Monday, October 19, 2020

New Animated Features

Now that Oscar season is beginning, I'm starting to receive all the new Oscar-eligible animated feature films that are in the running for nominations.  With this being the year of the COVID virus, I'm expecting to get a smaller group of films, since many cinemas are still essentially closed (at least here in NYC and in L.A.), so in some ways it's a lot more difficult to qualify, but the rules are new and a bit vague.  I think films that have gone directly to streaming services are now eligible, so for some films that might even make it easier to qualify.

Already, I've seen two high-quality contenders:

Two years ago, master animator Glen Keane won an Oscar for a short film he created with the late Kobe Bryant, called "Dear Basketball".  With that Oscar, he was able to attract money and backing for a half-Chinese feature film, called "Over the Moon", co-directed by the wonderfully talented John Kahrs ("Paperman").  I'm not sure how much input they received from their Chinese backers, but the film looks like it was made in China.  My big complaint is that the film is very saccharine - in fact, it's almost too cute for a Disney movie.  The palette is heavy on pastels, with lots of giant eyes - and the fantasy story sort of loses meaning for me halfway through. 

However, there is some beautiful animation and imagery throughout the film.  And it's definitely important to see because of Glen Keane and John Kahrs' involvement. 

The second film I watched online (no more DVD's?) was "Wolfwalkers", made by Cartoon Saloon and directed by the very talented Tomm Moore.  His previous films were Oscar-nominated fan favorites "The Secret of Kells" and "Song of the Sea" - both wonderful tales of Ireland told in a unique and decorative style.  

The new film kind of fills out an Irish trilogy.  According to Tomm, it's apparently an ancient legend about wolves who can become human, and vice versa.  Like his earlier films, it's told with a very decorative and colorful style.  I like the concept and subject matter, but had some trouble with the visuals.   The backgrounds were wonderfully water-colored nature, but the characters themselves were simplified to ultra-basic shapes and designs.  For a while I thought I was watching a Hanna-Barbera film.  I expected Barney Rubble and Fred Flintstone to enter the screen.  

And that brings up another issue I have with both films, "Over the Moon" and "Wolfwalkers" - there was very little humor in them.  It's my own prejudice, I know, since I make comedies, but I always like a few laughs in my animation, even if it's a film noir.  That's my own personal taste. 

I believe both films are well-made and very deserving of Oscar nominations, so I wish them both good luck.  

Now here's this week's gag cartoon.  See you next time!

--Bill P. 

 


Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Indie Features, Part 3: My Love Affair with Marriage

I'm truly fascinated by the whole concept of independent animated features - I think if there's some ambitious writers out there, this would make a terrific idea for a book.  When I was growing up, I'd be lucky to see a new Disney film every three years.  Then in the mid 1980's, animated features exploded - every studio was producing a feature and we have perhaps 6 or 7 animated features being released every year.  

Then along came Sundance, and up popped the whole scene with DIY filmmakers - so it seems to make sense that the two movements would combine and spawn a whole new art form, indie animated feature films.  And THEN the Japanese animated features came in and helped to create a larger audience for the movement.  There are now so many animated indie features out there, it's impossible to count them all. 

The Annecy Animation Festival in France is burgeoning with this films.  And some of them are just fantastic - "Klaus", "The Red Turtle", "Mind Game", and "I Lost My Body", just to name a few.  So for a few issues of "Scribble Junkies", I'm talking about animated features that are now in production, and how they're surviving.  If you're at all interested in the art of indie animated features, this is the place to be.  

For Part 3 of my series, I spoke with Signe Baumane, who worked for me as a cel painter, art supervisor, production manager and camera assistant for years after she first came to the U.S. from Latvia.  She was instrumental in the production of my second feature, "I Married a Strange Person" and after working with me on "Hair High" in 2004, she returned to making her own shorts in her own studio, and released her first feature, "Rocks in my Pockets", in 2014.  For the last few years, she's been focused on her second feature, "My Love Affair with Marriage", another semi-autobiographical film, this one focused on her relationships and, from a scientific point of view, the roles that biology and society play in the human process of forming partnership bonds and also separations. 

I interviewed Signe by e-mail, since her studio is out in Brooklyn and despite re-starting production, she's still under a modified pandemic lockdown, with a limited crew back in her studio. 

BILL: What motivated you to make an animated feature by yourself? 

SIGNE: The same forces that make a bird want to fly make an artist want to find new challenges.  Back in 2009, before I started working on my first animated feature film, "Rocks in My Pockets", I had made around 15 short films, and the short form kind of exhausted itself for me.  An artist, like a pirate, wants an adventure of exploring new lands and new opportunities.  So, I set for myself the most difficult task I could imagine at the time - making a feature film, live-action or animation.  I wrote about 4 or 5 scripts and met with a couple of producers. 

The reality of feature films is that it is quite an expensive medium and is treated more like business than art.  Money is a big part of it.  The producers I met with didn't see the money-making potential in my proposals, and of course, they were quite right.  I am an artist, not a business woman.  For me, storytelling is a way to express and share my thoughts and visions, rather than a money-making device. 

Once I understood that it would be very hard to get support from producers, I decided to start a feature film project on my own.  I didn't know how to go about making a live-action film, but I knew how to make an animated film, so started with what I knew.  I knew that I am a better writer than I am an animator, so I decided that the film would have a voiceover, so I would have to animate less. 

