Indie animation king Bill Plympton and underground cartoonist Jim Lujan discuss their new feature collaboration coming in 2016.
A number of years ago at a Rush concert, bassist Geddy Lee introduced a song by joking, “This is a new tune from our 4,000th album.” Bill Plympton, truly the king of independent animation, like the veteran Canadian rock band, is nothing if not prolific. Bill has been cranking out animated commercials, shorts, features, comic books and all sorts of related merchandise it seems since the days of silent film. A restless artist with numerous projects always simmering away on various hotplates within his fertile mind and cluttered New York studio, Bill is first and foremost, a lover of animation, always working “fast and furious” in relentless pursuit of pleasing his fans, new and old, with yet another funny and provocative film to watch.
Enter underground cartoonist and animator Jim Lujan, himself an independent artist known for a gritty, character-driven narrative style. A chance meeting with Plympton some years back has now led to their collaboration on a new animated feature, Revengeance. A Kickstarter campaign has just been launched in support of the film, set for release mid-year 2016. Plympton’s eighth feature comes on the heels of the release of his most recent film, Cheatin’, now showing on Vimeo and in selected theatres around the U.S. Plympton’s successful Kickstarter campaign for Cheatin’ bodes well for the current project’s future – in just a few days, the campaign has raised more than one-third of its $80K target.
I recently had a chance to talk to the pair about their new film and the dynamic they enjoy working together. They spoke about their working relationship, the value each receives from this new creative partnership, and what audiences can expect to see when the film is released next year.
Dan Sarto: Bill, tell me about the new project. Imagine…you’re making another feature!
Bill Plympton: Well, we’re about a third of the way through a new film Jim and I are doing together. It’s called Revengeance. The storyboard is about 240 pages. I’m on about page 80 right now. It’s being colored as I draw it. Once we finish the latest Cheatin’ release, I’ll be working on this 100%. We’ll finish this next year in 2016.
I’ve known Jim for five or six years now, from when I was doing publicity for Idiots and Angels. He came to interview me at my hotel in Burbank. He told me he was an animator and he handed me some of his DVDs. I get handed a lot of DVDs and can’t always look at everything I get. I saw him again after several years in San Diego [at Comic-Con]. Jim, you can contradict me here at any time. After so many drinks and so much drugs my memory isn’t the best [laughs]. He had a booth which was close to mine and we hung out. Then one rainy afternoon in New York, I saw was of his DVDs at the studio and I put it on. It just blew me away.
First of all, his storytelling is so good. The character designs and personalities are so unique. It looks like he reached into my brain and grabbed these characters. They’re so Plympton-esque. Actually, they’re more Jim Lujan-esque. He’s an all-LA guy. His designs, his voices, they’re really refreshing. They’re something I’ve never seen before.
I called him up the next day and said, “Hey Jim, let’s do a project together. You write the script, design the characters, do the voices and I’ll animate the film.” He said, “Yeah!” and we’ve been going great guns ever since.
DS: Bill, for the most part, you’ve always worked off your own story ideas, though you did collaborate with Dan O’Shannon on The Fan and the Flower. What is it that you’re looking for in this collaboration? What is different for you on a collaborative project like this?
BP: I’ll be honest with you. The reviews I get from my films, they rarely say I did a genius script. For me, this is a kind of vacation from having to write the script.
Jim Lujan: And I feel the same way about having someone else animate.
BP: Jim wrote the script and I marvel at it. All the characters fit into the puzzle. They all have a part to play. I could never do that. I never learned how to meet that challenge. That’s what really engaged me first off. The script was so engrossing and the characters so engaging. I don’t have to worry about plotting and editing. It’s all taken care of. On this film, I just have to animate the characters, which I was born to do.
DS: Bill, I’ve always felt your strengths as an animator would be accentuated through collaboration. Jim, what are you looking for from this project with Bill?
JL: As a fan, I always thought if Bill collaborated with other artists, it would be an amazing thing. I just never realized I’d be the artist he’d be collaborating with. So far, collaborating with Bill is like playing street ball with Michael Jordan. The storyboards he sends back, the scenes he sends back, they’re mind-blowing. I send him some designs for a scene and he sends back his spin on it and it completely blows my mind.
What I’m really hoping with this collaboration is to bring out what people love about Bill Plympton with a new spin. If you’re a Plympton fan, this will be Plympton-concentrate but with an added ingredient.
DS: How is the back and forth going between the two of you as you dig into animating Jim’s story, characters and designs?
