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.

Friday, October 2, 2015

GUEST POST: Martha's Vineyard International Film Festival 2015

September 8-13, 2015

I've heard Bill say that the Martha's Vineyard International Film Festival is one of his favorite festivals, and I had the chance to attend it this year on his behalf, representing "The Loneliest Stoplight" in the Animated Shorts program.

Martha's Vineyard is an island in Massachusetts and even though I've lived in that state for 11 years, I have never visited Martha's Vineyard until now.  My experience with film festivals is also limited; I've gone to a few as an audience member, and have only attended 2 as a filmmaker.  So I had no idea what to expect of 4 days on the island as I left Manhattan at 8AM Friday morning.  I was traveling with filmmaker SIGNE BAUMANE, curator of the Animated Shorts program; EDWIN CHAVEZ, director of "The Wandering Eye"; and TOM BROWN, director of "Teeth".  Four animators on the road – that's always a recipe for fun.

For whatever reason, we missed our appointed ferry ride at 11AM, and the next available ferry was not till 4PM.  So we killed 4 hours in New Bedford, the highlight of which was a trip to the WHALING MUSEUM.  There, we marveled at the size and complexity of these beautiful marine mammals, learned about the hardships of a life at sea and about a long, cruel history of whaling.  As often happens after museum trips, I walked out with mixed feelings and a few fleeting urges.

Whale skeletons on display, photo courtesy of Edwin Chavez
Edwin Chavez charging forward, photo courtesy of Edwin Chavez
Signe Baumane relaxing, photo courtesy of Edwin Chavez

Finally we caught a ferry to Martha's Vineyard and arrived at an all-American house.  I thought we were going to stay in a hotel so I hadn't packed any travel sized shampoo.  Signe kindly bought us some shampoo - a gesture that, to me, really initiated the great weekend we were about to have.  The 4 of us were getting along quite well.  Somehow, we were the only filmmakers attending the festival that weekend, so we had plenty of time to exchange stories and jokes.

Our house for three nights, photo courtesy of Edwin Chavez
Pool, water, sunshine, photo courtesy of Edwin Chavez
Wild turkeys in the backyard gazing into the distance, Photo courtesy of Edwin Chavez

It would seem that the right thing to do at a film festival is to watch films.  So both Saturday and Sunday were devoted to watching features and shorts.  The Animated Shorts program took place Saturday afternoon.  In fact, it was my first time seeing "The Loneliest Stoplight" on big screen and I was nervous to catch glaring mistakes like sync issues or inconsistent colors.  Fortunately, I didn't catch anything that would keep me up at night.  The audience seemed to enjoy it too.  "Stoplight" was the first short in the show - a wholesome and sweet story that eased the audience into some of the more bizarre films later in the program.
Festival director Richard Paradise introducing the Animated Shorts program, photo courtesy of Tom Brown 

Here are a few short films from the program that I thought were especially strong:

"Yul and the Snake" by Gabriel Harel is a solid film with a gripping soundtrack that I am still thinking about, 3 weeks later. 

"Haircut" by Virginia Mori features lovely, mysterious pencil drawings that made me itch to draw. 

"The Panty Fairy" by Juanwei Chen is a film I had already seen no less than 10 times, and I never get tired of how confidently it carries itself and its sense of humor. 

"The Night of the Naporitan" by Yusuke Sakamoto hits me in the right spot with its well controlled humor and absurdity. 

"Teeth" by Tom Brown & Daniel Gray is a meticulously constructed, visually lush film that leaves you wanting more. 

"The Wandering Eye" by Edwin Chavez is short and sweet, straightforward but also full of mystery.

I thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Baumane's programming and left the theater feeling proud that so many strong animated short films are born each year. 

Unfortunately, none of the feature films I watched in the festival left much of an impression.

I understood why Bill loves going to this festival; it really is a great escape from New York City.  2015 has been such a busy year for me that going to Martha's Vineyard was my first time seeing the ocean all year.  To boot, I haven't climbed a tree since 2007 and I went up one on this trip.  These are just a few simple things, in combination with good films, good company, and free wine, that ended up being deeply satisfying for me.

Signe Baumane examining an ancient creature, photo courtesy of Edwin Chavez
Wendy Zhao saying hello to the ocean, photo courtesy of Edwin Chavez

I'm very thankful to Bill for giving me the chance to go to Martha's Vineyard International Film Festival this year.  I would love to return another year, near summer's end, for another great experience.