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Animator draws tips for industry

Jake Lacey/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Bill Plympton presented his work and shared his techniques of cartooning in the César E. Chávez building yesterday. Plympton was nominated for an Academy Award during last year’s Oscars.
By Seth Mauzy
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
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A class of students had the chance last night to peer into the creative and business world of one of America's most successful independent animators.

Bill Plympton, a renowned illustrator and cartoonist best known for his sketchy colored pencil style and drab suit-wearing characters who invariably befall some strange and violent fate, spoke to about 50 students in professor Craig Caldwell's class, art 268: Understanding Computer Animation.

Plympton, who appeared courtesy of the department of media arts and the Hanson Film Institute, talked about the ins and outs of the animation business, as well as dissecting his own brand of dark, deadpan humor by showing a number of his short films.

"I've seen a few of his things from Sick and Twisted, and I've seen his feature, Mutant Aliens," said Alex Laetsch, a physiology junior.

Plympton has made a number of short films, including last year's "Guard Dog," an Academy Award-nominated tale of an ugly little dog bent on protecting his master from imagined threats.

His animation can also be seen in TV commercials for United Airlines and Trivial Pursuit. His short film "25 Ways to Quit Smoking," which features gruesomely hilarious tips like mounting heat-seeking missiles on your head and hiding your cigarettes in a blender, was quickly co-opted by anti-smoking organizations.

Plympton began his lecture by showing an animated short he did not draw, a piece about an unlucky amphibian by Chris Conforti simply titled "Frog" that is featured on a compilation DVD of independent animators called "Avoid Eye Contact."

"I showed that film because it was made by a student. I think he was 18 when it was made," Plympton told the class. "It's such a simple film; no dialogue, but great timing and very visual. I recommend you try something like that if you want to make a film."

Plympton used "Frog" as well as a few of his own short films to illustrate what he called "Plympton's three golden rules for success" in the animation business.

"First, make it short." Plympton said. "Everyone wants to make a 10- or 15-minute film and that's just suicide."

Plympton also advised the students to keep costs down by avoiding expensive voices or background music, and to always make their films funny.

"People always want to laugh at animation," Plympton said. "If you want to make a political statement or do abstract personal expression that's fine, but if it doesn't make people laugh it will be impossible to get it shown."

Over the course of the event, the animator took breaks to talk about the artists who inspired him to start drawing, creating impromptu renditions of his earlier work on a sketchpad and easel, and talking about his brief time as a caricaturist while sketching Caldwell.

Plympton stressed the importance of submitting films to as many festivals as possible rather than making unsolicited submissions to studios or TV networks, and assured students that there are a number of markets for short animated films and that you can make a living at it.

"I want to go into 2D animation, and I found his tips really helpful," said Fabian Corona, a studio art sophomore. "I wouldn't have thought about the festival thing before tonight."

Even students who did not plan on pursuing careers in animated films said they came away from the class with insights into the workings of show business.

"I think a lot of what he's saying is applicable to more than just animation," said C.J. Bruce, a political science junior. "I'm interested in doing live-action short films, and his tips about festivals and budgets and business apply to that as well."

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