Around that time, I had been making paper-maché sculptures for a living, and I loved doing that, so I decided that 3-dimensional paper-maché sculptures were going to be part of the project.  And since I didn't have to appease some producer's idea of what kind of project would bring them money or an Oscar, I decided to make a deeply personal film - a journey into my bi-polar mind.  The strange thing is - once I started the project, and I started it with almost no money in my bank account, the Universe organized itself to help make it happen.  Producers and support came.  

Now I am working on my second animated feature film, "My Love Affair With Marriage", and I applied the same principles - take a personal story, start the project and see how it unfolds.  You can get more on the back-story of how we got started, and learn about the entire process on the film's web-site at:

https://www.myloveaffairwithmarriagemovie.com/

BILL: Where did you get the funding?

SIGNE: For "My Love Affair With Marriage", the support comes from several sources - we ran a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2017, with 1,562 backers that raised over $132,000.  Some income came from my previous feature film, "Rocks in My Pockets", and we also registered to receive private donations through our non-profit sponsor, Filmmakers Collaborative.  We also received several grants in both the U.S. and Latvia that have helped to keep us going.  

We are still taking donations to help get the film completed by mid-2021.  If anyone would like to donate, they can find details here:

https://www.myloveaffairwithmarriagemovie.com/donate

BILL: Who are your inspirations?

SIGNE: I have a lot of inspirations artistically - Eidrigevicius, Svankmayer, Miyazaki and many other artists whom I admire - but on a practical level YOU, Bill , are probably the biggest inspiration.  I had seen closely you animating, working with your team, promoting your work, and it looked not impossible. "I can do it, too," I thought.  Of course.  

But when I tried to apply your principles to my reality, not everything made sense to me.  Like, why wouldn't you include rent in your feature film budget?  It deflates the budget to an impossible number - one can not make a feature film for $200,000 if one pays studio rent in Manhattan, and has 2 or 3 assistants being paid minimum wage ($15 per hour) like you do.  

And the one thing I can not do that you do - is to get commercial work and use that income to cover the feature film budget.  Commercial people are aggressively not interested in my work.  So, I had to figure out, differently from your method, a way of financing my films.  

You are still a beacon of inspiration to me when I sit down at my animation table and start animating.  Your single-minded focus and joy of drawing inspires me.  You being professional and nice to your team inspires me.  When I get discouraged and depressed by my inability to perfectly draw what is in my mind, I ask, "What would Bill do?"  And then I remember that you never get stuck on trying to be perfect in one drawing, perfection comes when all of the drawings come together.  Your working speed is an inspiration.  Maybe this is an idealized version of you in my mind, but every day I am grateful that you exist and that I was privileged to observe you at work. 

 

BILL: Who is your target audience? 

SIGNE: For most of my films, my target is an adult audience with a taste for thought-provoking content. 

BILL: How long does it take for you to animate a feature film?  

SIGNE: I animated "Rocks in My Pockets" in two years.  Animating "My Love Affair With Marriage" is taking longer because it is a more ambitious project.  It has 29 speaking/singing characters, and over a hundred non-speaking characters.  I will finish animating in January 2021 after about 3.5 years of working on it. 

BILL: How many seconds can you animate in a day? 

SIGNE: On the days when I get to animate for 8 hours, I can do 60 to 80 drawings (pencil on paper). Many days I don't get to animate for 8 hours because I have to do other things - look over footage, work on line tests, lip-sync, shading, colors, producing, etc.  So I aspire to animate 5 minutes a month and every month I feel like a failure because I only did 3.

BILL: How important are festivals? 

SIGNE: Festivals are important for a feature film because that's where the buzz may start, if the film will get a buzz at all.  At a festival, a film gets reviews and coverage.  Why does Netflix even bother with festivals?  Because without reviews and buzz no one - even on Netflix will know to watch the film.  How do you pick the film to watch on Hulu or Netflix or Amazon? Because you have heard about it somewhere, and festivals are where it started.  I want my film to be seen by millions of people.  So, to me, festivals are a big part of a film's release.  I keep my fingers crossed that they survive the pandemic. 

BILL: Where do you get distribution? 

SIGNE: Not at the festivals, if that is your question.  For "Rocks in My Pockets", we and Zeitgeist Films found each other through word-of-mouth.  For "My Love Affair With Marriage", we have no idea what is going to happen, as the indie distribution is changing at a rapid speed.  Will art-house movie theaters exist in 2021?  Will Netflix be interested in purchasing an indie animated feature film for adults?  The uncertainty can cause ulcers, so I try to think of my studio tomato plants instead of distribution.  

BILL: What are the budgets for your films? 

SIGNE: The "Rocks in My Pockets" budget was around $300,000 (including studio rent during production).  The budget for "My Love Affair With Marriage" will be over a million.  Check out our numbers and how close we are here: 

https://www.myloveaffairwithmarriagemovie.com/donate

BILL: Will you still be making features in 10 years? 

SIGNE: If anyone will be interested in watching them - definitely YES.

BILL: Will you return to making shorts? 

SIGNE: YES, right after I finish animating "My Love Affair With Marriage", I would love to make a short film.


BILL: Do you know other women making animated features? 

