Friday, January 8, 2010

Notes from Bill Plymton

Note: These are not mine, I found them at if you want to look at them in their original form. Thanks to whoever posted them.

-Most, if not all, of the 2D animations we looked at lacked shadows or significant shading. This is the quickest way to give your characters depth and weight (volume or "heaviness"). He cited "Spirited Away" as a good example of this; many of the characters had at least 3 tones of color depth. On some characters it went up to 5 or 6.

-Make sure there is contrast in the picture between your characters and the background; you don't want your character to blend in when they're stationary (unless they're a chameleon or a ninja). Contrast using motion, color, saturation, or other elements that differ from the rest of the scene are going to be what catches your viewer's eye first.

-Vice-versa of the last point: Make sure things that you don't want the viewer to fixate on aren't begging for attention. For example, in one clip that we saw, there were two characters dancing in a restaurant. Everything in the background was very desaturated and cool-colored except for a bright yellow trumpet. All the audience could look at was the trumpet, not the characters. This is an important point of composition and it happens to the best of us; make sure that the overall picture is readable and pleasing.

-Even if you aren't making a "cartoon" per se, your designs need to be attactive, dynamic, and eye-catching. Caricature important expressive features of your character; if your character emotes mostly through wiggling his ears, you may want to make his ears a little larger than normal to make the emoting more visible to the audience.

-The more you draw a character in motion, the more refined at suited to motion it will become. If there are inherit anatomy or design flaws to the character, they will become apparent. Bill Plympton recommended making AT LEAST 100 sketches of a character before animating with it.

-If you use extreme caricature in your design, make sure that the important symbols (eyes, ears, nose, arms, tail, etc) are still recognizable.

-Use the power of framing and cutting between shots; if two characters are talking to each other, cut between them to provide focus for the viewer's eye.

-Bill Plympton spends his first hour awake each morning thinking about the continuity, extreme poses, and composition for the animation that he plans on doing that day, and he doesn't sit to animate until he has done this thinking. In other words, THINKING TIME IS PRODUCTIVE TIME (just don't procrastinate)!

-Lastly, expose your work periodically to other artists or people you trust. They might be able to catch any glaring flaws before they get too far into development. It's easy to be blind to your own mistakes.

Next Bill Plympton gave an over-all lecture on how to succeed as an independent animator. Remember, this is principally advice for if you plan on becoming INDEPENDENT, although it can also help if you want a better chance at being directly hired into big-name studios:

-Look for any sort of work that will put money in the bank so you can set aside time for animating later, learn technology, make connections with people in the biz, build a portfolio. These are the basics to making it solo.

-Plympton's rules for independent success:
1. Make it short: 5 minutes or under.
2. Make it cheap. Use cheap found voice talent, use music by the local band, use donated equipment, don't be above handouts. DO NOT GET DRAGGED INTO PAYING ROYALTIES UNLESS YOU HAVE MONEY TO SPARE! Be respectful of using other people's work.
3. Make it funny.

-You can break ALL of the above rules and still be a success, but it might come at a cost. "Ryan," who won the Oscars, lost LOTS of money making their film.

-Do NOT send your unsolicited material to any studios! It sits in huge piles by the office door and never gets watched. If you DO want to get noticed, enter into film festivals.

-Bill Plympton's list-o-festivals (IOW, big names hang out here):
1. Student Oscars (They don't get many entries, hence less competition).
2. Annecy (Good, responsive audience).
3. Sundance (Popular; good publicity).
4. Cannes (They don't take a lot of animation, but what animation they do take REALLY gets noticed).
5. Others: Ottowa, Zagreb, Hiroshima, Utrecht, Cleremond-ferrand, Newport RI, Florida Orlando, Woodstock, etc.

-If you do make it into a film festival and someone makes you an offer for your material, DO NOT settle on a deal right away. Talk to their past clientele and beware of long-term exclusive contracts. Negotiate with them so that they must exhibit your work at least once every six months to a year or they lose their contract with you. If they are legitimate, they should do this with you.

-If you are marketing your film on the web, build a website for it, market it on forums where you can, and build a fan base. If you become popular enough, you'll get offers. Make sure you copyright EVERYTHING that is yours, since theft is so easy on the internet. Write "COPYRIGHT (year) (full name)" at the bottom of every website page and at the end of every film.

-Avoid dialogue where possible. This makes your films more marketable in foreign territories, and you don't have to spend time dub/subbing your work into 20+ languages to make you competitive at festivals.

-For more films festivals, check out ""

-Remember that animators, like many artists, can be quite marketable in lots of fields if you decide to be flexible. You can animate for commericals, educational aids, films, games, tv -- anything that moves in media was done by someone, and you can do it too. If you have an overlapping talent, such as illustration in Bill Plympton's case, you can market that skill if the animation field goes flat for a while.


chluaid said...

The post you quoted was made on the old Brackenwood board, which is a community built around the Brackenwood series on my site. The Brackenwood forum has since moved to if you're interested in checking it out or talking more with the poster of that thread.


Frank said...

Lastly, expose your work periodically to other artists or people you trust. They might be able to catch any glaring flaws before they get too far into development. It's easy to be blind to your own mistakes.

I bet you found that comment a highlight Cassie?

This enthuses me to make more posts on the ARC about notes I took at Gobelins.

Thanks for finding and re-posting these excellent bunch of notes. I'll go and check out the original link. And it must be nice to see that Adam drops by your blog when you mention Brackenwood.

Frank said...

Thanks Adam, if you surf past again. I went to the link you mention and the Tutorials and resources forum looks like it has some interesting things to research, including the Plympton notes.

Thanks Cassie.

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