Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"Beasts of No Nation"

As I was attending the Telluride Festival in September, one of the hot tickets there was "Beasts of No Nation", directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga.  It's a film about young boys in central African countries being recruited to fight in their rampant civil wars.

Now, this is not the kind of film I'm usually going to rush out and watch.  I prefer wacky comedies, so this subject matter was at the opposite end of my usual entertainment spectrum.

However, I'm glad I saw it - first of all, it is very well made, almost like a documentary.  All the acting, by a mostly amateur cast, is superb.  What realistic performances!

But, similar to the story from "Room", it focuses on a young boy forced into a very dangerous situation by events that are beyond his control.  So you empathize with his terrible situation, as this young black boy is recruited by a rebel colonel and forced to take drugs and murder people. 

Even though it does have a relatively happy ending, the experiences of this young, 11-year old kid create a total horror show.  I hope it gets recognition as the Oscars.  I give it an "A".

--Bill Plympton

Monday, November 23, 2015


One of the most talked-about films from the Telluride Festival is a kidnapping film called "Room".  But please, don't confuse it with the "so bad, it's camp" film called "The Room" by Tommy Wiseau.  The two films are at opposite ends of the scale.

"Room" is directed by Lenny Abrahamson and stars the great Brie Larson as a girl kidnapped at the age of 16 and used as a sex slave.  Her son, played by Jacob Tremblay, is fathered by the kidnapper - it's one of the most powerful and haunting films of the year.

The mother and son are isolated in the kidnapper's shed, where they set up a home in a 10 ft. by 10 ft. room, with only a small skylight for any connection to the outside world.  They also have an old TV set and the young boy assumes that everything he sees on the TV is not real. It's all make-believe to him, since he was born in the shelter and knows nothing about real life.

The film does not deal with graphic sex or violence - the horror is more of a psychological nature.  How cruel it is that this mother and son are forced to live in captivity and have such a minimal life experience.

The film begins when the young boy turns five, and it is at this stage that the mother tells him exactly what happened six years ago.  They then plan an escape, so about halfway through the film, the boy is able to get free and get help. 

The second half of the film deals with them confronting the real world and handling the media.  Just because they've escaped the horror chamber, that doesn't mean that their pain is over.  There are a lot of terrible after-effects from their terrible ordeal.  And the small boy even misses his time in slavery.

The screenplay by Emma Donoghue is so well written and wrenching, it deserves an Oscar.  And the acting by everyone, especially the young boy, is amazing. 

If you get a chance, please go out and see "Room".  I give it an "A". 

--Bill Plympton

Friday, November 20, 2015

"Revengeance" update

Dear readers,

Even though I've been swamped with commercial work lately, I still have to find time to continue production of my next feature film, "Revengeance". 

As most of you know already, it's a fabulous dark story, written by the great Jim Lujan, he's also doing the character design and a lot of the voices.  I'm producing the animation for the film, and I'm having a ball.

Jim's characters are so compelling and fascinating that it's a shame some of them are on-screen for short periods and then gone so quickly.  Jim has a real talent for observation and design.

In any case, I wanted to show you some of the recent work that's been done for the film.  I'm about 2/3 of the way through the script, and barring any major interruption, I'm hoping to finish the animation in the late winter or early spring of 2016.  I'll be posting occasional updates here in the blog, showing off new designs and animation.

I hope you like the new stuff -

Bill Plympton

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"Last Days of Coney Island"

As most of you may know, Ralph Bakshi is one of my heroes.  He really pioneered the whole adult animation genre - I wouldn't be making the films that I make without the influence of Mr. Bakshi.

I'm a big fan of his work, especially his music-based films like "American Pop". 

Well, now he has a new short online, called "Last Days of Coney Island" and I know he's been working on this film for a long time.

I just saw it this morning, and was totally seduced by his great artwork.  The drawing is very loose and stylized, and the backgrounds are powerful collages of Coney Island imagery. 

He could have done without the multiple views of Kennedy's death, and the story could be a bit more coherent.

But his style of filmmaking is unique and so personal that I totally got sucked into this visuals.  I think you will, too.  Check it out at:

--Bill Plympton

Friday, November 13, 2015

Virginia Film Festival

About three months ago, I got an e-mail from one of my heroes, Leonard Maltin - he was invited to the Virginia Film Festival and they gave him the chance to invite some filmmakers to participate in some screenings and workshops, so he asked me to come along.  How could I say no to Mr. Maltin?

So, last week I flew to Charlottesville, Virginia - in a tiny plane with Oliver Stone just a few seats in front of me.

After checking in, I was joined by my producer, James Hancock (a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, one of the festival's sponsors) to take a guided tour of Monticello, the fable home built by Thomas Jefferson.  My old friend Mary Burress was our guide, so we got a private tour of the dome room (I hope that doesn't get Mary in trouble).

