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SDCC2008: Bill Plympton "Idiots and Angels" Screening Report

The Idiots and Angels screening took place on Thursday, July 24, 2008. Bill thanked the audience for their applause and told them he was very happy to be there to present some of his new work and a clip of satisfying length from his brand-new animated feature film. It opened in the Tribeca Film Festival and is currently doing the festival circuit. The first local San Diego screening will take place at the AFM Film Market. While Plympton’s group does not have a U.S. distribution deal yet, they are talking to two or three different groups.

Prior to the preview of Idiots and Angels, Plympton showed some of his recently completed work. He introduced and screened the short film “Hot Dog,” his follow-up to “Guard Dog” and “Guide Dog.” It’s now playing nationally with the Animation Show. Clips of the aforementioned shorts may be found in the Gallery section of Plympton’s site. He’s currently working on a new dog short called, “Horn Dog”, in which the dog falls in love.

Next, Plympton screened a video he animated for the band Parson Brown called Mexican Standoff, which had to be completed in a week. Due to the short time frame, it was completed as half live-action, half-animation. He was unhappy with the way the two blended together. With the completion of Idiots and Angels, Plympton had time to finish it. You can watch the original live-action/animation hybrid on the beta AWNtv.

For the last portion of the screening, Plympton played part of Idiots and Angels. He described the film as much darker than his other works and was, “what David Lynch would do if he did animation.” He continued, saying it was about “this ******* guy who wakes up one morning with wings on his back.” The character, Angel, doesn’t like the wings because they make him do good things. The other characters in the film are after his wings. The film has no dialogue and features music by Tom Waits and Pink Martini. The film is 78 minutes in length and was animated using colored pencils and on paper.

During the animation of the film, Plympton would listen to music appropriate mood. He happened to be listening to Tom Waits, because most of the film takes place in a bar. He called Jim Jarmusch, with whom Waits has worked with periodically throughout the years. Plympton asked him to watch the film and pass it along to Tom if he thought it was worthwhile. Waits not only watched and enjoyed it, he offered to allow the music to be used for scale. Plympton expressed his gratitude and praised Waits as an artist, in pursuit of interesting projects that worked with his music and not just monetary gain.

He also touched briefly on the use of Pink Martini’s music in the film. His brother, Peter Plympton, is the sound engineer for Pink Martini and joked that he had some sway there. Plympton also had worked with Thomas Lauderdale in 1996 on the live-action film, Guns on the Clackamas in 1995, where Lauderdale had a cameo appearance.

During the Q&A portion, one of the audience members asked him how the budget of his film compared to that of a Hollywood film. Bill told him his expenses were much lower because he all of the production himself, with his staff of six doing all of the post-production. Plympton had done some pre-sales for this film in France. This covered 30K, bringing his out-of-pocket expenses down to 120K.

A woman in the audience asked Plympton to talk about his process. In particular, she wanted him to discuss storyboarding in relation to his unique style of animation. Plympton told her he considers storyboarding the most important part of the process. He had the idea of Idiots and Angels three years prior in France, when a kid escorting him at a film festival asked him what his next project was and he came up with the idea off the top of his head. That night, he began jotting down ideas, concepts, story arcs. The storyboards for this project took him a year.

Plympton told the audience that a tight storyboard makes it much easier to make the film and described his as very precise. He places each page of the storyboard on his desk. He goes directly from the first drawing, on the first page and begins animating shot by shot. This film had about 900 or 950 shots. He works ten to twelve hours a day, sometimes seven days a week. He’ll draw up to 30 seconds of animation a day and the animation process takes about a year. He called it a passion and obsession.

Plympton told the audience he usually gives everyone a drawing after the screening, but couldn’t right then due to the end of the alloted screening time quickly approaching. In what was a rather gracious offer, he said he’d give exiting audience members a card with his booth number and let them know if they come visit him the next day he’d give them a free drawing.

Visit the Idiots & Angels official website for screening times and locations, as well as more information about the film.

(Return to Toon Zone’s San Diego Comic-Con 2008 Complete Coverage)

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