“And that’s what’s so interesting about independent animation; you can do anything that comes to your brain and not worry about any kind of censorship at all.” – Bill Plympton
During the production of “Hair High”, a webcam on the film’s website allowed users to watch Bill Plympton’s hands and his animation at work. Plympton has never been one of those people, like myself, who simply draw to stave off boredom, as it was with a college Anthropology class these past few weeks. In a thankfully lengthy interview on this new DVD which features Plympton’s earliest works, Plympton wanted to be an animator since he was a kid. It shows in everything he did since he started. It’s in the self-portrait that begins all the animated wonders and excitement you could ever want from Plympton. As his animated alter ego rearranges his face, he subtly asks those questions always important to our society, in why we insist on changing our looks and the benefit of keeping to who we are, never trying to reach what we aren’t, because we are who we are. Plympton certainly is.
Plympton’s animated works are one of the best highs you can get from watching movies and short films. He proves that addiction is not only not dangerous for movie buffs, but it eventually leads to people like him, people who bring new joys and possibilities to what has come before. His influences, Walt Disney, the Beatles, Winsor McCay, have served him well. But most of all, he is responsible for animation that never quits, drawn lines that always shimmer, as if they will never end. They will always find that edge of the Earth, cross it, and continue on, no matter where it leads. It’s easy to imagine Plympton’s works reaching other forms of life across the universe if they ever reveal themselves out there. He has an accessibility, a way of making humor that’s far and away beyond what’s usually expected in humor in animation. He’s not after those supporting characters who provide a guffaw in the midst of tension. In the animated people featured from his early days, he expresses the romance of romance, talks about ways to prevent smoking, and in his association with MTV, makes a potent point about the effects of acid rain. With Plympton, it’s about everything. Colors, lines, motion, humor, dialogue sometimes. Where Mike Judge and Matt Groening were influenced by Bill Plympton, new animators will undoubtedly be influenced by him and in fact, it’s already happened, such as with Patrick Smith, whose “Handshake” found a guy and a girl meeting at a bus stop, the guy extending his hand for a handshake, and the result was definitely Plympton-inspired, with animation that Smith is already making his own, along with painterly backgrounds.
These animated shorts, the music video commissioned by Peter Himmelman, the Trivial Pursuit commercials, all of them show that Plympton is constantly after amusement and amazement. First, he wants to be pleased with his own work. He wants to draw characters and concepts not often seen in mainstream animation, which is after all the point of independent animation. What is believed not to be accessible by others, he makes accessible on his own. He’s the only animator I know of who boldly marches into sex jokes and comes out even better for having done it. Besides, those jokes can usually end up funnier in animation than live-action. Then, he wants audiences to be pleased, as he admits, distrusting of those who just make experimental films for the sake of them being experimental, not at all wanting audiences to understand the point of their works.
And if you didn’t see Plympton in action on “Hair High”, this DVD features an all-too-brief nine minutes, first with him steadily drawing for an unnamed film, and the rest to time-lapse photography which makes his dedication even more astonishing. He’s all for humor and obviously, not at all uncomfortable with the patience it takes to make one of his shorts or feature films. Because when it’s all done, it’s truly a Bill Plympton work. And this head trip, this creative journey, this wondrous, wacky, wild wonderment, is everything that can be expected from superior animation. You can dream up whatever you want, write whatever you want, paint whatever you want, sculpt whatever you want, film whatever you want, but make sure Plympton is one of your stops on whatever artistic kick lifts you.