Bill Plympton & Winsor McCay

22 Mar

I attended an Animation Master Class last week featuring one of my favorite artists: legendary indie-animator Bill Plympton. It was hosted by the Pittsburgh Toonseum and Point Park University. I was swamped with work and it was the same day as the traffic-disrupting St. Patrick’s Day parade downtown but I am so glad that I dragged myself out of my slug-like mood and attended. I left with an inspired soul, a sore gut from laughing too much,  and a copy of Winsor McCay’s “The Flying House” on DVD.


I was introduced to Plympton’s work back when I was pretty young. His work was the most memorable of the disturbing, twisted shorts I used to be afraid of, yet absolutely mesmerized by, on MTV’s Liquid Television.  I also urge you to check out his Oscar-nominated short film, “Your Face.”


Bill had some great quotes that were especially meaningful to me (and I’m doing the best I can to remember his exact words here…):

“Why would I pay someone else to help me to finish my animations faster? It’s what I love to do, why spend money to take that joy away from me?”

“It’s great to have heroes that inspire you… but make sure they aren’t wrong heroes that you are looking up to.”

“Make your work SHORT, FUNNY and CHEAP. Those are my three rules of a successful film.”

“When I see that a short film at a screening is 20 minutes long, I already hate it. I don’t want to risk wasting 20 minutes watching something that could be crap. If it’s 5 minutes long, then that’s perfect, I can sit through 5 minutes of crap.”

“If you want to make an experimental film about your personal struggles, that’s fine, but no one will buy it. Comedy is much, much easier to sell. If you can make an experimental film about your personal struggles that’s ALSO funny? Then you have something.”

Another important thing I took away from the class was a new appreciation of  Winsor McCay, one of Plympton’s heroes whom he talked about at length during the class. McCay is perhaps most popular for “Little Nemo,” a weekly comic strip published in the early 1900s. He’s also one of the very first animators and his 1914 short “Gertie the Dinosaur” preceded any character animation that Disney or Fleischer did. Plympton showed us his restoration project of one of McCay’s animated films, “The Flying House.” Originally a black & white silent film, the work was restored, colorized and supplied with voiceover, music and sound effects by Plympton and his team thanks to Kickstarter. The result is a beautiful and funny masterpiece able to be experienced in a new way. If you’re interested, you can buy the DVD here.




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