October 18, 1998
critical mass|film fests
He Blows 'Em Up Real Good
An interview with Bill Plympton.
Most familiar to a wide audience from his regular airings on MTV, Plympton has become known for his jerky, hand-drawn style, the kinetic jumpiness of his scratchy pencil coloring further energizing an already tense atmosphere. With Strange Person, though, Plympton changed his working method for the first time in over a decade, working extensively with assistants for the first time. While he kept the drawing, or as he calls it, "the fun part," to himself, he turned over coloring chores to assistants who would photocopy Plympton's drawings onto acetate cels and then add painted color. While the style is still recognizably Plympton's, the new method produces a final product that seems more finished, slicker, perhaps even a little less Plymptonian.
While Plympton admits he may have sacrificed a bit of distinctiveness, he says working this way allowed him to spend a lot more time drawingand allowed him to animate the whole picture in less than a year. "The exciting part," he says, "is making these people come alivewatching them move and talk and have their heads blow up and their bodies eviscerate. The coloring was more of a mechanical process. It was a major relief to be free of it this time."
Although most animators cast according to voice, Plympton took the unusual step of auditioning actors for Strange Person based on their physical resemblance to the way he wanted the characters to look. Mainly, this was so Plympton could take advantage of videotape to help devise approaches to a scene. "I videotaped the actors doing what I thought were really difficult scenes to animate," he explains, including a particularly acrobatic sex act. "Then about halfway through the film I found I knew the characters so well I didn't have to review the tapes anymore."
Given Plympton's fondness for beating up, disemboweling and otherwise mutilating his characters, it might not seem that realism is at the head of his aesthetic checklist, but he says that even when drawing the human body in the midst of being blown to bits, he tries to impart some sense of reality. "I have a bunch of reference books I use to make sure that the guts are coming out in the right orderit's funnier if you make it seem like someone's actually being ripped apart. Besides, sometimes those books give me ideas. I just keep finding new organs."