Saturday, November 18, 2006

[Animation Nation] BIll Plympton's Retrospective: Bill Plympton Shorts

Bill Plympton was in town as part of this year's Animation Nation film festival to present his slew of works to local audiences. This evening's retrospective takes a look at his earlier works, containing mostly shorts ranging from as little as 15 seconds, to slightly longer fare of 7 minutes.

It's a mixed bag, as some are commercial clips too short to warrant a review proper (duh), like that bit commissioned and used by MTV, about acid rain, with that globe intro. Most of the clips are early raw works, like At The Zoo and American Upper and Lower Case, which were extremely crude, but hey, those were done during school days.

It's nice to see, in about an hour plus, how natural progression and development takes place within an artist, and the improvement in artistic skill and talented wit in churning out animated shorts that tell a story. It never is easy to be succinct, but I suppose given the genre, you have to be, especially so if you're the sole and primary animator. I shall highlight some of those covered this evening:

Lucas, the Ear of Corn tells the story of a young corn out there in the fields, from his idling under the sun with his mother, and his incessant questions. He realizes that his path of life is already set out for him, and we take a look at how he goes from field to dinner table. The humour's quite dark towards the end, and though it's an incomplete piece, it's more or less summed up in what's existing, and I won't be surprised the final act would be how he got passed out!

Boomtown plays out something like a propaganda music video on the virtues of a strong military and economy, with two ditzy girls singing the chorus on the virtues of being mighty.

Drawing Lesson #2 traces the life of an animated line, with a little wee bit of life action thrown in. We take a look at the romantic demeanour of the line and his love life, before his decision to end it all by drowning in white out. It's filled with plenty of humour, both in narrative and in drawing.

Your Face actually won some awards, but I was rather indifferent as to how it managed to do so. I must admit though, the animation looked fairly complex, even though a single craggy looking face was the central piece of the entire animation.

Love in the Fast Lane is supposed to be a pitch for an animated sitcom, but was incomplete and therefore canned. A man goes in search of a love potion for his wife, and applies it with hilarious consequence when his boss and his wife comes avisiting! A pity that it got cut off halfway though.

One of Those Days is totally insane, and one of my favourites from the screening. It takes a first person's look at a man going about his daily chores, with somewhat violent consequences. And who could forget the dog who seemingly couldn't let his bite go from the man's right leg.

How to Kiss was superbly entertaining, and much of the humour was from the animation taking things too literally and playing it up ten fold. Probably highly suitable for kissing newbies.

25 Ways To Quit Smoking is also another entertaining piece, though the presentation could have been improved, with its straight laced numbering off of the steps via a voiceover. There are some misses though in the steps, as they were too implausible, but hey, it's precisely the over the top advice and taking them in a literal sense that makes this highly amusing.

Bill Plympton also had a couple of animated commercials included in this showcase (played from a DVD), for the board game Trivial Pursuit, as well as the sugar substitute product called Sugar Delight. He also had a couple of shorts done for MTV included as well, and MTV junkies will find them quite familiar.

Perhaps one of the best of the lot is a series of short clips in Plymptoons, totally random, and taking many things literally. I like the animation here, probably polished with a Plympton styled look, though watching the slew of shorts today, it's hard to pin down the look and feel exactly.

I think I'll continue watching the rest of the retrospect, just to experience how things developed for this gifted animator, and yes, I like his wit!

Bill Plympton's Official Website at

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