SIGNE: To name a few: Ann Marie Fleming, Anca Damian, Ilza Burkovska Jacobsen, Roze Stiebra.   But I think maybe they don't animate their films, they direct them - not that it makes any difference.  Nina Paley directs and animates her films, like "Sita Sings the Blues". 

There are many more women animators and directors now compared to when I started out.  Still, making an animated feature film is a daunting task and it takes a certain kind of personality to want that particular bone-crushing experience.  A man may be driven by ego, by his desire to raise his status from an obscure short film maker to a feature film director and be treated by festivals and press on an equal level with such famous directors as Wes Anderson or Charlie Kaufman.  As a woman, I have been trained since childhood to tame my ego and to be cooperative with the needs and desires of a larger group.  My ego doesn't need a balm, although, of course, it certainly enjoys it when it pours on its wounds and bruises.  

I make films, despite the hardships of making them, because I feel I have something to say.  I want to provoke a conversation on the subjects that I find fascinating - sex, body, fate, womanhood, motherhood, depression and the interior life of a person.  I am driven by a desire to connect with an audience.  I think that is a basic instinct of an artist - to connect - regardless of gender.  But somehow women have a harder time connecting their stories/films to audiences, maybe because for 100 years, audiences have been conditioned to expect from movies a certain type of story - male adventures and a male point of view.  It goes with the old stereotype - that men are visual creatures, so movies are a perfect medium for them, but women like writing and reading novels, so they should stick to that.


My film "Rocks in My Pockets" was accused of making the gravest sin in filmmaking, breaking the rule of "Show, don't tell".  The characters are expected to move through a movie without their interior lives made explicit, so that the audience could project on them whatever the audience feels.  Does it sound familiar?  A man looks at a woman and projects on her his needs and desires, disconnected from the reality of that woman.  Can we turn this around?  Can we endow our characters with thoughts and desires of their own, apart from the desires and wants of the audience and still leave the space for an audience to feel and think?  

That is my challenge - to bridge the visual part of a character's life with their interior world.  Is this a particularly female approach to making a film?  Being on the margins of the film industry (as a female filmmaker and as an indie animator/director who makes films for adults, I am indeed on the margins of the film industry) allows me to experiment and try new storytelling forms.  This is a privilege, not a disadvantage.  Women filmmakers, let's go for it!

Signe Baumane (center) with Sturgis Warner (producer/set builder), Sofiya Lypka (sets/digital prep), Yasemin Orhan (sets), Yupu Ding (maps/digital prep) with the set for a Sakhalin village.

BILL: Thanks to Signe for taking the time to answer all of my questions.  Keep an eye on her web-site for updates on the progress of "My Love Affair With Marriage".  Portions of the film screened as a work-in-progress at the 2020 (virtual) edition of the Annecy Animation Festival, and Signe was JUST awarded the prestigious ASIFA Prize at the Animasyros Festival in Greece.   So congratulations to Signe, and we're all looking forward to screenings of the new film, hopefully sometime next year!

Monday, September 21, 2020

Indie Features, Part 2: The Orbit of Minor Satellites

In the last posting on "Scribble Junkies", I talked about "The Adventures of Prince Achmed" by Lotte Reiniger, which was probably the first independent animated feature film in existence. 

Today, I want to discuss Chris Sullivan's feature film "The Orbit of Minor Satellites", an animated feature that Chris has been working on since 2017. He told me that he first got the idea for it in 2010 and really didn't get serious about it until a few years ago. 

If you think his name sounds familiar, that's probably because he did another wonderful feature a few years back, called "Consuming Spirits". 

Now, there are a lot of animated features in production right now, but I really want to focus on Chris's film because his style is very creative - 2-D animation with 3-D puppets and claymation - and it's very adult noir. So, it's the kind of film I love to watch. 

Chris told me that "The Orbit of Minor Satellites" is an independent animated feature about a psychiatrist, Derwood Richards (played by T.J. Jagodowski) and his long-time patient, Rosemary Hamm (played by Sylvia Abelson).  The narrative unfolds through their last sessions, during a period of healing and breakthrough where the patient is ready to leave her doctor's care, and both are negotiating this triumph and loss.  Rosemary is a Hebephrenic schizophrenic, her condition showing signs after a family tragedy that claimed the life of her younger sister.

In her condition, she has conjured a fantasy world which is a Soviet/American space station, located on an undiscovered moon of Saturn.  This hallucinatory world of her mind is in fact 2/3 of the film and includes the Giant Buffalo, voiced by Boris Karloff. 

The film is a conversation between these two parallel narratives, the psychiatrist's office and the Moon Maelstrom.  The film is black and white, created with hand-drawn animation on paper, digitized and composited, with three-dimensional sets and live-action scenes as well.  The running time will be two hours, with an expected release in 2021 or 2022.

Chris said, "The film was first funded by Creative Capital, then my own finances, and in 2017 we ran a Kickstarter campaign - of course, all of that money has been spent, and we are seeking funding to continue production.  At the moment, my partner Laura Harrison (also an animator) and I are keeping our productions afloat with our paychecks from teaching."

Chris created the story, storyboards, character design, did the casting, directed the live-action scenes and is now directing all of the animation, doing about 1/3 of the animation and most of the body keys.  The primary production team is Chris, Olivia Rogers, Sara Payne, Guillermo Rodriguez and Pablo Lorenzana, with about 12 other people who have worked on the film, off and on, over the last 4 years in his garage studio - although presently they are all working remotely.  

