Saturday, 29 October 2011

That living Plymptoon they call Bill.

65 year old, Oregon born, drawing fanatic, crude businessman and wonderful animator Bill Plympton attended the FLIP festival this weekend; and I've had the pleasurable honour of being in his presence. I would've put this with my FLIP day 2 post but I had so much to say on the man I felt it demanded it's own entry. First of all, a bit of frank honesty. Before Friday, I'd never heard of the man before and had no idea of his work. While that admission would cause a sharp intake of breath amongst certain circles, it's true that a lot of his work has flown over and around my radar. On the run up to FLIP though, his reverence grew more and more apparent until the moment I actually attended his masterclass and he proved his salt with a passion in his marker, a twinkle in his eye and the justified pride of an American animator who's been in the game since 1987. So I guess I'm trying to sum up what, in the short time I saw him, I learned from him as well as my impressions of him as a whole.

Bill sketching two guys
During his masterclass, the first thing that struck me was Bill Plympton's recurring habit to draw a sketch during his talk. At first he seemed to treat it like it was a necessity, as if he'd been commanded to do lots of drawing throughout the talk as a favour to admin or something. But soon enough who could tell he was drawing a manic amounts of sketches because he genuinely loves drawing. So much so that he doesn't think it at all weird to interrupt his own seminar to do a little doodle. It was quite remarkable. During the talk someone asked him how much he'll draw in a day and even though he couldn't be entirely sure (differing sizes and sketchy-ness of drawings and such), his roundabout, ball-park figure was around 100 drawings a day. 100 drawings a day! That's astronomical! He said he loves drawing so much, he could happily wake up at 6am and draw till 10 at night. And when he says that, I believe him. The fact that he couldn't help himself to applying boardmarker to paper not 30 seconds ago supports that. Also striking was the speed at which he'll finish a sketch. It was amazing. Of all the sketches he did, not one of them took more than 2-2.30 mins to do. Now I use the word 'sketch' in as strict a meaning as I can because they were just very basic sketches, but even still the way he was able to communicate a body shape, character, emotion and even top it off with shading is an incredibly admirable ability. I love drawing as much as the next guy, but to be able to convey what Bill manages to convey would require an entirely focused 30 minute session with just me and my pad. Meanwhile Ol' Plympton is banging out random lines on an office clipboard with a permanent marker while holding conversation and coming up trumps. It's daunting when I think about it but the man has had a great many years experience so I'm not too disheartened.

The angel from 'Idiots and Angels'
One thing he seemed to do was put his signature on the sketches of his characters that he ripped off of the clipboard. Again, it seemed like the staff at FLIP were holding his favourite pet chihuahua hostage for some signed work, but then you could see that it was all on him again. He was signing his work (I imagine) just in case. Just in case it went missing so he'd still have a claim on it, or just in case he could sell it. To me, that showed a rigid formality that (I guess at his age is inevitable and probably appropriate) becomes apparent in a lot of what he does and how he must conduct himself outside of the animation studio. Bill Plympton is an animator, yes, but he is also a business man. Throughout his talk (and this is part that made me doubt what my expectations actually were when I heard the term "masterclass") he was talking about his methods for making enough money to survive, going to his distribution methods and where to expose his work and making products that will just sell easier. Later in the day, he was sat at a desk selling his books and DVDs. One offer he had was that with a £25 purchase of a book, he would give the buyer a caricature of themselves, a nice little keepsake for the day. When I got to the desk, and asked specifically for a caricature, I was enlightened of the offer and that there were no books available. Although disheartened, he quickly picked me up by saying he'd draw me for £10. Excited, I ran to the nearest cashpoint for funds and got my face depicted a la Bill Plympton. It was partway through my frozen posing that I realised I didn't try to haggle with him at all, and he seemed to pluck the figure of £10 from thin air. That made me felt partially responsible for setting up the precedent of £10 per caricature price tag for all those to follow. If there was a chance I could've knocked off 2 or 3 quid, I'm sure it would have been appreciated. But putting my poor financial skills to one side, the man was all about selling his wares and making money. When he asked an audience member where he had seen one of his pieces before and the response was "the internet", he showed, though comically, disappointment (I imagine) at the lack of revenue from that customer. I understand. A man's got to live. I never wish to be as money motivated as him but understanding the simple business premise of keeping costs down and profits high is something that needs to be kept in mind.

