Plymped Out 

click to enlarge art45_film_plympton_100.jpg

Remember those Geico "People do stupid things" ads wherein animated folks set off cannons in their faces? That's Oscar-nominated Bill Plympton, independent animator. Seen Kanye West's 2005 video "Heard 'Em Say"? Also Bill. You can tell because even though the animated Kanye doesn't eat his own face, he does drive a cab and turn into Jesus. And then the devil. Or at least a devil. Then he grows wings, which is interesting, because the wings thing also happens in Plympton's latest project, "Idiots and Angels."

That you haven't seen it yet, or perhaps many of his other shorts or feature-length films, has a lot to do with Plympton, 61, who puts a premium on being independent. He hand-draws every frame of his movies, about six to eight frames for every second of film (sometimes the movie pauses on one frame for a while and lets music tell the tale), so that for an 80-minute feature, he will have drawn around 30,000 pictures. Yes. He says his apartment in New York (where he manages to find enough other things to do to employ five people in his Plympton Studios, coloring and assembling his endless images) is stacked with boxes of art. His animation is singular -- it looks like 30,000 charcoal drawings run together, doing absurd, hilarious, brutal things.

"I want it to look like you're looking at a piece of art at a museum," he says, "watching it move and take life." Which has interesting meanings for Plympton, because while he means "take on life," those characters do a lot of killing on-screen, too. That might have something to do with why he hasn't worked with a major animation studio. Maybe it's because of his motto. What's your motto, Bill?

"Sex and violence, that's my motto." Ah, yes.

"I think they're afraid that I'm this sex maniac," he says. "When in fact I'm probably the gentlest, easyiest-going guy there is." He definitely has a vision, which often relies on sound. "Idiots and Angels," the story of a jerk who grows wings that cause him to start doing good things, is entirely free of dialogue, but does have music by Moby and fellow Oscar nominee Tom Waits.

Oh yeah, he got an Oscar nomination in 1987 for his short "Your Face," in which a head rapidly takes on different shapes and distorts wildly (set to music), a tribute perhaps to the drugs he did back in the '70s, which he says "widened my visual vocabulary."

"Your Face" was one of the first of more than two dozen shorts (including such gems as "How to Kiss," "Sex and Violence," "More Sex and Violence" and 2005's "Guard Dog," which got another Oscar nod) that Plympton started making during the mid-'80s bloom of independent film. "And then suddenly everybody wanted my work," he says. "So now people introduce me as 'Oscar-nominated Bill Plympton.'"

Then there are the six feature-length cartoons (including "The Tune," "I Married a Strange Person!" and "Idiots and Angels," which will start the festival circuit next year) that all cover strange territory in their approximately 180,000 drawings — absurd sex and ridiculous action and beautifully rendered adult themes reminding us that animation can be mature, sort of.

Interestingly for an indie animator, Plympton doesn't hate Disney. If not for the mouse, he says, he and all his cartooning buddies wouldn't be around. "We're all just children of Disney," he says. "However, I became the evil child of Disney and went to the dark side." And then he laughs and laughs. S

Bill Plympton presents a night of animation shorts and features (plus a preview of "Idiots and Angels") at the Canal Club Nov. 9 at 8 p.m. Also, "everybody who comes gets a free Bill Plympton drawing," he says. "So you can't beat that." Tickets are $10-$15. Call 643-2582 or visit

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