I asked Chris why he spends so much time and money to make this film, when now it's very difficult to get distribution and make that money back.  He told me that his income is from teaching, and although he hopes the film will do well financially, this is what he does, just like a writer would sit in his garret and write a novel for 8 years.

Also, Chris says, "I prefer making features because that's the way my mind works narratively, and also that long-form animations are viewed as feature films, and therefore are part of a much larger viewing community, and, to be honest, the critical community.  After the release of "Consuming Spirits", I went from having zero reviews of my work to over 40.  I also love the reality that in a feature's festival or theatrical screening, the audience is film watchers, not all people who make animated shorts." 

The world of short films is a wonderful one, but it has its limits - so here I agree with Chris.  That's one of the big incentives behind making animated features - being able to reach wider audiences, and give them two hours of dark and luminous emotions.  Of course, I still make shorts myself, too, because I love them - they're a beautiful art form, and one can tell terrific, beautiful, funny stories in five minute films. 

Chris talked to me about the experience of working on a film for multiple years, and the pros and cons of that.  He said, "When you work on a film for years, there is a dark side to it - it gains importance, as a chunk of your career and a chunk of your life.  You are also pulling your employees along on this ride without an end easily nailed down, they are also spending a part of their life on the piece.  The more years added, the more wait for the boat to float when launched.  One thing I do to help me through this is to make it my fault.  My fault and my responsibility to get the film right.  Its failure is only survivable if I feel I did everything in my power to bring it to people's eyes, and hold them in the theater with what unfolds. 

 

On the positive side of long-form productions, the film starts to guide you, and it becomes its own complex structure, you are dwarfed and lost somewhere in it, and you become more of a film shepherd than a carpenter, you have to follow it.  Just this year, I added a character and about 4 minutes of animation that galvanized some very important missing links in the narrative - it took time for this to make itself obvious to me.  I also am actually enjoying drawing these days, it does not feel like labor, but as an activity in itself - it's funny that took 40 years to happen.

 

I also feel good that I am a place of employment for some very talented artists, and they are making this feature, "The Orbit of Minor Satellites" instead of waiting tables. 

This spring and summer, I have been watching a lot of other feature animations that are made for adults, and being interested in visual inventiveness, I also love watching  the "making of" videos for these films.  They help me realize I am not alone, knowing that Anca Damian, Fernando Cortizo, Bill Plympton, Signe Baumane, Tomáš Luňák, and even historical figures like Satoshi Kon, Mamoru Oshii, Michael Arias, Mamoru Hosoda and Masaaki Yuasa go through these same struggles while creating independent features. 

In the end, I hope "The Orbit of Minor Satellites" speaks to people and is meaningful for all the years put into it.  To quote Mamoru Oshii, from an interview about "Sky Crawlers": "I did my best."  It will be exciting to see how this film lands, and what audiences think about it.  Corona has slowed us down, but I am pretty confident that it will be hitting the screens in 2022.  Check out our progress on:

The Orbit of Minor Satellites website https://orbitkickstart.com/

You can make a donation to the films production there as well, if you are so inclined."

 

 
Chris and I are part of a strange group of maybe 100 people on this planet who make films the way we do.  For my part, there's nothing quite like presenting your feature film at Sundance, Cannes or Telluride, where you can hear the gigantic applause from thousands of people, for something you spent three years (or more) making. It's one of life's greatest experiences - and it's as addictive as heavy drugs.  

Next issue, I'll talk about Signe Baumane's work in progress, her animated feature "My Love Affair With Marriage".  But before I go, here's this week's gag cartoon!

Thanks, 

Bill  


Friday, September 11, 2020

Indie Features, Part 1: The Adventures of Prince Achmed

I could talk endlessly about independent animated features - but I won't waste your time with my rants about them right now.  But perhaps someone should write a book about the subject - within the last 30 years there has been an explosion of wonderful animated indie features.

In Europe, of course, a lot of the feature films get their funding through local governments, and so it's somewhat easier for filmmakers there to raise money to finance their films.  And the quality of the films is usually quite good.

But, as you may know, here in the USA, the government doesn't really support the arts (and I've got a separate rant about that, also) so almost all of the indie animated films made in the U.S. are labors of love, and self-financed or crowd-funded.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to discuss three indie animated feature films - Lotte Reiniger's "Adventures of Prince Achmed" (1925), Chris Sullivan's "The Orbit of Minor Satellites" (currently in production) and Signe Baumane's "My Love Affair With Marriage" (also in production).


Right now, TCM - my favorite channel - is airing a retrospective of female directors throughout film history and this includes some of the more obscure ones.  For example, I was watching this morning and up popped "The Adventures of Prince Achmed", directed by Lotte Reiniger.  Over the years, I've seen excerpts of this groundbreaking film at festivals and such, but I'd never seen it broadcast on TV - and there it was!

This classic film is important because it's essentially the first (oldest) surviving animated feature -  Disney's "Snow White" came along 11 years later.  Plus, it was animated by just one person.  There was an animated political feature film from Argentina that pre-dated it, but apparently that was destroyed in a fire.

I was very impressed with the craftsmanship and artistic power of the "Prince Achmed" film.  It uses cut-out articulated paper, moved around under the camera.  But the characters had such grace and beauty that I forgot how it was created, and just enjoyed the story.

