December 26, 2013 posted by

In His Own Words: Bill Plympton on Disney

bill-plympton-korkisBill Plympton was born in Portland, Oregon on April 30, 1946. Plympton is considered the first animator to draw every frame for an animated feature film by himself.

All his life, Plympton has been fascinated by animation. He has created dozens of animated shorts including the Oscar nominated Your Face in 1987 and several animated feature films including Idiots and Angels.

His cartoons and illustrations have been published in several newspapers and magazines including Vogue, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Penthouse, National Lampoon and the New York Times.

On June 19, 1997 he visited the Disney Institute in Florida and spent time with the Animation Team. I was an animation instructor at the Disney Institute and got to spend some time with Plympton. The following are some Disney related excerpts from that much longer conversation.

wolf-redJim Korkis: How did you get interested in animation?

Bill Plympton: Even though I started as a cartoonist, it was always animation that fascinated me. The movement of it all just captured my attention. I hate the Hanna-Barbera work. I am a big fan of Tex Avery and Bob Clampett because of the wildness of their animation.

JK: Did you ever have any interest in Disney animation?

BP: When I was fourteen, I sent Disney some of my cartoons and offered up my services as an animator. They wrote back and told me that while my drawings showed promise, I was too young to be hired and to keep drawing.

JK: And did you keep drawing?

BP: My mom used to bring home meat from the butcher store when I was a kid and when she unwrapped the butcher paper, she gave it to me to draw on. Sometimes the paper had blood on it so I just incorporated it into my drawing. Maybe that’s one of the reasons some of my cartoons today feature so much violence. (laughs).

art-of-animationJK: What was your early animation training?

BP: As a kid, I went to Disneyland back in the days when you had to buy separate tickets to ride the rides. I saw a book on animation (“The Art of Animation” by Bob Thomas) and I just had to have it. My mom tried to tell me that the book was so expensive that if I got the book, I wouldn’t be able to have tickets for the rides but I didn’t care. Even then I knew I wanted to be an animator and I got the book.

JK: Did you ever re-submit your cartoons to Disney?

BP: Several years ago, Disney did approach me with a very lucrative offer and wanted me to sign up. I took one look at the contract and was appalled. Have you read it? They own every doodle, every thought, every funny anecdote. And they could have put me on anything. I could have ended up doing “Duck Tales”. I just couldn’t sign. I couldn’t.

JK: Did you ever figure out why Disney wanted you?

BP: Later, I was told that Disney wanted me for the film Aladdin, specifically for the character of the Genie because of my experience and skill in doing metamorphosis in animation.

JK: Do you have a favorite Disney animated character?

BP: My favorite Disney animated character is Goofy. No, I can not draw a good Goofy. You want to know who can draw a great Goofy? Caricaturist David Levine. He told me it was one of the goals in his life. One time I saw him drunk and he took a pen and drew a Goofy and it was perfect. My film “How to Make Love To a Woman” (1995) is inspired by the old Goofy “How To….” shorts. I love those.

JK: Do you have a favorite Disney animator?

aristo-200BP: I consider Preston Blair and Milt Kahl to be the two best animators in the entire world. I got a chance to meet Blair who had a stack of drawings from “Red Hot Riding Hood” and I just drooled all over them. I was devastated to find out that Blair was interested in writing computer programs rather than being passionate about animation.

I love the Disney animated feature The Aristocats because it features Milt Kahl drawing Madame BonFamille, the owner of the cats, and since the artwork was Xeroxed onto cels, I can occasionally see some of the constructions lines and such and it just made the animation more vibrant and real.

JK: Thank you, Bill.


  • That contract was dangled before Bill Plympton in the 1990s. Probably the wisest move of his career was in not signing it, as he well realizes. Hiring Plympton to work on the Aladdin Genie metamorphosis moments would have been akin to Disney’s actual hiring of Oskar Fischinger as a visual consultant for “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” for “Fantasia.” In other words, not really the best of creative fits for either party. And it probably would have robbed Plympton of the time to produce, direct and animate at least one of his personal features.

  • I’ve heard about Disney’s contracts from college and thought it was ridiculous how they own everything you do, even if you make stuff on non-work hours.

  • All you need to do if certain provisions of a contract bother you, is to strike through the offending clauses and then sign it. Another technique is to re-word some of the restrictive rights clauses to keep DisneyCo’s or other Co’s corporate talons off your personal work. Usually they just accept the contract with the revisions, in my experience. There is no reason to just knuckle under to all the Corporate demands, some of them are DESIGNED to be re-written!

    • Damn you’re smart, Mark!

    • Yes and I’ve read contracts that stipulate said contract cannot be edited and to be signed as-is (if it’s to be signed at all).

  • Plympton is considered the first animator to draw every frame for an animated feature film by himself.

    What about Charles Swenson and “Dirty Duck'”?

  • Chuck Swenson had some help on the animation for “Cheap”, as “Dirty Duck” was originally titled. He provided all the key drawings, layouts and storyboards, but had help with the assistant work, inbetweens and cels.

    • I figured so.

  • I thought Winsor McCay animated ‘Gertie’ all by his lonesome.

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