Bill Plympton's caricature of me

On a more personal front, Bill Plympton was asked who his influences were...and I felt it necessary to list them as well! I think it's good that he named film makers and artists as well as animators. When I'm asked that question, I always feel required to name animators, even though I enjoy people outside the field. Some of Plympton's inspirations include Disney, Tex Avery, R Crumb, A.B. Frost, Carlos Nine, Saul Steinberg, Charles Addams, Milton Glazer, Hayao Miyazaki, Quentin Tarantino, Joanna Quinn (which I'm surprised came this far down his list, but she is younger than him so maybe not necessarily an 'influence') & Richard Leicester. The man he admires the most though is a man called Winsor McCay, a cartoonist and animator who died in 1934. He loved his surreal little world that he animated in. Plympton enjoys him so much that he remade a Winsor McCay piece called "Flying House", updating it to the 21st century. He got it funding through a scheme called Kickstarters where people around the world donate to a project and they get their name in the credits. If that isn't some form of love for a man's craft, I don't know what is.

The female lead from a piece in development by Bill
So finally, when offering advice on how to make a living being an independent film maker, the Bill Plympton way, he gave three simple rules. Make your piece short (the attention span of a viewer can wear thin and that can hurt your chances of getting picked up by television networks, festivals etc.), make your piece cheap (particularly encouraging people to avoid hiring different roles and trying to take on as many as you can) and make it funny (because everyone wants to see something funny). Once you've made your piece, you want to get it seen. Here's where you send it out to every festival under the sun. He even included the Oscars and Cannes film festival in his list. I don't know if he was aware he was in a room of at least 40-50% students but I may try submitting for those for fun...I mean, the worst they can do is say no, right? And he said some factions of media where he's made his riches is from theatrical release (which he hasn't done a lot of), television (which he has done a lot of, to tv stations all over the world apparently), DVDs (like the ones he was vending on the desk later), Merchandise (like his books and any toys, a bit early for me maybe) and commissioned work.

The nice sketch of the Dog he did for me

So I think that's all I've got to say. I think, if you've stayed with me till here, you must be able to tell that I believe Bill Plympton is quite a guy. He's a shrewd American out there to make a buck, but the amount of ability he has in his little finger makes it all permissible. I think it's a shame that he says he prefers to work alone or keep his team very small, because I think he has a lot more to offer. He wants to keep costs low and keep the animation and drawing style of his films as succinct to his own as possible, which are valid reasons I guess. Sadly, he couldn't stay for the second day of FLIP since he was travelling to Germany for another talk. It doesn't matter though, since I'll keep an eye out for him now. We've definitely not heard the last from Bill Plympton.

From left to right: Ravi Maheru, Bill Plympton & Myself

FLIP - Day 3

So I went to the second day of FLIP today (well the third day, technically), and attended a few more animation related events. A couple discussion talks and a couple Open Shorts later and I can evaluate that while today wasn't as good as yesterday, it was just about worthwhile to validate the weekend pass.

I started off with the Aardman Showreel and Q&A. It was hosted by one of Aardman's head model makers, Jim Parkyn. I have to say, while he mentioned that Aardman have been using CGI in some of their produce, unless you had a great interest in the processes behind model making, working with clay & armatures and, by extension, an interest in stop-motion animation in general, you wouldn't have found it entertaining at all. He showed off a fantastic showreel of Aardman's works over recent years (which was like eating a great-animation flavoured sundae topped off with nostalgia sauce) before going into the work behind achieving the Were-Rabbit from "Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" and the work behind Creature Comforts. He also showed off behind the scenes videos throughout the presentation which was the only thing keeping me awake was genuinely interesting material.