A little bit about the technology of the film - it was created between 1922 and 1926, so four years total in the making.  Reiniger created all of the characters with paper and scissors, all by herself, and then she manipulated all of the characters under the camera, while her cameraman handled all the technical aspects of filming them. And some of the sequences had multiple characters, sometimes up to 10 moving characters at a time!  Whew, what a job!

The print I saw had orchestral music, which of course was added later - plus there was limited color throughout the film, which added to the dramatic storytelling.  From what I understand, Reiniger had some rich patrons that helped finance the film, and although it was a critical and public success, she didn't get rich from it.  But as soon as Hitler came to power, she refused to work in Germany and became a vagabond animator, creating numerous shorts up until the 1960's.  As the first indie animated feature, "The Adventures of Prince Achmed" is really a landmark film!

I'll discuss one of the other features next time - but here's this week's gag cartoon:


--Bill P.


Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Slide

Now that I've finished or caught up with most of my current projects - a new Simpsons couch gag, the Big Daddy sizzle reel, the "Vagina Song" video short, and the Whoopi Goldberg pilot short, I'm able to get back to the project I'm most excited about.  Not that I wasn't excited about the other projects, but I've been working on "Slide" for almost three years now, and I'm barely halfway through the animation.  But, now that I can concentrate on drawing it without any interruptions, I'm building up a big head of steam.

I know pretty much how to draw every character by memory, which speeds up the process a lot.  Also, I've really hit a good groove with the backgrounds, they're going very fast.

And the best part is - I love the way that the art looks.  It's a new technique that I've used for the music videos, but never for a feature film.  It's ballpoint pen - and I'm really loving it!!

Here's a bunch of samples of the artwork:










Plus, I'm including one of a series of unicorn gags.


Until next time,

--Bill P.

Friday, July 31, 2020

R.O. Blechman

When I was in college (Portland State University) long ago, my buddy and mentor David Harriman turned me on to all the great New York illustrators: Seymour Chwast, Milton Glazer, Saul Steinberg, Tomi Ungerer, and a guy by the name of R.O. Blechman.  Later, I found a book titled "Illustration: Aspects and Directions" in an old, dusty Portland book store, and in it I found a marvelous sequential cartoon by Mr. Blechman - I was thunderstruck!  The drawings were so delicate and shaky, yet the idea and concept was so powerful.


Then I saw one of his animated ads on TV - the famous Alka-Seltzer spot where a guy was talking to his stomach.  In fact, his art had such an impact on me that when I started to create animation, I used a derivative of his style.  Now I tell young artists to never copy other people's work, but I think that it's inevitable that we're all infuenced by the other work we see.  In fact, I've borrowed from so many people I've admired that my work is essentially a hybrid that appears to be unique to me.

I didn't meet Mr. Blechman until I moved to New York in the early 1970's.  I believe we probably met at some gallery opening or some similar cultural gathering, and I found him to be very friendly.  I remember later using his hole-punch machine to make my animation paper, and I showed him my new film, "Your Face".  Since then, we've become good friends and we even planned on a couple of big projects that, sadly, never got funded.

I bring up Mr. Blechman because I recently visited him and his lovely wife at their estate in upstate New York.  I felt privileged to enter his studios and check out his library - I always love examining another artist's library.  He had some wonderful obscure art books that I was fascinated with.

Later we had a nice lunch and walked around his very large estate.  Then I took a lovely swim in his pond and felt very refreshed. 

If you're not familiar with Mr. Blechman, please check out his masterful work, and especially his animation, including "The Soldier's Tale".

Here's my cartoon for this week - it's very relevant for these hot beach days.

--Bill P.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Haunted World of El Super Beasto

I'm a member of Netflix, as probably most everyone else is, but I haven't yet made the leap to streaming - so I still get the DVDs mailed to me from a list of available titles.  The problem is, I'm often too busy to keep updating my list with the titles of films I want to see.  So now they're sending me films that some algorithm seems to indicate I'll be interested in, based on my previous viewing history.


Well, one of the films I received lately was called "The Haunted World of El Super Beasto", from 2009.  I'd never heard of this film, but I was very intrigued by its description as an animated film for adults.  And since that's usually the description I use for my own films, I was excited to watch it. 

Also, the film was directed by Rob Zombie - I briefly met him and his wife once in a limo going to the airport while leaving a Spanish film festival, possibly in Sitges.  As weird as he looks, he was very gracious and polite - perhaps he knew who I was.  In any case, he never mentioned making an animated feature film, and I wish that he had.

I knew of him, of course, from a lot of his live-action films - "Halloween" (2007), "House of 1,000 Corpses" (2003) and "Devil's Rejects" (2005).  Looking him up on IMDB, I see he made a mock trailer for "Werewolf Women of the S.S." that was part of the compilation "Grindhouse" - now THERE'S a film I want to see.



So, anyway, I liked "El Super Beasto".  It had everything I love in animation - raunch, violence, sex and nudity.  I almost expected John Kricfalusi's name to appear in the credits, because the artists seemed like they were heavily influenced by John K.'s unique style.

The voice cast for "The Haunted World of El Super Beasto" included Rosario Dawson and Paul Giamatti - Paul's a former animator who generously supplied the voice-over narration for my short film "The Fan and the Flower". 



