Saturday, November 26, 2011

Magic Decade

I don't think I'm unique in being fascinated by the time immediately before I was born. For me, that decade happens to be the fascinating and transformative 1960s, so that certainly doesn't hurt none. All my life, the 1960s have had a distinct pull for me from music to movies to history. Most importantly (on a personal level) it's when my parents met, married, and settled in Long Island where I was later born and raised.

Now my lifelong interest in that era has gone one step further in that I'm making a short documentary animated film about how my dad, Bob Levy, unexpectedly came to go to Cooper Union, graduating in 1961. Each day on this film connects me with that time, and with my family's history. It's an experience I'm relishing, and maybe that's why a film I wanted to be finished in a month is taking me four times that long.

Making personal films exploring family history, is allowing me to bridge gaps in my past and that of my ancestors. It's been said that you should write what you know, or do the research until you know what you write. As part of the research process, my dad and I turned his house upside down to find his artwork from the period so it can appear in the film at key moments. In one closet (as his three curious cats looked on) we stumbled upon some of his random creative and business projects from the early 1960s. There were original song lyrics (I had no idea he had tried to write songs), artifacts left over from a successful silkscreen printing business he co-owned and operated for two years, and a stack of cut-paper Christmas cards (images above and below) that he made but never got around to printing.

I thought it would be fun to share some of these designs here, especially with the holiday season just around the corner. Happy Holidays from one magic decade to another.

*all images © Robert S. Levy

Friday, November 18, 2011

PES by Numbers

PES, photo courtesy of

Currently based in L.A., the stop-motion animator/director PES first established his career in NYC where he became an important fixture of the local indie animation scene. PES represented a new type of indie animator, one whose creativity and ambition was matched by his savvy in self-promotion utilizing new media. Just as Bill Plympton broke ground by tapping into new markets such as MTV and tournées like Spike and Mike in the late 80s and early 90s, in the new century PES became the darling of viral videos that spread via e-mails, his website, and later on YouTube.

I miss the guy and his energy, so today I thought I’d share PES’s complete essay written in 2005 for use my first book. Enjoy!

“I shot my first film when I was 25. It was live-action and it was a short film, precisely 48 seconds long. It was more like a commercial than a traditional short film, with fast-paced editing and a surprise ending.

I spent 700 dollars on it and called in lots of post-production favors. I had to figure it out from the ground up. I wrote it, directed it, produced it, cast it, did the costumes, built models to create my own effects in-camera and I even borrowed a 16 mm camera to shoot it. My goal was to discover, in a relatively low risk scenario, whether or not I enjoyed the process of making a film enough to continue doing it.

At the time I was working in a large advertising agency in New York City. It was my first job after college. I was a “creative assistant,” in other words, a glorified secretary to an ad executive on the creative side. This means I had gotten m y foot in the door in a fun place to work, but that was about it. I was at the bottom of the totem pole. My days were spent doing menial tasks like booking flights and making popcorn in the reception area. Stuff you could do with your eyes closed. But at least I was getting paid, and I had lots of time to devote to developing some of my own ideas.

The advertising agency was great for many things, one of which was RESOURCES. There were people, machines, tape stock -- anything and everything you could think of -- tens of thousands of dollars worth of goods and services.

Another interesting thing about being in the advertising agency creative department was that I was surrounded by creative content from all over the world: commercials, short films, music videos, print advertisements and posters. I looked at everything in my spare time and was definitely influenced by it. I was drawn to the short storytelling format of comm ercials. A simple idea, you’re in and you’re out. Leave a viewer with a thought, make them laugh, but more than anything: get their attention. Show them something they’ll never forget. The big lesson I learned from advertising is that short can be powerful.

After I made my first film (the 48 second “Dogs of War”) I promoted it to advertising press sources. I slapped a logo on the end and called it a “spec commercial,” a term used in advertising to refer to commercials that were not commissioned but are useful in getting a director paying work within the industry. The press sources ate my film up, even though it wasn’t a commissioned job.