BP: When he first sent me the script, I got real excited about doing the storyboards. I found some places where I thought it would be funny if we did this or that instead, places where I thought it would be funny to add a bit of different dialogue. I went over them one night with Jim and he shot them all down. He didn’t like any of my ideas.
JL: [laughs] I think we kept some of them.
BP: But that’s OK. Because he’s a genius and I’m not going to mess with that. I’m not going to screw up his characters [laughs].
JL: We modified them. That’s what we did.
DS: Right. They weren’t summarily rejected. They were modified.
BP: His characters are very Jim Lujan-drawn, very crude and kind of naïve. I figured I’d fix them up a bit, make the hands smaller, the heads smaller, make them look more adult. I started doing that and I realized, “Ah man, these are terrible.” My drawings couldn’t match the power and the caricature of Jim’s work. I realized I had to toss those out the window and work directly from his designs much more closely.
JL: When Bill draws women, they look really pretty. When I draw women, they tend to look a little bit like transvestites.
BP: No, no, no. They look like hookers. And I like that. I like the sleazy side of your women.
JL: Right. Classy hookers.
DS: Jim, your work is certainly no less adult in orientation than Bill’s. One of the issues Bill always bemoans is that his features can’t get wider release and subject matter is always cited as one reason. What are you plans for this film?
JL: Most importantly, I hope to have a film I can honestly say is extremely interesting to me as a fan and as a viewer. By osmosis, I hope that it’s accessible to a wider audience. It’s not too dark to scare off people, but it’s dark enough to attract them. I think this is a film people can grab onto and take a really, really weird ride. But it’s a fun ride.
DS: So walk me through the genesis of this biker revenge dark comedy. What’s the genesis of the story? What can we expect from this film?
JL: When Bill called me and asked if I wanted to collaborate on a film, I immediately said, “Yes, yes, yes!” Then I thought, “Well, what do I have to offer Bill?” So I asked him what cartoons of mine were his favorites – what stood out? In particular he mentioned Hard Crumbler and Rod Rosse the One Man Posse. I said, “OK, there you have it. I’ll start in that world.” I took elements from both of those – the biker gang, Rod Rosse – and I built a story around them. I wanted to keep the story, at the root, very simple. It’s a revenge story. But I wanted to make a gumbo of interesting ideas, characters and settings. Something that’s interesting to watch.
Basically, the story is about a girl out for revenge against this powerful senator ex-wrestler ex-biker and the biker gang that protects him. A low rent bounty hunter is hired to capture this girl and retrieve the item she stole. That’s the pitch right there.
DS: How would you describe your storytelling style and why is it such a good fit with Bill?
JL: My style is very atmospheric and very character driven. Within a few seconds of people watching my films, they can tell the mood, they can tell the feel that I’m going for. It’s very exaggerated everyday life with a little sense of danger, a little sense of crime maybe. I like to tell stories that take the viewer on a ride and drop them off in a place where they’re at a loss and afraid for their life. But in a fun way.
I can really identify with Bill and his vision for film. Both of us are hands-on, independent filmmakers that for the most part do most of the work ourselves. When you’re in charge of everything, you control the world. Ultimately, it’s nice to be in charge of your own destiny. And ultimately, that’s what blows me away about Bill wanting to collaborate because it means giving up some of that control.
We joke that I’ve made edits or sent back some of his ideas. I would never actually do that. I’m not that ballsy. But I’m always 100% honest with Bill, like if I feel he’s watered down a joke a bit. This collaboration has been way smoother and more seamless than I ever could have hoped it would be.
I get excited when he sends things back and he gets excited when I send things over to him. So it’s a mutual admiration society.
DS: I can appreciate how you must enjoy having your creative vision turned into something cool by an animator like Bill Plympton.
JL: We surprise each other constantly in a good way. It hasn’t really sunk in that I’m working with Bill Plympton. I step back and am amazed that, “Hey, I’m working with Bill Plympton!” But the bottom line is that I really, really want to make a good movie. That’s what everything boils down to. At the end of the day, it’s got to be a really good movie. We’re a third of the way in and so far, it’s been super, super smooth. We definitely bring the best out in each other.
For more info on Revengeance you can visit: http://www.revengeancemovie.com.
For more info on Bill Plympton you can visit: http://www.plymptoons.com.
Follow Bill Plympton on Twitter: @Plymptoons
For more on Jim Lujan you can visit: http://www.Jimlujan.com
You can find some of Jim Lujan’s work at: http://www.YouTube.com/JimLujan
Follow Jim Lujan on Twitter: @jimlujan
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.
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