I wish I'd kept in contact with Rob Zombie, because I think we have very similar tastes.  If anyone out there knows how to reach him, please let me know.  And definitely check out "El Super Beasto". 

Below is my gag cartoon for this week - Keep Healthy,

Bill P.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Two Art Books

I'm so happy, even in the depths of all this craziness going on, because I just received two books that I totally love.  They've arrived via Amazon, and they're two art books featuring works from my favorite artists.

The first one is a large "coffee table" book about the work of N.C. Wyeth, who I've written about before in this space.  One of the giants of illustration and painting - I've been influenced by his work ever since I first saw it during college.


What struck me about his work is the way he designs his shapes to help tell the story.  His shapes are amazing - and he'd often favor the shapes and dark shadows to accentuate the emotions.  Actually, there's not a lot of detail in his work, it's covered over with dark shadows that overtake the unimportant stuff.

N.C. Wyeth "The Opium Eater"
N.C. Wyeth "Deer Slayer Threw All His Force into a Desperate Effort"
You'll notice in my animation how I try to keep details to a minimum, so I can make the characters more powerful and engaging.  That way, the story comes through a lot stronger, no distractions.  I could talk on and on about N.C. Wyeth, but I don't have the space or time now...

The other book I received - and also love - is about Thomas Hart Benton, the famous rural American painter from the 1920's to 1950's.  What I love about his work is his powerful storytelling and the exaggeration of the human body.  In fact, his subjects are so distorted that they often seem like cartoons.  They are very twisted, almost bent.  I'm not aware if Mr. Benton took drugs (I'll find out in the book, hopefully) but you can see a very close resemblance between Benton's stylized characters and the stoner comics of artists like R. Crumb.


Another reason I love his work is the fact that he ignores perspective.  In college we all studied how perspective has two or three vanishing points, and all angles had to point to those spots. Well, Mr. Benton threw all that crap out the distorted window - that's why many of his paintings are so dreamlike.  If you watch my films "Idiots & Angels" and "Cheatin'" you'll notice how I distorted the perspective a lot, to a much more interesting result, I think.

Thomas Hart Benton "The Hailstorm"
Thomas Hart Benton "Persephone"
Both of these artists influenced me a lot, and I still don't believe I've fully developed as far as I want to go with their influence (Hey, I'm still learning.)  As I've suggested many times, I've been influenced by many great artists and I'm not shy about admitting that fact.  Yet people tell me how unique and identifiable my animation is.  So I'll always keep my style my own, but it's also fun to be influenced by other artists - just so long as it isn't anime.  I hate when young artists come to my studio, looking for work and all their drawings are rip-offs of Japanese animation.  I toss their portfolios out the window (just kidding).

Today's cartoon is not for children - yet I wonder if children will even get the joke.

--Bill P. 



Sunday, June 14, 2020

Vagina Song

I believe I've already mentioned this new comedy video I've been working on, called "The Vagina Song", but this week I want to talk a little more about it.

The comedian is Wendy Maybury, a very funny lady, and what I like about her humor, besides being very funny, of course, is that it's also very adult.   And since I survived in my early years as a cartoonist working for the men's magazines like Penthouse, Viva, Playboy, Hustler, Screw and many others, I have a fond affection for sexual humor.  In fact, I took a lot of my comedy gags that I drew for those men's magazines and later turned them into cartoon shorts or features.  Films like "I Married a Strange Person", "How to Make Love to a Woman", "Sex and Violence" and its sequel, "More Sex and Violence" display my often sexual humor. 

I haven't seen a lot of animated comedy music videos, so I hope this one can open the way for more of this style of videos, it's a great way to use animation.  One of the interesting aspects of making this video is the idea that after working on it for weeks, it's easy for me to lose my objectivity and perspective.  When it comes to humor, one never knows if the overall piece is going to work, if the drawings actually boost the humor of the comedian's words. 

Fortunately, after making these drawings for a few weeks (my studio was still shut down, so there were fewer distractions) and then finally matching the two parts together - the animation and the soundtrack - I can announce that it was successful, the animation enhances and magnifies the humor.   I was laughing through the whole completed short - what a relief!

I think you'll really love "Vagina Song".  It should be released some time this June from Stand Up Records.  We all really need some humor now - so please tell all your friends to check it out.  Also, enjoy this week's gag cartoon, which is below. 

Thanks,

Bill


Sunday, June 7, 2020

Pandemic update + Simpsons update

A lot of people, friends and fans, have been sending me queries about my health and the status of the studio - and I really appreciate everyone's concern for my health.

Happily, I've been very safe and healthy for the duration of this crisis.  However, as you may know we were forced to shut down our Manhattan studio just to keep my employees safe.  But we just heard from the NY government that because of the decline in deaths and new cases of the Covid-19 virus, businesses in New York City can now begin to open up.  Whew!  Am I glad!  I can start bringing my employees back to the studio and we can get organized again. 

I do want to remind everyone that if you're a fan of my artwork, especially the work I've done for "The Simpsons", you can now bid on some of it in an upcoming Heritage Auction, taking place on June 19-21.  Select drawings from "How to Kiss" and "25 Ways to Quit Smoking" will also be available.  More information about this auction is available here:

https://www.ha.com/

If you go there and search on "Bill Plympton" you should be able to see my artwork being featured in their upcoming auction. 