Calls from agents and commercial production companies looking for up-and-coming directors started coming in: What else do you have? And when can I see it? What’s your next project? Can you send me your reel? Unfortunately I had only those 48 seconds to my name.

The title card from "Whittlin' Wood," demonstrates how the filmmaker's signature design sense makes it to every aspect of his work.

I planned my next films. The second was another live-action short film shot in a desert that could also function as a “spec commercial”. I called this idea “Whittlin’ Wood.” The third film was a little idea about two chairs that have sex on a New York City rooftop. It was to be an animation with objects. Two life-size chairs would need to move inch-by-inch on a real rooftop. I knew immediately had to quit my job in order to make these films because I would need lots of time to shoot the second one, “Roof Sex.” On top of that I had to teach myself how to animate.

I took out 8 credit cards and quit my job. This was a scary leap, but necessary for me. It was the moment I placed all my faith in my own ideas and myself.

I learned more about filmmaking in that year than any time at school could have taught me. I thought very hard about all my shots, and about how the films would play out. I considered many options for every scenario, choosing the ones that made the most sense to me. Since I was spending the only money I had access to, I had to make absolute sure both these films were good. A dud was out of the question. I never really believed in learning by making mistakes. My feeling was, if you think hard enough through an idea, and if you have a genuine feel for the medium, you can avoid simple pitfalls that a less-prepared filmmaker might make.

One of the reasons I was drawn to start making films in a shorter format was that I felt I could have a better chance of making a great film all-around, with fewer compromises than I might have been forced to make on a larger film (given the financial constraints I was working with). So very early on I decided that for me a great 1-minute film was going to be 100 times more valuable than a mediocre 5-minute film. I believed in the inherent value of great short content, especially in an increasingly internet-savvy world.

At the time I also wanted to get up and ru nning as a commercial director so that I could make money to finance future personal projects. Commercials were always how I planned on making my bread and butter. It was where the big money was, and I knew that from the very beginning. But aside from money, I knew commercials would be great for experimenting with techniques and equipment, working with A level Hollywood cinematographers and art directors, getting valuable experience directing large crews. As an added bonus, if you were lucky (and talented) you even might make something that gets absorbed into the bloodstream of popular culture. Above all, I felt commercials and music videos were a logical entrée to getting larger projects such as a feature off the ground sometime down the road.

Check out this still from Roof Sex. Anyone can drag some furniture on a roof, but how many can compose a shot like this? PES's cinematography paints the city scape as if he designed the buildings himself.

How/why I started doing animation
Now I went back to the drawing table. At this point I will remind you that I had only done one animated film, this was not my “thing” yet. I had made Roof Sex ® because it was funny and I loved the idea of furniture porn, not because I wanted to make an animated film. I taught myself how to animate because I had a clear vision for this film and I didn’t want anyone else to fuck it up. I had to do it myself in order to be 100% certain it was exactly how I wanted it. However, the process of creating Roof Sex was so exciting for me that it was like opening up a chamber in my brain stuffed with hundreds of ideas about objects and now I wanted to make them all. Like Steinback said, ‘First you have one rabbit. Then you have a hundred.”

Only thing was, that credit card debt was eating all my money and I had literally nothing to make my new films with. This turns out to have been the next critical juncture for me: I would start making the cheapest of these ideas first. I called up the armies of household objects, small stuff: peanuts, seashells, binder clips, and other assorted ≥ household objects. The more films I could make the better. I pushed myself. In no time I began to create several films with animated objects, some as short as 10 seconds. I was just following some of my ideas, within the realm of what I could afford to make. All this work was very experimental; I was really just playing around. Stop-motion animation just happened to be the best method for this crop of ideas, not the only type of film I ever wanted to make. But I persisted.

The next important decision I made was to create a website where my films could have a home. Sarah my girlfriend was key in this process. She learned basic html and we put it up ourselves in a couple of weeks. I called it, and I offered my films up for free. The idea was to do something simple, focusing on the work.
On my website I posted my short animations along with Roof Sex. “Roof Sex” drew thousands of people to my site instantly, sin ce it already had a life of its own.
Furniture Fornication as art, in "Roof Sex."

