completed in 2008. Plympton has been blogging about his experiences self-distributing the film, which opens in New York City on October 6, and in Los Angeles on October 29.
Idiots and Angels is a dialogue-free dark comedy about a “morally bankrupt” gun-selling misanthrope named Angel, and his strange path to redemption (check out the trailer below).
How long have you been working on Idiots & Angels?
It took three years to make—one year for story and storyboard, one year for animation, and one year for post-production.
Following the success of Your Face, you turned down a job offer from Disney—why?
The Disney offer was very generous monetarily, but very restrictive as to what I could do with my free time.
Idiots and Angels is about a bad guy who grows wings—“a reluctant angel”—why was that idea so compelling for you?
The wings in this case are his soul, growing out of his body, forcing him to change his destiny or die!
My dad—he also taught me the value of humor, when dealing with life.
Has romantic love shaped you as a man?
Not really—I’ve been too busy with Idiots and Angels to fall in love.
What two words describe your dad?
What’s the best advice he ever gave you?
See the funny side of life.
What was the worst advice he ever gave you?
Be sure to get a college diploma—no one has ever asked me for my diploma.
How are you most unlike him?
I can’t tell funny stories.
I learned to read contracts more closely.
What word would the women in your life use to describe you?
Who is the best man you know, and how does he earn that distinction?
My dad—he taught me how to make the world laugh.
Have you been more successful in your public or private life?
Definitely more successful in my public life.
When was the last time you cried?
At a screening of It’s a Wonderful Life in 2009.
What advice would you give these kids today trying to figure out what it means to be a good man?
Find a good hero to emulate.
What is the your most cherished ritual as a guy?
Watching a good Hollywood action film.