“BE SHORT, CHEAP AND FUNNY: IT’S THE SECRET TO MAKE SUCCESSFUL ANIMATED SHORTS”
THE INDEPENDENT BILL PLYMPTON MEETS THE PUBLIC AT THE SHORT
Yesterday, at the closing of the third day of the Festival, one of the most awaited special programs of the sixth edition of the Ca’ Foscari Short Film Festival took place: The World of Bill Plympton, a master class conducted by the American animator that lasted two hours. Through this masterclass, he recalled his career starting from his first works to the most recent ones. It’s through watching the cartoons of his childhood that he developed the desire to create cartoons and making people laugh. For this reason he enrolled in college, but after graduation, for the limited possibility on finding a job in the animation world (“A career that many people think has no future and does not allow to get rich”), he decided to start working as an illustrator for several magazines (New York Times, Vanity Fair, Playboy and many others) and maybe it is for this reason that in his animated shorts there are themes related to the adult world. It is in 1985 that came a turning point in his career: he had the opportunity to create a cartoon, “Your Face”, and through it, he will learn how to make animation. “Your face” has only one character who seems to be a boring person, but when he begins to sing, his face starts to become distorted in various ways. What for Plympton is just an experiment on how to make a film, becomes its launch pad to success. Even at Plympton’s surprise, the short has been acclaimed by the public (“I was flying, it was like a dream”), and this sudden success brings the animator to make the decision to start working in animation. Your Face was nominated for the Academy Award For Best Animated Short Film and it was shown at the Venice Film Festival, attracting the attention of Disney. In fact, Disney Studios offered a contract as head animator to Plympton, who, however, refused it and remained independent.
As Plympton declared during the interview for the Ca’ Foscari Short Film Festival and during his masterclass, the secret for his successful short animated films lies in his famous three key words “short, cheap, funny”. According to the animator a good short film should not last more than five minutes (“if they last 15 minutes they’re already unfit for sale”), it should not cost a fortune and, above all, should make people laugh. A great example of this three-words-method can be seen in 25 ways to stop smoking, one of the few short films of his career with an explicit political message, thus very powerful thanks to its humour and very successful from a commercial point of view. Looking back at his career, Plympton remembers the moment when he realized he had made only one hour of film in three years, and it’s this precise fact that will cause in Plympton the idea of creating the musical comedy The Tune, the first animated feature film entirely realized by one person alone. The Tune will cause a proper revolution, proving how it is absolutely possible to create films through self-financing and to have success, when made with will and talent. Plympton showed the Auditorium’s public the simple structure of his sketches by drawing his famous character of the dog from the short film Guard Dog. The animator than showed some of his most famous short films: Hot Dog, The Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger, Footprints, examples that show the simplicity of his drawings that are created using just a common pen, although, tells the animator, he tried an approach towards digital animation in Shut Eye Hotel. Everything in this film is hand drawn except the hotel, which was created digitally by a digital artist hired by Plympton: this experience though ended up being very expensive and very long (“I finished my drawings in a month, it took her six months to do the hotel”).
In which way can an independent animator make himself known and sell his own works? According to Plympton, “festivals are the best places to present a work”. So he listed four festivals which, after the Oscars, can be considered the best chances for an independent animator, that are: the Festival de Cannes, the Sundance Film Festival, the Toronto Film Festival and the Festival of Annency, the only one entirely dedicated to animation. Plympton said that he achieves his higher incomes from theatre, from the European televisions (especially for the lack of dialogues), from the sale of DVDs and, above all, from internet (Netflix and iTunes). Moreover, he added that the sale of books and posters, as well as the commissions for advertising and music videos, represent a growing market. “I know you think that I am the same old American capitalist but this is the only way to become an independent artist” he said. Before creating a sketch for all those who were present at the master class, Plympton showed his animated short film The Loneliest Stoplight, voiced by Patton Oswalt, which contains romantic themes.