We then took a tour of the Monticello Museum, where we got to see a lot of Jefferson's genius - his writings, his collections and his inventions.

But back to the festival - my screening of "Cheatin'" was a big success, and I was totally excited about being interviewed on stage by Leonard.  After all, he's interviewed everyone who's anyone in show biz!

That night, I went to see some films.  I had some free time, so I randomly stopped in to a Norwegian film called "The Wave" by Roar Uthaug.  This is a fictional story about a common danger in Norway, where there are a lot of sheer rock cliffs overlooking the fjords, and these cliffs often break off, causing massive landslides that then cause tsunamis that race the entire length of the fjords, causing massive death and destruction.

"The Wave" has no big stars and the budget seemed relatively low by U.S. standards - yet I've never seen a film so powerful and terrifying.  After a 20-minute set-up, waiting for the inevitable avalanche, I was gripping the armrest so tight, I thought my fingernails might tear off.

The terror was relentless.  This is how a disaster film should be made.  The small crowd in the theater gave it a huge ovation.  "The Wave" is eligible for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, and I pray it gets nominated, because it should be seen by everybody.

As for the Virginia Film Festival, it's Southern hospitality at its finest.  I was never taken care of or fed so well before.  And Charlottesville is a beautiful historic college town - Mr. Jefferson even designed the original campus.   I give the festival an "A".

--Bill Plympton

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Academy Awards anniversary

It's been just over 10 years since I was nominated for an Oscar for my 2004 short film "Guard Dog".

Biljana Labovic, my producer at the time, recently found a clip of the ceremonies on the web, and for those of you who have never seen it - perhaps you were taking a bathroom break during the show - I present the short clip of the animated shorts nominees, by Laura Linney. 

Spoiler alert - the award was won by Chris Landreth for his fantastic and very deserving film, "Ryan".

I was just happy to be there since my film had about 1/100th of the budget of the other films.

By the way, if you're wondering what all that sign language I did with my hands was, I was saying "I love you" to my mother.  What a good son I am!

--Bill Plympton

(Skip ahead to 2:39 on the video below if you want to go straight to the animation nominees)

Friday, October 30, 2015

Oscar Animated Shorts Screening 2015

It's Oscar time again - not the award ceremony, but the pre-nomination screenings.  Once again, I have a short film to toss into the competition, it's called "The Loneliest Stoplight", voiced by the great Patton Oswalt, and I think it's one of my best.  We screened it at the NuArt Theater in Los Angeles for a week in August, in front of the documentary "Station to Station", in order to qualify it.

Around the end of October each year, the Academy screens all of the eligible short animated films at branch screenings in New York, L.A. and San Francisco.  It's a wonderful occasion for all of the Academy members (myself included) to gather and see every film that qualified.  This year, the rules were stiffened to make the standards more demanding - but instead of cutting down on the number of submissions, the number increased to 60 short films.  So it took two long days to judge them all.

But, I must say that I really enjoy the experience, because whether the films are great or terrible, I always learn something from each film.  The judges do have the option of collectively deciding to turn off a film that's too long and boring (which we only did once).

All in all, the quality was really good this time, there were a lot of famous animators with qualified films.  PES had "Submarine Sandwich", Cordell Barker had "If I Were God", Pixar had "Sanjay's Super Team", Don Hertzfeldt had "World of Tomorrow", Moonbot Studio's Brandon Oldenburg had "Taking Flight" and Konstantin Bronzit had "We Can't Live Without Cosmos". 

So, it's very hard to predict which films will make it to the short list - these are the 10 films from which the Academy will pick the five nominated ones.  I ask everyone to please cross your fingers for "The Loneliest Stoplight" - he needs some love and attention.

--Bill Plympton

Friday, October 23, 2015

Beirut Animated, Lebanon

I've been attracted to Beirut for a long time.  In the 1970's, the city was referred to as "the Paris of the Middle East" - it seemed like an oasis, basking in the sunny Mediterranean.  So I had these fantasies of this tropical paradise, a French city right next to white sandy beaches, with scantily-clad babes drinking cocktails.

So when I met a group of students from Alba, the animation school based in Beirut, they were big fans and they invited me to come visit their school, I jumped at the opportunity to realize my "oasis" fantasy.  After three years of delays due to scheduling conflicts, my visit to Lebanon became a reality.

Upon arrival in Beirut, I noticed a lot of soldiers guarding the airport.  The civil war that took place during the 80's and 90's really changed the place.  The power was intermittent, traffic was clogged, the water supply was limited (I was forced to put used toilet paper in cans beside the toilet) and there were mountains of garbage all over the city.  And I never did find that perfect beach beside the city.