Traffic on my site began to climb over the following months, completely by word of mouth. People came to the site looking for “Roof Sex” and discovered a body of work, lots of ideas and executions. Films I had made 2 years before were now seen in the context of everything else I had made. This is very valuable to people out there because you suddenly leap from being a one hit wonder in the public’s eyes to an artist with a particular style and distinct point of view. This “fingerprint” is really the most valuable asset you have. It’s what makes people want to work with you.

On Film Festivals
Annecy 2002 is when my life started to change. Roof Sex took a top prize for BEST FIRST FILM at Annecy. Overnight it became one of the most talked about films in the world. When we returned home to NYC the fax machine was flooded with papers and my first instinct was, what the hell happened here. But i t turned out to be licensing agreements for “Roof Sex”: TV channels all over the world had seen Roof Sex at Annecy and wanted to run it on TV. Better yet, they were offering to pay. I was dazzled by the requests – there was a genuine desire out there for short content. It confirmed everything I had been feeling when I first decided that short and memorable was the way to go.

On Promotion
If you have something new to say, it’s only half the job to make it: you have to get it out there. Otherwise, you don’t give it a chance to have an impact and you lose out on the opportunity to experience any benefit the film may bring you. Promotion is a very important part of the equation.

This weird thing happens when people get familiar with your work. They think they know you. They talk about you on a first name basis. For better or for worse, people start seeing you as a kind of brand: your taste, the ideas you make, the way you tell a story, the pacing you set. This is your fingerprint. People latch onto your name as a symbol that stands for the combined identity of all these things. “Have you heard of this guy PES?” “Oh he’s the guy who did that Nike thing…” or “Oh, the chair guy…” "That’s very PES," stuff like that. I believe it’s very important for artists to carve out their identities in the marketplace, really develop a distinct voice. When someone who's not involved in film knows about you, they want to see your next films. These are the people who enjoy your films for sheer entertainment value. When advertising, music video, television, and film people know about you, they enjoy your films but they also keep you in mind for future commissioned projects. Unless you have a trust fund an/ or are happy getting paid outside the industry, this is valuable turf for you. Do not underestimate the value here. It’s only a matter of time before they bite.

So, after a couple of rollercoaster years of making films and promoting them in both the film and advertising industries, I finally got my opportunity to direct legitimate commissioned work. And this is working out great for me. It’s exactly as I thought it would be. Some projects are great and others are just so-so. But they all help finance my personal projects, which I rely on for my own artistic satisfaction. I haven’t had any terrible experiences with commercials so far. They are collaborations, and sometimes the creative compromises you make along the way (the client technically owns the film) are a bit depressing, but at the end of the day it’s just a commercial."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Animondays Interview: Signe Baumane -part II

Above image from Signe Baumane's film, "The Gold of the Tigers."

Last week I presented part I of my interview with indie animator/director Signe Baumane. Today I'm pleased to share the 2nd and final installment in which Signe explains what sets indie animation apart from commercial animation, the difficulty she's had directing animators, and the painful (yet educational) act of sharing your work with an audience.

Notice how she honestly critiques her work in the answers below. I think that's an important thing to be able to do if one wants to grow as an artist. Not that one should act as their own reviewer, but not being satisfied with one's previous works, and understanding why, allows the artist to push forward and keep creating/exploring.

Without further ado, here's part II with Signe Baumane. Enjoy!

1-What part of directing animation gives you the most satisfaction?
Nothing, really, It is a lot of hard work, and I have no patience to see how drop by drop the bathtub gets full. I am not cut out for working in animation. I hate to work, but in animation all you get is work, work, work. Ironically, I am always in a rush to finish a film, because I want it finished yesterday, but once it's done, I immediately start a new film. Why? I think I should get my head examined.

