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THE TUNE was animator Bill Plympton's first full-length feature. His short films have been seen widely around the country, highlighting many animation festivals. His oblique, off-center sense of the ridiculous in everyday life has made the "Microtoons" and his other shorts a popular MTV offering. His distinctive style has even invaded the world of advertising. Commercials for both Trivial Pursuit and Sugar Delight make us chuckle and gasp. But it's been a lot of hard work. When Plympton first moved to New York City, a recent college graduate with a B.A. in Graphic Design, he tried selling belts on the street. "It was January, about 25 degrees outside. I couldn’t sell a one!"
Born in Portland, Oregon on April 30, 1946 to Don (now a retired banker) and Wilda Plympton, he grew up in a large family of three girls and three boys. For the six children it was often far too wet to play outside. Plympton credits Oregon's rainy climate for nurturing his drawing skills and imagination. He also was a cub scout and played little league when the weather permitted. In 1964 he graduated from Oregon City High School where he participated in J.V. basketball, swimming and the art club. He went on to Portland State University, where he edited the yearbook and was a member of the film society. It was for this film society that he first attempted animation, making a yearbook promo that was accidentally shot upside-down, rendering it totally useless.
To avoid the Vietnam War, Plympton served in the National Guard from 1967 to 1972. In 1968, he moved to New York City and began a year of study at the School of Visual Arts. Making the Big Apple his home, Plympton served a long tenure as an illustrator and cartoonist. Between toting his portfolio and catching cheap matinees, he designed the magazines: Cineaste, Filmmakers Newsletter, and Film Society Review. His illustrations have graced the pages of The New York Times, Vogue, House Beautiful, The Village Voice, Screw, and Vanity Fair. His cartoons appeared in such magazines as Viva, Penthouse, Rolling Stone, National Lampoon, and Glamour. In 1975, in The Soho Weekly News, he began "Plympton," a political cartoon strip. By 1981, it was syndicated in over twenty papers by Universal Press.
All his life Bill Plympton has been fascinated by animation. When he was fourteen he sent Disney some of his cartoons and offered up his services as animator. They wrote back and told him that while his drawings showed promise, he was too young. It wasn't until 1983 that he was approached to animate a film. The Android Sister Valeria Wasilewski asked Plympton to work on a film she was producing of Jules Feiffer's song, "Boomtown." Connie D'Antuono, another of the film's producers "sort of held my hand through the whole process," Plympton says. "It was a great way to learn to make a film."
Immediately following the completion of "Boomtown," he began his own animated film, "Drawing Lesson # 2." Production of the live action scenes was slow, due to inclement weather, so Plympton decided to start on another film. For this one, he contacted an old friend with whom he had performed in a Country Western Band (he played pedal steel guitar). Maureen McElheron, whose band it had been, agreed to score "Your Face." Due to budgetary considerations, she also sang. Her voice, eerily decelerated to sound more masculine combined with a fantastically contorting visage helped garner the film a 1988 Oscar nomination for best animation.
"Suddenly people began returning my phone calls," remembers Plympton. His work started appearing with more and more frequency on MTV and showing in the increasingly popular touring animation festivals. After a string of highly successful short films ("One of Those Days," "How to Kiss," "25 Ways to Quit Smoking," and "Plymptoons"), he began thinking about making a feature film. His shorts were winning prizes like crazy and he wanted a new challenge. And, as he puts it, "I wanted to make a full-length movie ever since I was a kid."
What came to be called THE TUNE, was financed entirely by the animator himself. Sections of the feature were released as short films to help generate funds for production. These include "The Wiseman" and "Push Comes to Shove," the latter of which won the 1991 Prix du Jury at the Cannes Film Festival. At the same time two different ad agencies offered Plympton what then seemed a "mind-boggling and obscene" amount of money to make a few commercials in the by-then distinctive Bill Plympton style. With this money in pocket, he was then able to complete THE TUNE and realize a childhood dream. The completed TUNE also made the rounds of the film festivals, garnering the prestigious Houston WorldFest Gold Jury Special Award as well as a Spirit Award nomination for Best Film Score.
After personally drawing and coloring 30,000 cels for THE TUNE, Plympton moved to live-action. J. LYLE, his first live-action feature, is a wacky, surreal comedy about a sleazy lawyer who meets a magical talking dog that changes his life. "Making THE TUNE, I had a lot of ideas I realized wouldn’t work with animation, but would be lots of fun with real people! I took those ideas and made J. LYLE. Besides, my hand needed a rest after drawing THE TUNE." After a successful festival circuit, J. LYLE was released in theaters around the country. Like THE TUNE, J. LYLE was financed entirely by the animator himself.
Plympton’s second live-action feature, GUNS ON THE CLACKAMAS, a behind-the-scenes look at an imaginary disastrous Western, was shot in Oregon and New York. Plympton says the idea came from the 1937 movie "Saratoga", in which star Jean Harlow died during the filming and a stand-in was used to finish. "It was supposed to be a drama," says Plympton, "but it ended up being funny. Every time Harlow was in a scene, a box or something blocked the view."
In 1998, Bill completed another animated feature, titled "I MARRIED A STRANGE PERSON". It's a heartwarming story of a newlywed couple on their wedding night. Grant, the husband, starts experiencing strange, supernatural powers and Kerry, his wife, can't cope. Whenever Grant thinks of something, it becomes reality, yet he doesn't know where these magical powers come from. Once again Bill Plympton has single-handedly drawn and financed an animated feature extravaganza - only this time it's for adults and the unpolitically correct.
Bill's animated feature, "MUTANT ALIENS", the story of a stranded astronaut returning to Earth after 20 years in space, was completed in January 2001 and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It won Grand Prix in Annecy 2001 and was released in theatres in 2002.
Bill’s latest feature film, "HAIR HIGH", is a gothic '50s high-school comedy about a love-triangle that goes terribly bad, with two young, murdered teens returning to their prom to get revenge. Plympton is still charting new territory in animation, this time by broadcasting all of his drawing for the film live on the web at www.hairhigh.com.
Bill’s short film “GUARD DOG” has been a hit at film festivals and it brought Bill his second Oscar nomination in 2005.
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