Sunday, November 19, 2006

[Animation Nation] Bill Plympton's The Tune

This is a story about a song writer called Del (voiced by Daniel Nieden), who's working on the latest hit for his boss, Mr Mega (Marty Nelson). However he's suffering from creator's block, and couldn't find the inspiration to finish the tune. At the same time, his relationship with Mr Mega's secretary, Didi (Maureen McElheron), may start to fall apart should he not be able to complete the tune, and this just adds to the pressure.

What follows is something like an adventure in Alice's Wonderland, as Del, en route to submitting his incomplete work to Mr Mega, finds himself on the wrong end of a highway, and gets transported to the extremely weird world of Flooby Nooby, where it seems like everyone is able to hold their own tune. The secret of course is to write from the heart, and he embarks on this quest within Flooby Nooby to learn just how to do that.

There are more than 10 songs featured in the movie, which just gets better and better with each song being played, ranging from pop to folk and even the blues. The songs are naturally the highlight of an animated film hinging on them, and Maureen McElheron certainly created the tunes that combined perfectly with Bill Plympton's visuals.

Del encounters different folks with different strokes, and I'm still in awe at the immense creativity that Bill Plympton has featured in the characters of this movie. Infusing great humour, there are plenty of mini episodes which could stand alone as comedic animated shorts, like the two violent men, the sad story of a taxi driver, and of course my personal favourite, probably the precursor to The Matrix Reloaded's Architect in the Wiseone (Chris Hoffman).

What's amazing too is the different animation styles adopted by Plympton within the film, and truly, this is great stuff. You have animators who, after discovering a style they're comfortable with, sticks to it and you can see the style replicated in their drawings. Plympton's so diverse, you can hardly classify his works as they are extremely wide-ranged. The shorts who have provided this hint, but I didn't expect him to combine the styles into one coherent feature length movie so seamlessly.

Before the screening began, Bill Plympton shared with the audience that The Tune cost around US$150-175K in those days, and it took him about two and a half years to make the film. You see, rarely does the creator animate his own stuff, but Bill probably is the first who did it, for a feature length animation. Though he prefers to admit that he's not too diligent and likes to spend time travelling, which of course, adds to the production schedule.

He's been able to recoup the cost of production only recently, thanks to the advent of technology like the Internet and DVD sales. He also shared that his stuff is wildly popular in Korea, that it is a huge market for him. And for budding animators, his advice would be to own their own creations. When asked a question about opportunity cost between working independently, and for a studio / production house, he highlighted his preference for having the creative freedom to do what he wants, instead of having someone else provide the directions and nagging if something is too politically incorrect or too violent.

Bill Plympton's Official Website at

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