Ok, there is one part of the process that makes it worthwhile––the excitement of conceiving the idea, having hopes that this is going to be the best project ever, living with my vision for months and months. Or years. But, inevitably, when it's done, it is a disappointment. It never is the best film ever. Maybe I work too fast? Maybe I don't invest enough time in thinking through minuscule details? But I can't. Working on something for too long kills me.

2-What methods have been the most effective in giving notes and feedback to your animators (assuming you do this)? And, what has not worked so well, and why?
I am not very good with working with animators. When I give them the task, we act the scene out, we play with it, have a great time and then the animator goes to work and when she comes back there is nothing left of what we acted out. The animators that I worked with always try to do some short cuts, give themselves slack and I dont know how to push them to work harder.

There were about 4 occasions in my experience of work with animators when an animator truly gave me her best. It was like flying, like sex. We experienced great unity, intimacy and feeling of conspiracy. Those were the cases when animators wanted to prove something, to me or to themselves or to a producer. Mainly, the animators I worked with, regard me either as a cash machine (they want me to accept the scene so that they get paid) or their adversary (because at times they don't believe in my vision and think my ideas suck). Then I feel very lonely, deserted, and can only trust that my concept will carry the story and I edit the shit out of the mediocre footage I got. Meaning, editing and timing the scenes is also part of the work of a director. Am I too hard on my animators? : )

It's all probably my fault...

3-Where did you learn your sense of timing, acting, staging, and storytelling that is so essential in directing animation?
I definitely was not born with it. I was very sloppy with timing, and ignorant, too. The day I watched my first film "The Witch and the Cow" with an audience, I was in pain, what a horrible film, what a torture to sit through those 2 minutes 40 seconds!

I decided to be better with my next film, but "Tiny Shoes" was too fast at times, too loaded with imagery for audience to understand everything I was trying to say. The next film "The Gold of the Tigers" was a directorial disaster, although I am still fond of the story. In short, constantly making a new film and watching it with an audience has been a great education for me.

But please note, I havent made a perfect film yet. It's surprising, because some people get it with their first film, but not me.
I have made about 14 or more short films and still am guessing how to do this right.

4- What has watching your films play to audience taught you, that you would not have discovered otherwise?
An audience can teach you a LOT. It's intuitive, visceral knowledge/learning that I can't quite describe.

It's not the laughs am going for, it's a reaction, "Veterinarian" sometimes got a very emotional reaction from an audience,
at times––indifferent, and at times––bored, restless. Even with such a different reaction I can see where I failed to communicate the emotion, the message, and where I've succeeded. The mistake that some of us, indie animators make, is
that we think if audience doesnt laugh they are bored. So, just like standup comedians, we work for laughs every 10 seconds
in fear of boring the audience.

But a laugh is only one kind of reaction and if you make them laugh every 10 seconds you might forget about building a character, making your story more meaningful, connecting with your audience in a different way. Not making them laugh every 10 seconds is taking a risk. With "Veterinarian" and "Birth" I took that risk, and YES it's painful for me to sit though those films with an audience, because I am never sure how they are going to react, they get very quiet sometimes and I am not sure if it is a good quiet or bad bored quiet. But each time I sit with the audience, I learn so much about filmmaking, my own filmmaking,
that I could never learn anywhere else. Education is painful.

The audience rules. Unlike some filmmakers who claim that the audience doesn't matter to them, I make films to connect with people (imagine you are telling a good story or a joke in an empty room, what's the purpose of that?).

Above images from "Birth," and "Veterinarian."

5-What advice do you have for someone just starting out in animation with ambitions to make their own indie animated films?
Low overhead is the key for a successful career as an independent artist, be that an animator or a painter. People who buy cars or houses or have demanding girlfriends (they demand diamonds, you know) or have expensive habits (like heroin, fancy restaurants, etc.) have a hard time staying independent. Be modest with your budget. On the other hand, dont be modest about your ambition, goals and dreams. Dream BIG. But preserve your resources.