Next, founders of Cosgrove Hall Films, Brian Cosgrove and Mark Hall had a discussion with Marc Silk (voice actor) about their life and times in the animation world of yesteryear. These are the men responsible for Danger Mouse, Count Duckula, Wind In The Willows & Postman Pat and you could visibly see Marc Silk's childlike abandon as he barely contained the gleeful screaming little boy within him who just wanted to thank the men that made his after school hours that little bit richer. Sadly, this wasn't a feeling I could replicate since their work was popular in a generation before my time. I mean, I'm aware of Danger Mouse, Postman Pat, etc. but I didn't follow them episode by episode, day by day. Danger Mouse was cancelled the year after I was born, and Count Duckula ended the year after! Whether I was aware or their work or not, hearing them was nice. It was a very personal and intimate affair (despite the fact that they were on stage in an auditorium with at least 30 people were staring intently) were we heard about their woes and work ethics. Mark Hall said that when he was 9 he was playing with marionette toys, which clearly showed his interest in puppetry at a young age. Brian Cosgrove cited that one of his loves in animation is when you film a cycle of drawings you made in sequence. Watching it move, he called it similar to creating life.Then again he also said the way some people (including himself) are willing to draw morning, noon and night and enjoy it can on be the result of some kind of disease so, swings and roundabouts I guess. On a more professional front they also talked about their treatment of voice actors in Danger Mouse (and how they liked the human inflections invoked on a character of their creation through just a human voice) and some of the troubles with budgets and finding a cheaper method of animating rather than through cel. A talk worthy of note, from two legends of the field. I'm almost sad that the appreciation was lost on me but at the very least I can understand the work it takes and the ability they must possess to achieve what they have.

A storyboard for Count Duckula handed out at the talk

Finally, Midlands-born, award winning duo, The Brothers McLeod presented their new half hour film, "Isle of Spagg". I really enjoyed it. The animation was fluid, the colours were beautifully complimentary, and the humour was top quality with just the perfect amount of edge. Though I didn't particularly like the character designs and drawing style in general (the crazy lines/distorted perspectives of the environments was just too off-putting for me in this one), I laughed my head off and had a great time watching it. Beforehand Greg and Myles they went through their work process, explaining (in a strictly enforced 30 minutes) everything from artistic inspirations to script writing through to production. Their influences seemed very long-winded but all necessary apparently, and hearing their work process (and the fact that both brothers are colourblind :O) was quite educational. It was a great session, the best of the day in fact, with two great practitioners and two funny, amiable men that serve as an inspiration in their own regard.

There were a couple other events and showings but I chose to leave it there. I attended a couple of the Open Shorts showing throughout the day as well. Notable pieces included my friend's Gary Jones' "Overtime" & Ravi Maheru's "Caged". Also "The Marking of Longbird" Dir. Will Anderson (which I'd seen before), "All Consuming LoveDir. Louis Hudon (which I'd seen before and would love to see again and again), "Lighting in a Bottle" Dir. Jennifer Padgett, "Gato Encerrado" Dir. Peque Varela (though it's length was grating), and strangely enough "Hogan" Dir. Peter Millard and "Moxie" Dir. Stephen Irwin had its moments. Nevertheless, being shortlisted is a wonderful honor and no matter who wins the competition, all film makers should be very proud.

And like that, FLIP festival has come to a close for another year. Next year I'll be a graduate and the next in line to showcase my talents at the festival, hopefully riding the flag high with my final film for myself and for Wolverhampton University. Can't wait.

Friday, 28 October 2011

FLIP - Day 2

The FLIP festival started yesterday. But Day 1 of FLIP only had 3 events on and the general consensus among my friends were that they weren't interested and though I was interested in the OperaVox, I decided in the end it wasn't worth going to.

So Friday 29th October at FLIP was pretty good all-in-all. I arrived at 11am and got back home at 11pm. First there was the annual showreel review talk, this year chaired by Mick Foley. Reviewers included Barry Purves (Stop Motion Animator/Director), Glen Holberton (of Loose Moose Productions) & Michael Nagasaka (of Frontier Games). They had a discussion on the state of animation in todays world from each of their perspectives (which was mundanely fascinating at best) before granting their opinions on four individuals showreels. It was an interesting listen, and while very nice, the reviewers were appropriately critical and after talking to one of the applicants afterward, quite helpful. One point I was slightly confused by was Barry Purves commenting that a decent duration for a showreel is around 5 mins but it was of my previous understanding that snappier than that was better, at around 1 min. It was also brought up that a potential employer of an audience member used a "7 second test" where if he wasn't impressed in the first 7 seconds of a showreel, he'd turn off. A very informative session.