YET, I was totally charmed by the kindness and positive attitude of the people.  Even though the government is powerless and corrupt (so they say), the city survives, with a wonderful democratic belief that the future will be better.

I did two screenings at the wonderful Metropolis Cinema, where I greeted a packed house of enthusiastic animators and fans.  Then I also did a class at the wonderful school, ALBA, which is the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts.  The students were magnificent, so eager and talented - their work was equal to that of any art school students in NYC.

We did a delightful excursion to an ancient coastal town called Byblos, where we watched boats go in and out of the harbor while we had a delightful 3-hour lunch of fantastic Lebanese food.  To top it all off, I got to go swimming in the crystal clear Mediterranean.  But alas, no cocktail-sipping bikini girls. 

I want to thank Neyla and all of the wonderful people at ALBA and Metropolis Cinema, who showed me such a great time in Beirut.  I hope to return to Beirut when it's reverted to its normal state.

--Bill P.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

New York Comic Con 2015

Due to my trip to Argentina, I was only able to get to the New York Comic Con on the last day, which is too bad, because I love the convention.  But I'd already scheduled my trip to South America, and it was too late to cancel. 

This also meant I was unable to do a panel, which is the sure way to scare up publicity and audience attention - but we still had a decent crowd on the last day.  James Hancock and John Holderried kept my booth going until I got there, and I had autographed some Blu-Rays of CHEATIN' in advance so that fans who were only able to attend on one day could still buy one.  The Blu-Ray edition contains my new short film "The Gastronomic Shark", which is not available anywhere else.

This year, as an added attraction, we had Adam Rackoff with us, selling some very cool DVD's from his business partner Matthew Modine's experiences working with Stanley Kubrick on the film "Full Metal Jacket".

I also got to meet Jared Gilman, who starred in Wes Anderson's film "Moonrise Kingdom".  He bought a copy of my book "Independently Animated" so I drew a caricature of him inside the book.

Here are a bunch of photos from the Comic-Con, most of them taken by John H. - you can check out his full album of pictures at:

Those last three photos are of the same woman, she's a model named Vera Baby.  She had a booth a few rows away from mine, and she wore a different sexy outfit every day, which kept my staff entertained, especially James.

--Bill P.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Rosario, Argentina

About 7 years ago, I visited Buenos Aires as a guest of the Buenos Aires Film Festival - I believe I screened "Hair High" then.  It's a beautiful city with amazing French Rococo architecture, though by now it's a bit rundown. 

So, when I got the invitation to visit Rosario, the 2nd largest city in Argentina, for the 10th anniversary of their Escuela para Animadores (School for Animators), I said yes.  I have a number of friends from Argentina, it seems that some very great artists are nurtured there: the great Oscar Grillo, the fantastic Carlos Nine, Juan Pablo Zamarella, and of course, the late Caloi, the comic strip and gag cartoonist.  People tell me that on his TV show, Caloi screened a lot of my short films, and because of that, apparently I have a large following in Argentina.

I didn't really believe it until my first screening at El Cairo, their 1930's-style revival cinema.  There were people lined up around the block, and they had been waiting there since early in the morning - almost 500 fans, and they had to turn away a lot of them, because the fire marshal forbade audiences from sitting in the aisles. 
                                       At a press conference before the show at the El Cairo

So the show was a big success - as customary, I did sketches for everyone, and even drawing as fast as I could, it took 2 hours to satisfy all the fans.

My host for my few days in Rosario was Pablo Rodriguez Jauregui, who, with a small team of passionate animators, has developed a school for anyone who wants to learn about animation.  The school also has a wonderful animation museum that details the glorious history of animation in Argentina - it claims that the first animated feature film was created in Buenos Aires by Quirino Cristiani, around 1931. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed all traces of the film.  I've seen some of the images from the film, and true to Argentinian reputation, it had marvelous draftsmanship. 

One day while I was there, the crew from the school took a boat ride across the mighty Rio ParanĂ¡.  There were three problems with this phenomenal excursion: 1) it was a stormy day with hurricane-force winds and 4-foot tall waves  2) the boat they hired for the trip was a tiny rowboat with an outboard motor and 3) the driver somehow thought we were in a race to get across the river.  So all three elements came together, in a literal perfect storm.  And I knew I was going to end up in a headline: "Gringo animator drowns in the ParanĂ¡ River in ghastly boating accident".

But, as fate would have it, I made it across the raging river to safety. 

The highlight of my trip, though, was that night when I held my Master Class, to another packed house at the El Cairo Cinema, and the U.S. ambassador's cultural minister introduced the mayor of the city of Rosario, and she gave me a special proclamation of Bill Plympton Day, or something like that.  I felt like Walt Disney probably did when he made his tour of South America in the 1940's and was hailed as an animation hero. 

I give my visit to Rosario, Argentina an A+

--Bill P.