6- What is your secret to sticking with an indie film through to completion?
Passion. The story I want to tell. Ambition. The need to have a project. The irritation of something hanging around not finished.

It is a kind of character I have. I see that other people have other kinds of character and they dont have a burning need to finish anything. It's not good or bad. It's just the way we are.

7-What indie animation blogs do you visit most often and why?
I don't, really. Cartoon Brew probably is the most visited site by me and that's once in 4 months. ASIFA-East site and blogs - once in 5 months. AWN - once in 6 months. I am just too busy, juggling work for money, sending my films to festivals, trying to work on my next project, seeing work of other people, replying to emails, staying informed about animation, politics, keeping up with my personal life and friends, I have to shower sometimes and eat, too.

I dont have time for Facebook, Twitter or other excitements, I am basically overwhelmed the moment I wake up and open my emails.

8-How do you develop an original voice as an indie animation director in a world where your influences are all around you?
I think, one must have to have bad memory. My memory is so bad, I cant remember anything, so when I create something, it's coming from inside of me rather than from something I've seen. I also never studied animation nor art, so I dont know how to do things correctly, by the book. That is a HUGE help in staying original.

Another thing -develop yourself as a person, find out who you really are and what interests you. That involves reading a lot of books (on philosophy and politics), and thinking about things that are around you, form an opinion about anything you see or observe. Originality comes from inside, it cant be taught in school, it takes developing yourself, working on your Eternal Soul.

9- What is it about the properties of animation that are unique to this medium and how should those be utilized when making an indie animated film?
Animation is a very condensed medium, you can tell a story in 1 minute that in live action would take an hour. Animation is a perfect medium for expressing abstract ideas, to play with meaning of words, cultural references, and many other things. Animation doesnt require a language (dialogue, voiceover) to communicate an idea or a story.

The way that TV or feature animation uses animation as a medium is a little bit realistic and dialogue driven. Indie animation, on the other hand, if it doesnt try to imitate TV or features, tends to use animation for what it is best at - expressing one's soul, unique artistic vision, abstract ideas, and pure fun of doing things that are not possible in live action.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Animondays Interview: Signe Baumane -part I

*above photo of Signe Baumane taken by Katz.

The longer I've known indie animation director/filmmaker Signe Baumane, the more I've admired, respected, and appreciated her both as an artist and a human being. She's genuinely interested in what others are doing, and always sincere and honest in her critiques.

When I met Signe in the late 1990s, she was working for Bill Plympton, supervising his ink & paint assistants. While that period was where she built her NYC indie-scene cred, in my opinion, she hit her stride later with the sensational and personal series of shorts under the title Teat Beat of Sex. This was Signe at her most confessional, direct, and uncensored, and I think it's some of the finest and most powerful animated filmmaking ever done. Today, the director is at work on an indie animated feature film, "Rocks in my Pocket," and she's documenting her journey in fascinating posts on her blog.

I interviewed Signe in 2009 (for use in my "Directing Animation" book), and her answers were among the most useful and insightful. I'm happy to feature the part I of the interview on today's post. Enjoy!
A drawing from Signe's feature-in-progress.

1-What skill sets go into directing animation for your own independent film?
For me the most important work of a director, be that a director of animated short, feature, live action etc. is organizing the time of the film, structuring the visual material with the help of timing. Is that a skill? I dont know. It might be a talent.

Quite often you see films that have great design, great concept, but something is missing, when you look closer, there is something wrong with the timing, it's either they give too much or too little time to visuals, usually too much,
and they forgot about pacing, it is too even. Change of pace is crucial.

The director is the one with the vision, and she/he has to carry this vision into the reality. You could say, a writer has a vision, too. But the writer doesnt struggle to bring the story out into reality in full, it does stay in her/his head and on the paper if she/he writes it.

In any case, as in indie animator, since I alone write, design, animate, direct my own films it took me a long time time to understand what directing really is. ASIFA-East judging nights really helped me: the independent films are judged by animation, writing/humor, directing, design, sound.