By the way, I've just been commissioned to animate a new couch gag for the next season of "The Simpsons".  Yeah!  I'm so excited.  And this one is really going to be weird.

Stay happy & healthy - this week's gag cartoon was inspired by the recent Space X launch.  Enjoy!

--Bill P.




Monday, June 1, 2020

New projects update

As I said in previous installments of "Scribble Junkies", I'm working on a lot of new projects, even though my studio is closed, I've continued to animate.  This week, I'll give you some more information on two of these projects - of course, while I'm doing these I'm also creating "Slide", my western musical feature, the film about Whoopi Goldberg's life and career, and there's a new couch gag for "The Simpsons" on the horizon.

But first up is what they call a "sizzle reel" for this wonderful 1950's mash-up band called "Big Daddy".  The sizzle reel will be used to promote the production of their proposed feature film idea, which is called "Band Out of Time".  It's a wacky musical adventure featuring aliens, Elvis, and as you might imagine, a bit of time travel.  It's a very funny script and I can't wait to get these characters on my drawing board.  If you saw my wonderful 1950's-set animated feature "Hair High" then you know how much I love drawing that classic era of Americana - the cars, the hair, the fashion... It's so much fun! 

Below is a rough layout of the proposed poster art for the film. 


The next project I'm working on is a comedy tape by the hilarious Wendy Maybury called "The Vagina Song".  So you can probably guess right away that the material is right up my alley.  I've created many music videos, but I've never animated a video for a stand-up comedy routine.  So, this is a real adventure for me, and it seems to be a perfect place for animation.  I do hope it's a success, because I'd love to do more things like this.  That's another reason why I love working on the animated feature about Whoopi, because with animation you can take these fun, crazy stories and add another level of fun craziness to them, since I can make anything happen, as long as I can draw it.

The drawing below is for "The Vagina Song", it's where Wendy makes fun of the male comics, who are always getting stoned. 


Last up is my new gag cartoon for the week - we're getting closer to re-opening NYC and my studio, but until then, I'm just going to keep on drawing!  



Thanks for watching, 

Bill

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Coincidence?

When I was just starting my career, drawing gag cartoons for my college newspaper, I was very proud of my cartoons and believed that they were all totally original and unique.

Then, I might spot a cartoon in The New Yorker or another magazine that was amazingly similar.  In fact, I actually believed that the other artist somehow ripped me off.  But after comparing the publishing dates, sometimes I realized that the other cartoon came out earlier than mine!  "Damn," I thought, "now everyone's going to think that I ripped HIM off!"

And who knows, maybe subconsciously I did.  I do look at a lot of cartoons, I have a very large collection of gag cartoon books, so maybe when I was younger I happened to see that gag and then totally (or mostly) forgot about it. 

One time, I had a great animator accuse me of stealing his cartoon idea, when in fact, I had made my cartoon long ago, way before he started working on his film.  And I felt very bad, it totally spoiled our good relationship.  And I made a Christmas card about 20 years ago that had some close similarities to the wonderful film "Klaus", which was about the origins of the Santa Claus legend, that got released in 2019. 

Eventually I realized that this happens often in the humor business.  The same joke can wind up in many places at the same time - it's just a simple matter of mathematics.  There are so many cartoonists and they're all looking at the same real-world situations and trying to put funny spins on them, so inevitably they duplicate, and you've got a potential lawsuit. 

The reason I bring this up is, a couple weeks ago I presented a gag cartoon here on Scribble Junkies that I thought was totally original.  Also, it was so stupid and gross I couldn't imagine someone could come up with a similar idea.  Well, I was wrong because last week, Sandrine found this photo on Facebook, and I was flabbergasted by the coincidence. 

How could two (seemingly) sane people come up with exactly the same totally twisted idea?  And there you go, it's just mathematics.  So I now present the two gags, and you can tell me what you think. 

I hope you're all staying safe and healthy, and I'll talk to you again next week -

Bill P.




Monday, May 18, 2020

Sneak peek at Big Daddy drawings

Hey, gang, my life is now kind of settling in to a boring routine, up in the morning (4:30 am) to do animation, watch CNN or MSNBC, take care of my son Lucas, teach him with online classes, then in the afternoon, I'm back to the animation.  Before dinner we may all go for a walk in the park nearby, then head home and eat dinner.  Maybe I'll watch a film after that, but I'm in bed around 9 pm.

And this routine is the same all week long - no weekends - with no travel to other cities and certainly no gatherings or restaurant meals.  I'm getting serious cabin fever, but I'm also definitely getting a lot of work done.

One of my new projects is really exciting, though - it's a trailer for a feature film starring a great concept band called "Big Daddy".  They're a mash-up band, performing contemporary (well, 80's and 90's) songs in a 1950's rock and roll mode - very engaging and amusing.  (Imagine "Welcome to the Jungle" performed in the style of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", and you'll get the idea.). They've been around for a while and even wrote a script about their adventures, called "Band Out of Time".

And the film itself is a mash-up of genres, both 1950's rock and roll and space-age sci-fi.  If you've ever seen my classic feature film "Hair High" then you know how I love drawing characters from the 1950's, with motorcycles and greased hair and letterman jackets.  I'm so excited, I can't wait.  And I also made a movie about space travel and "Mutant Aliens", so it will kind of be like a mash-up of two of my films, too. 