One of the events meticulously scheduled into the diary was the drinks and networking session where lager was provided (courtesy of one of the funders; Saint), and casual conversation was encouraged amongst the patrons. It's always hard to break away from the comfort zone that is your circle of friends but I did manage to talk to a couple people. Not as many as I wanted but met some good people nevertheless.

As well as throughout the day there was a wealth of short films shown in the 3 'Open Shorts' segments. Most of them fantastic, but of course there were some I didn't get. Notable films from Open Shorts 2 include "Das HausDir. David Buob, "The Skeleton Woman" Dir. Sarah Von Den Coom, "Flea and Fly" Dir. Fernando Miller. From Open Shorts 3 "Dead Bird" Dir. Trevor Hardy, "Plume" Dir. Barry Purves and particularly "Iluzia" Dir. Udi Asoulin & Uriah Naeh were great pieces of animation and film.

Overall, a positive experience, and it's pretty late so I'd better get off. Need enough sleep for Day 3, don't I.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

That Flippin' Festival.

So this coming weekend brings the FLIP festival to Wolverhampton. The future of FLIP was a little up in the air last year with funding issues and a lack of public interest and whatnot, but huzzah it's here for one more year. The organisation team left it a little later than usual to get the programme up but it's up now and looks alright.

Key spots that stand out are the Bill Plympton masterclass and the Aardman: Workshop. Bill Plympton, being a bit of celebrity in animation circles, is going to gravitate quite an audience. Same is true for Aardman, one of the biggest animation companies in the world despite the handicap of being british-born, who have one of the more fun, family-friendly aesthetics both to create and to see. Bill will be making/signing original work and Aardman will proably be going through development of their new film Pirates: Band of Misfits!

Outside those a few of the Open Shorts are always a treat. Especially with Ravi Maheru's "Caged" and Gary Jones' "Overtime" playing at Open Shorts 5 on Saturday. The Operavox looks interesting too as well as the "Drinks and Networking". Though I always hate when the word 'networking' is added onto the title of something. It makes supposed light-hearted social affairs awkwardly official and gives the entire thing the feeling of being on edge for a reason you're not entirely sure of. It's essentially the difference between sending a private message on facebook and sending a private message on LinkedIn.

Oh, and finally, yesterday was the day of a pretty important professional pitch. I'm not sure how much I can say about it (and I'm probably being needlessly secretive) but it was a pitch concerning a potential short clip to be played on a big television network. I did the best I could and presented my idea with as much clarity and professionalism as I could muster. Although I was up against some very good career rivals/talented contempories I hope the potential in my idea came through and that I get called back for a follow up.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Sketches on Walls

So I've been doing some character designs for a mum and a boy. Just thought I'd drop them here. I learned a couple things and borrowed a couple shapes from some other cartoons but hey, what's wrong with that?

Also, Shorts on Walls was today. It was a pretty alright little shindig that took place in the little courtyard in the Light House, Wolverhampton. Sadly, the piece I submitted didn't make the shortlist but some of my peers work was shown including Peter Taylor's 'Source', Gary Jones's 'Overtime' & Ravi Maheru's 'Caged', as well as other regulars cropping up from the usual circles. Topped off with a nice chat and a couple slices of pizza, a pleasant evening was had.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Fan Service

So I realised that I was 4 posts into this blog and I haven't posted any artwork yet. Well yesterday my lecturer cunningly set the class a sketching task. The session involved drawing random objects. So here is the produce:

That's a picture of a button.

And that's a picture of a ladybird. Which, funny story, was trapped underneath a stone when I found it, and rather than set it free from its rock tomb, I callously used the ladybird for my own sick, twisted, artistic needs and only when satisfied, did I choose to release it from the prison the ladybird had found itself in. It's a strange feeling when a seemingly small task becomes a moral trial between life and death. But hey, isn't it a pretty picture?