You have to really think which is what and how to judge it. I think it is a GREAT exercise, when I teach animation, I make my students to do the same thing.

2-How important is it to have worked in animation in other roles before being ready to direct?
No, not really. I mean, it doesnt hurt, but I think you dont need it. Although, lets say, if I was about to direct a feature film that 23 animators are going to animate in Flash and I don't know Flash (I am serious, I still don't know Flash and am proud of it) then, I personally, would drop any prejudices and learn Flash as soon as I can, so I would be able to communicate with my team.

In Latvia, where my  "Veterinarian" was animated by 8 animators, I would see some of the animators trace, for example, a hand moving across the screen, it looked like a  cut-out, so I confronted the animator, and she said, "No, I did not trace, I animated."

I said, "In that case, did you flip?"

Judging from the smooth, untouched paper edges, she did not flip.

She swore by her poor mother's health that she flips. What I was to say to that? I took the scene and animated the freaking hand myself during the night. Which is NOT a good example of what a director should do. It would have been so much better if I did not know how to animate and made the animator to do what I wanted her to do by persuasion or threats. I am too much of a wuss to push people around, that's why prefer to work on my own.

3- Who are your indie animation hereos and what has their work taught you?    
Well, Bill Plympton, of course. He gives us a great example of how an independent animator can be independent and successful.
We all think, I can do it too. But no, we can't. It's impossible to do what Bill does. We all have our different path. But in any case, Bill does set a Golden Standard for indie animators. He is the North Star, a guide in the night. A beam of a hope. An encouragement to jump out of window and try to fly (I have seen people so inspired by Bill that they did something equal to jumping out of a window).

When I met Bill in 1995, I had done 3 films in Latvia, on government grants, in a studio, where I had animators, painters, cameramen and a producer to pout at if something went wrong. Bills taught me that you can do it all yourself and he taught me not to pout when things go wrong.

4-Can you list some common mistakes and challenges that are faced by the first time indie animation director?
First, and the most important challenge of a first time filmmaker is that she or he cannot imagine how the movie in their head is going to come out into the reality and how the audience is going to understand the story. The fragile, fleeting images that you conceived, they look so crude and inept when drawn on paper or in computer. You have been waiting for so long, excited to draw what you had in mind but all of sudden you stop, disappointed and frustrated. You're right––the drawings are terrible, but please keep going, because only by confronting the reality and overcoming your limitations can you grow as an artist. You don't become an artist just by dreaming about it.

The first time filmmakers sometimes can't see what is most important and what is not and they get very stubborn about totally stupid things, like: "I am not going to change the design of the horse, because that's the horse I've drawn!" Unfortunately, the horse looks like a dog and is easily confused with this other dog in the film and it is essential for the punchline that we understand the difference between the horse and the dog.

Sometimes, first time filmmakers borrows from their teacher or people they admire. They try to imitate Bill Plympton or Simpsons or anime or what not. It is not going to get them very far. Because we already have Bill Plymton, Simpsons, anime and what not.

Develop your unique voice, find your own story.

Actually, I believe that a story has to come out of necessity, a need to tell it. There should be some intense fire it it for you to do it.

First time filmmakers sometimes conceive totally complicated stories and try to squeeze them in 3 minutes, and then everything happens so fast that an audience is lost and confused.

First time filmmakers sometimes try to tell one little punchline for 3 minutes, taking it so slow that those 3 minutes turn into 3 hours.

First time filmmakers sometimes create an absolute work of perfection, I have seen it again and again and again.

5-What are the ingredients of a good production pipeline, process, and schedule? And, what role does this have on an indie production where there are not necessicarily any rules?
I don't know what are the ingredients, unless it is a good organization when everybody knows their place and work that has to be done, and files are easy to access and oversee.

In indie production is the same thing: good organization even if you work alone or with 2 people.

6-In your indie films, in what areas have you sought out collaboration with other creative people and why?
I used to like to work with camera men although everybody hated them. I thought, they educated me on how things are done under camera. Now, of course, this knowledge is useless.

