Oscar-nominated Animator, Bill Plympton

We recently did a phone interview with Bill Plympton, an independent oscar-nominated animator.

Q: When did you first fall in love with animation?

I think I was about 6 years old. I remember watching The Wonderful World of Disney  and I realized that is what I wanted to do. I wanted to make people laugh with my drawings.

Q: When did you first start drawing?

It was way before then, I’ve had a pencil in my hand since I was 3 years old. It wasn’t until I saw cartoons that I became fascinated and decided to pursue it as a career.

Q: Did you study animation?

I went to college at Portland State University. There weren’t really animation classes, only graphic design. I made a couple animated shorts in college, but they weren’t great. Later, I moved to New York in ’69 and took animation classes at the School of Visual Arts. I made another couple short films films, but they weren’t that successful.

Then, I became an illustrator and caricuture artists because there wasn’t really a career in animation. After Walt Disney died, the animation boom slowed down and there was no real market for animators like me. In the 80’s, animation came roaring back and I did a short film called “Your Face” — I was very fortunate that is was nomatinated for an oscar and went on to be a very successful short film.

Q: Were you parents supportive of your career choice? 

My parents were gerneally supportive, but they insisted I get a bachelor of arts degree. If I had my own choice, I would have started work immediately. I’m glad I went to school but no one has ever asked to see my diploma throughout my entire career.

Q: What are the biggest challenges in an animator’s career?

The first 5 – 10 years were not easy. I lived in a very sleazy apartment, eating cheese sandwiches. But I was happy. I was doing my art and it was exciting, looking back. It wasn’t until the late 70’s or early 80’s that I started making decent money with my art. And later on in the 90’s, I did animation for commercials and the money was even better. And my short films were very successful, selling all over the world. I would use the money from the commercial projects to fund my feature films.

The big challenges are financial. I’m not a huge popular artist and I don’t have distributors knocking down my door. One of the struggles of being an artist is rejection.  But you just have to keep going, keep producing, until you get through it.

I’ve done the Hollywood shuffle – gone out there and pitched my films. It is a very discouraging exercise. Your chances of getting a deal are 1 in a 100. Now, we have options like crowd funding and Kickstarter, so you can do it on your own without depending on fat-cat Hollywood producers.

Q: We read that you were the first animator to hand-draw an entire feature-length film all by yourself. Is that true?

As far as I know, yes. I was the first the animator to hand draw and entire feature film by myself.

Q: How did you decide to tackle that all on your own? 

In the late 80’s I did all these shorts for MTV. I put them together on a VHS and I realized I had almost 1 hour of animation I had done all by myself. I thought: Why can’t I do a feature film by myself?

So, I put together a story board with a friend. Then, we wrote a script and some music and I started animating. We showed it to some producers, but no one really jumped on it. It was disappointing. But we realized that since the budget was $0, we had to do it all ourself. It took me about 3 years to make the film. It opened at Sundance, got distribution, and played all over the world.

Q: What is a day-in-the-life like for you?

I get up around 5am, draw for about 4 hours, then eat breakfast. Then, I go to my studio office to  do some business, take phone calls, answer emails, go over contracts, etc. I do another 4-5 hours more of drawing at the studio. Then, I come home and do another 4-5 hours of drawings. I usually do about 100 drawings a day. If you do that for 300 a days… that’s a feature-length film.

I have so much fun with my work, I feel so great and refreshed after a day of drawing. When you animate, you’re creating a new world. It’s a god-like power – to create these people, their world, what they say, how they move, what they wear. It’s a very enjoyable process.

Q: Do you enjoy the process as much as the end result? 

For me, it is as much about the process as the end result. I don’t do animation for the reviews, the money, or the distribution. I do it for myself and the fans. If the fans like what I do, it’s the best feel in in the world. That’s more important than money, great distribution, or prizes and awards. I like those things, but they are not the end result I look for.

Q: Any advice for aspiring animators?

Do it for the love, not to get rockstar rich. I don’t think that’s a good motivation to be an artist. If you can do art for 7 days a week all day and enjoy it, that is reward enough.

Q: Do you ever have creative dry spells?

I don’t have them. In fact, I have the opposite problem – I have too many ideas. Right now, I have 3 feature scripts and 4 short films I am dying to get to. The problem is time and money. It takes a long time and a lot of money to finance a film. I do about one feature every 3 years and a couple shorts per year and that is enough to keep me going.

Q: What are your next projects? 

My new feature Cheatin’ will be finished in a couple months. You can go to Plymptoons.com to find out more about what I’m working on.


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