Legendary Animator Bill Plympton Visits Full Sail

The Academy Award nominee discussed his creative process and sketched his original characters.

A sketch of American Animator Bill Plympton, drawn and signed by Bill, sits next to the text, “Bill Plympton: Presentation, Q&A Session, and Live Drawing Session.

American animator and Academy Award nominee Bill Plympton recently visited Full Sail to share insights into his creative process and talk about his new, animated feature film Slide. Plympton fell in love with animation as a child watching the works of American cartoonist Charles Addams, creator of The Addams Family, and Walt Disney Animation. He dreamed of working for Disney one day and grew up to pursue animation as a career, despite the warnings from his blue-collar family.

However, when Plympton entered the scene in the late 1980s, he was told by numerous people that the field of animation was dead. He applied to work for Disney, but they turned him away for being too young. “‘Come back in 20 years,’” he recalled them saying.

But Plympton continued to chase his dreams despite the doubts, always sketching and always looking for the next opportunity. Then, in 1987, he took all the sketches he had been working on in his own time and created a three-minute short film entitled Your Face, which went on to land him an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Short Film.

Since then, he has received several awards, such as the Prix Spécial du Jury at the Cannes Film Festival, and another nomination for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film with his 2004 short film Guard Dog. His work has also been featured in The New York Times, on the History Channel, and even in a Kanye West music video.

Plympton has treasured being an independent animator, working on each project with a very small team and enjoying the peace of sketching his own ideas on his own terms. He recalled to students how he is constantly drawing in his free time on any paper he can find, sometimes on the back of mail or scraps of printed paper lying around the house. He explains, “Not having the pressure to be something great, something brilliant, it just relieves me to be drawing.”

Following his success, Plympton says that Walt Disney Animation Studios actually approached him with a $1 million offer of representation, flying a lawyer all the way out to Bill’s apartment in New York to close the deal.

“Holy cow!” he recalled thinking. “My childhood dream, plus a million bucks!”

He was initially excited about the prospect, but when it was revealed that Disney would own a portion of all of Plympton’s work from there on out, he realized the love for his independence superseded his need for wealth or acclaim. If he signed the deal, Disney would have a say in all of his creative decisions, he told students, so, ultimately, he turned the deal down and sent the lawyer on his way.

“[I love] when I wake up in the morning, and I go to my drawing board and start drawing and there’s no one looking over my shoulder and saying, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ To me, drawing what I want is worth more than a million bucks.”

Throughout his speech, Plympton drew and signed sketches of several of his original characters and said that he would be donating them to the university. Afterwards, he gathered all of the students in attendance and invited them down to received signed autographs and sketches of one of his original characters, which he drew and signed for them in real time.