Bill Plympton: King of indie animation visits UMass Dartmouth


By Sebastian Moronta Blanco, Staff Writer

On Thursday, September 29, CVPA’s gallery hosted one of animation’s longest running greats: Bill Plympton.

His hand-drawn work lined the walls of the inner gallery, and in the back there were clips from his 2013 feature film, Cheatin’.

In the evening, he gave a presentation on his history in animation and the steps he took to become a successful independent animator.

When he was a child growing up in Portland, Oregon, Plympton said, “I never had enough paper, never had enough pencils.” Instead, he used to draw on butcher’s paper, often dotted with blood, and he would draw battle scenes around them to complete the image.

It was here, as Plympton recalled, that he fell in love with animation.

After Plympton graduated from Portland State University, he moved to New York to become an illustrator. It was there where he honed his skills as an artist, often having to churn out multiple cartoons a week, practicing his drawing skills with comics, caricatures, and other illustration.

In the 80s, animation saw a huge wave in popularity. Japanese animation exploded, and Disney produced classics like The Little Mermaid and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? In 1987, Plympton released his first feature: Your Face.

This feature earned Plympton an Oscar nomination, and afterwards he was then approached by Cartoon Network, BBC, and several other channels with bids to buy his work.

After recalling just some of his successes in the industry, Plympton shared three invaluable pieces of advice for artists on how to succeed as an independent animator.

The first is when making an animated film, to make the film short.

The reason for this is simple: when one tries to sell a piece of work, buyers want to see something short. Often times, Plympton explains, if one were to approach a buyer with a fifteen-minute long film, the buyer won’t want to sit through it, but everyone has time for a thirty-second film.

The second is to make the film cheap.

Just starting out, animators often don’t have large budgets to produce their films, and it can be tempting to spend a lot of money on one’s first film in order to start out with a bang in the industry.

This is the fast track to debt and to a short-lived career, according to Plympton. Instead, he suggests one does as much as they can themselves, use royalty-free music or volunteer musicians, and to produce as much of a work one can by themselves. That way they retain as much money as possible to be able to distribute and showcase the film.

Lastly, make the film funny. Funny films always garner attention and are often the most profitable animated films. Plympton suggests steering away from longer, broader, more serious films and implores young animators to inject humor into their work. “Humor is a fantastic emotion… Everyone needs to laugh,” Plympton said.

The decision to become an independent animator is not an easy one. Often times, it can become difficult to see a stable future in the craft, but as Plympton explained, “There is a career in animation.”

To futher reiterate this, he shared some of the many ways he financially stays afloat. Plympton makes money from theatrical releases, non-theatrical releases (like shows in shops or cafés), television, and selling DVDs or Blu-Rays.

There is also money to be found in internet deals (like with Netflix and Vimeo), merchandise, and even commission work.

Plympton has even worked on music videos for Madonna, Kanye West, and has also animated for The Simpsons several times, since he is a personal friend of Matt Groening.

Plympton stressed that, even if one steps out as an independent, animation is a prosperous career with incredible amounts of potential.

All of his content is hand-drawn but he urges young animators to learn as many programs and methods of animation as possible and to build a network in the industry early.

For more information on Bill Plympton, links to watch his films, or to donate to his next project, visit his website here.

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