I love working with sound designers. I am a control freak and I think it is good to break up your instincts and inclinations a little bit, so my collaboration with a sound designer gets things out of my hands, I let it go and I like it. It always comes out well, too.

A composer is crucial for a project.

A producer, too. Without a producer my "Teat Beat of Sex" would have never had happened. Or maybe it would, but not all 15 episodes.

A still from a Teat Beat of Sex short.

7-Is there a secret to good communication with your collaborators?
Be nice, but remember what you want.

I actually don't know a secret to good communication with my collaborators. If they are nice, I am lucky. If they decide to push me around, or deliver bad stuff and claim its the best they can do, I cry and then I slip away in the night. I dont really have a good character for bossing people around or dealing with bullies. It destroys me, to do that.

But, a collaborator, just like  a dog, has to know who is the boss and you have to let her/him know this is your project and you are making the final decisions. Once, a sound designer aspired to direct my film that was already shot, he kept suggesting changes, funny, to his opinion, gags. I kept laughing it off but it didnt end well. We are not on speaking terms.

I am not on speaking terms with another collaborator, a co-director, the production part was all fun, we enjoyed each other's creativity it was wonderful ... till the festivals came and we had to share a spotlight. Then it turned out, there was only one director of the film according to my co-director, and it wasnt me.

Since that day I strongly advise not to co-direct anything with anybody unless it is your brother, sister or wife or husband.

8-What creative mistakes have you made as an indie director and what have they taught you?
Oh, endless mistakes! SO many I cant even count!!!!!! Each of my films is full of mistakes like a sick cat with flies. It is painful to sit through my films with an audience, but I make myself do that because that is the only way I can internalize what went wrong and why.

But big mistakes? Like choosing sex as one of the subjects? : )

NO, I dont regret that, but I advise my fellow indie filmmakers not to get carried away with the subject of sex. It only looks hot,
but causes major sufferings (no one wants my sex films, they are so hard to sell, even "Teat Beat of Sex" with the huge festival 
success, hasn't gotten a distributor).

9-How is technology changing today's indie animation process?
I love working with computers! I was probably the last one in the industry to shoot on film (I shot "Dentist" on 35 mm in 2005).
But once I went digital (although not completely, I still do drawings by hand on paper, I love that handmade look) I don't think I'll ever go back. Computers allow me to work with timing, color and many other things till I can't improve them anymore (at one point you have to stop working on a project even if it's not perfect, there is always another project to work on!).

I like that more and more people make animated films, (computers make it easy for everyone) because people who normally wouldnt know much about animation now are the experts! The animation field is growing, i think there are endless possibilities there!

Partners in Crime: Bill Plympton and Signe Baumane hawking their wares at MoCCA Fest. Photo by Liza Donnelly

10-Do indie animation directors get stereotyped as comedy or action or etc? And, if so, does that have a negative impact on one's industry career? And, what can be done about it?
Every time I show up at a festival for a Q&A people tell me that my work is just like Bill Plympton's. I always get upset, because it isn't. Bill doesnt do the kind of films I do. It turns out, Pat Smith gets the same reaction. And he gets upset, too.

Then, one day, I was talking to George Griffin and I told him how people think my work is just like Bill's, and George laughed and laughed and he said that he put his "Club" (his film where all the members of a club are penises) on Atom Films and a few comments he got were something like this: "Oh, this guy is just ripping off Bill Plympton!" or: "This is nothing new, looks just like Bill Plympton." In fact, "Club" was made in 1978 when Bill was not making animated films yet. Indie animation gets stereotyped as "Bill Plympton," because that is what audience knows is indie animation, because Bill is so well known like none of us will ever be.

So, is it a good or bad thing to be typecast as another Bill Plympton? I gave it a thought and came to conclusion, that it is a great thing, because it shows that Bill carved a niche for all of us.

As to indie animation getting stereotyped as comedy or artsy stuff––not sure if I ever felt that.

*Stay tuned for part II of this interview (coming next week, I promise)!