One of the guys from the band called my studio one day a couple years ago, when I was out of town, and they spoke to my office manager, John H., who recognized the band's name because he collects a lot of cover songs and listens to bands like Dread Zeppelin and Richard Cheese that record popular songs in crazy styles.  Luckily I was already in California, and getting ready to premiere "Revengeance" north of L.A., and so I met the members of Big Daddy, who were able to come see my film there, and we've been talking about working together ever since. 

First, I've been commissioned to create a short trailer to promote and sell the concept to the big boys.  Hopefully we'll soon have enough money to create the whole glorious animated feature: "Big Daddy: Band Out of Time".  Here are some sample drawings I've done for the characters and cars. 






Stay "tooned" here for more news about this project!

--Bill P.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Back to the Studio

Hello, fellow Quaranteenians!  (Quaran-teeny-boppers?)  I apologize for the lack of contact over the past month.  Our studio has been shut down, naturally, and my whole operation has been severely disrupted, I'm sorry for that.  But I'm still drawing at home, and I'd like to give you an update of what's been going on.

Fortuntately, a lot of projects have come my way lately - I've just finished a new music video for Matt Jaffe called "Voodoo Doll" - it's a wonderful, sad ballad, which I love.  And it's done in my usual pen and ink style, which gives me a lot of pleasure.  Check it out -

And then, after I completed "Voodoo Doll", I was hired to do something I've never done before, a video for an avant-garde piece of jazz music.  Although I've never worked with jazz before, I found this project very liberating - so I tried a technique I've also never done before, water-color.  You may know that because of its somewhat uncontrollable properties, it's very difficult to use water-color for animation, but because it was jazz, I felt justified in doing something very experimental.  And I think my wacky style fit very nicely with this unconventional music - it's called "Old Ducks" and the music comes from the very talented Jeff Pearring.  Keep an eye out for this.

Right now, I've just been hired to do a short stand-up comedy video for a wonderful comic, Wendy Maybury.  The bit is called "Vagina Song", so you can probably guess this ain't for kids.  This sort of takes me back to my days of doing print cartoons for magazines like Playboy, Penthouse and Screw.  What fun - this should be completed by the end of May.  Thankfully, my producer and colorist are still working from home, even though our studio is closed.

And, I'm very happy to report that I'm talking to the staff at Fox about the possibility of doing another couch gag for "The Simpsons".  Yaaheee!!!  I love doing these, they're so much fun to create and fans just seem to love them!  They've also helped expose my animation to a much larger audience, so I'm extremely grateful.  I want to do a very Plymptonesque version of Homer on drugs - I think you'll like it, but it probably won't be seen for a few months.

One more important event coming up is the Heritage auction featuring art from all my greatest films, including some of the "Simpsons" art.  A preview of the available artwork is supposed to be online in May, but the auction itself won't take place until June.  I don't have the exact date yet but you can probably find it on the Heritage Auctions site.  I may even go in person to the auction in Dallas, if there are no travel restrictions then.

It's funny, I always thought that if I got arrested and sent to prison for some crazy crime, I would be happy as a clam, because I could draw my animation all day long and never get interrupted, unless I was my cellmate's bitch, of course.  I suppose I'd still have to stop for meals and exercise out in the yard...

Well, with this viral pandemic, it's nearly the same thing.  Here I am, stuck in my apartment all day - Yippee!!  I can get up at 5 am and draw until 9 pm - I suppose I still have to stop for meals, but damn, I can get so much animation done!  I know, this is a very tragic sickness throughout the world, but you know me, I always look at the bright side.

They've even turned the heat off in my studio's building, I can sneak in there if I need to get something, but I haven't been able to stay long.  So if anyone has been having difficulty reaching me, calling the studio won't work, it's better to e-mail me because Sandrine is checking my e-mail for me at home.  I haven't figured out Zoom but I do use FaceTime.  I usually depend on my staff to show me Facebook or Twitter messages, so those take longer but I eventually will get them.

Like everyone else, I'm waiting to find out when life can return to normal, even if it's in gradual stages, so I can re-open my studio and get back to business, beyond just drawing.  In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this week's gag cartoon!

--Bill P.


Friday, March 27, 2020

Virus update / new music video coming

Because of the Covid/corona virus, I find myself stretched thin economically - I've got three huge jobs on the horizon, but because many other offices are shut down, that horizon seems to be getting farther away. 

The weird thing is that the virus has stopped all live-action motion picture production - so it would seem like a good time for animators, because many of us can do our drawings from the safety of our homes.  So, one fortunate thing during this pandemic is that I've been able to get a lot of work done on my next feature, "Slide".  Maybe it's odd to look for a silver lining in these dark days of a health scourge, I don't know.

One job I'm very excited about is a music video I'm animating for saxophonist Jeff Pearring - the track is a bit different from the other music videos I've made, no country/western, instead it's full-out experimental jazz.  But what's really interesting to me is the opportunity to get really dreamlike and almost abstract with water-colors.  Although it still looks Plympton-esque, it's also going to be very crazy and surreal.

It should come out in a few months, I really don't know the title yet, but I'll certainly let you know when I find out. 

Here's my gag cartoon for the week - very appropriate for shut-in New Yorkers like me.

Later,

Bill P.