<em>American: The Bill Hicks Story</em> <em>American: The Bill Hicks Story</em>
Feature Film

American: The Bill Hicks Story

The trailer for a feature-length documentary about the late, great American comedian Bill Hicks. The film, which makes generous use of animation techniques, had its North American premiere a couple days ago at SXSW.

  • I don’t see any animation, so much as fancy motion graphics, but as a Bill Hicks fan I’m glad to have attention brought to this anyway.

  • Jamil Lahham

    Holy crap YES….about time. I wonder if they’re doing a film about Carlin too

  • secret goldfish

    Oh man here we go again with the animation argument.

    Of course it all depends on what your definition of animations is, here are a few I found that I consider pretty accurate.

    “the technique of filming a sequence of drawings or positions of models to create an illusion of movement” Oxford dictionary

    “The technique of making inanimate objects or drawings appear to move” Wiktionary

    “Animation is the rapid display of a sequence of images of 2-D or 3-D artwork or model positions in order to create an illusion of movement” Wikipedia

    “the technique of filming successive drawings or positions of puppets or models to create an illusion of movement when the movie is shown as a sequence” Oxford American Dictionaries.

    Personally I consider motion graphics as animation, but I might be biased as that is how I primarily make a living. ‘Animation’ is also what I tell the government and the tax office I do for a living and I’d hate to feel like I was lying to my elected overlords.

    Going back to Amid’s post the other day ‘The Disappearing Cartoon’, I think that the ‘what is animation’ argument appears so often on this site simply because the blog is called ‘cartoon brew’ and the word ‘cartoon’ is most associated with hand drawn cel based animation.
    While the Cartoon Brew folks publish a heap of content relating to traditional cel based animation, they also post a heap of articles relating to animation art of all shapes,sizes,styles and kinds so I’d hate to limit my personal definition of animation to just the traditional ‘cartoon’ style, as great and as influential it is/was to me.

    I imagine that I am like a lot of people here who grew up loving, admiring and being inspired to do what I do today by watching traditional animation. Unfortunately, less and less of the sort of animation we grew up loving is being produced today.
    You can choose to sit there in self pity lamenting the loss of an art form and consider everything else as inferior and not worthy or you can choose to celebrate it, learn from it and appreciate that it is an important part of how we got to where we are today. Why not embrace all forms of animation that exist simply to allow you more varied, different and interesting potential ways to tell a story.

    I feel like the argument against modern animation tools, styles and the ‘what is animation’ argument is probably very similar to the similar argument that occurred over a century ago in the painting world with the advent of modern art/photography and the traditionalists who opposed it.
    In the end modern art didn’t destroy or take anything away from traditional art, it simply opened up a whole new set of possibilities.

    Would people consider classic Terry Gilliam animation as ‘motion graphics’ today? After all, they often served as title cards and openers to live action sequences much like modern motion graphics do today. I often think of Terry Gilliam when I am working with tools like After Effects and imagine how envious he’d be of the tools that the new generation have available to them.
    I’m still not convinced that Terry wasn’t in fact the secret creator of After Effects or at the very least a Terry Gilliam fan wasn’t behind its creation.

    Back to the trailer, unfortunately Bill is dead, there is not a large amount of video available and still photos probably wouldn’t have made a very exciting celebration of him unless you wanted to go the sombre route and take the slow moving Ken Burns approach.
    Bill Hicks was a smart guy with a whole lot of foresight whose mind could quickly and cleverly cut through the crap and see the world with a whole lot of honesty, while he’d most likely not like a lot of the new generic animation, I don’t think he’d outright condemn it as not being ‘animation’

  • J. Champlain

    Secret goldfish, moving things around on screen is not animation, it’s simply the mechanics of it. Motion graphics might look nice and everything, but there’s no life in it. That’s what animation is all about. It’s about giving life to your work.

  • Kate

    I’m delighted to see Bill getting more recognition for his incredible work. The first animation I ever did was set to his “Pussy Whipped Satan” routine. And his casual “I am also available for children’s parties” after a five minute, foaming at the mouth rant still makes me howl.

  • Kate, did you upload that to YouTube or anything?

    Bill Hicks on the Brew? I love when two of my favorite things somehow collide.

  • Animation, motion graphics or anything else, if it’s Hicks-related, I’m interested.

  • richard fox

    until i saw this post! I am going to
    enjoy discovering him.

  • Brian Kidd

    To anyone who thinks this can’t be considered animation, I direct their attention to the previous post featuring the tribute to Joe Ranft. It doesn’t take 24fps to bring life to drawings.

  • Matt Sullivan

    I loved Bill Hicks. Poor jaded guy. See what Hollywood did to him.

  • secret goldfish

    J. Champlain, Just the other day I was pointed by a friend to a site hosting the end title sequence for the Lemony Snicket film. You might say the whole thing was just ‘moving things around on screen’ but it had a whole lot of life and character to me, as does Terry Gilliams ‘moving things around on screen’ technique and a whole heap of other similar animation styles I see everyday.

    Certain instances of characters may need 24fps to be bought to ‘life’ but others can be infused with a whole lot of life by something as simple as moving their eyeballs at a certain time, in a certain direction with a subtle camera movement and to the right sound cue.

    I always get a big laugh when I see really funny, well timed very simple character animation that hits the mark so well with so little but with such simple brilliance. It is in complete contrast and can work so much better than something like ‘Avatar’ which despite all of its technical and artistic brilliance, subtle nuances, attention to detail and addition of lifelike animation techniques in many situations left me completely cold because of a story which I don’t imagine any amount of tweaking of keyframes or animating by hand could have improved.

    Despite any shortcomings Avatar may have had, there was still so much technical, artistic and animation talent to admire that I certainly wouldn’t be so bold as to completely dismiss it or somehow claim it wasn’t worthy of being called animation either.

    The dilemma of having so many different tools and styles like motion graphics, visual fx, CGI, stop motion, traditional animations etc etc is that individuals, like with anything in this world, tend to think that one way is the best, or somehow the only worthy definition of a word.

    Funny thing is that I have worked now in many of the different animation fields and I find myself using and see others using the exact same skills and thought processes for whatever you want to call the technique.

    The people I most often hear telling me what and what isn’t animation almost always have something in common, they don’t actually animate themselves.

  • messy

    Who the heck is Bill Hicks? I”ve been following comedy for years and I never heard of him.

  • The greatest comedian who ever lived messy. There was no one like him.

  • Mike Johnson

    Bill Hicks has been my favorite comedian/prophet/teacher for almost 15 years now. I have turned many friends on to Bill and they remain blown away by his talent. He was MORE than simply a comedian. He really was trying to change the world. He saw things in a way that only a true visionary could, and spent his entire career trying to enlighten people and help us to see, through his eyes, both what was wrong with this world and ways in which we could make it better. I really mean it when I say that it is a tragedy that he is gone.

    That being said, it is absolutely fantastic to see that someone has finally made it possible for Bill and his vision to be seen by a larger group of people, and to do it using animation (and yes, I consider it animation) as the medium seems fitting, as what I see in the preview fits with Bill’s personality and style in a way that I bet Bill would love.

    I hope this gets the wide release (and publicity) that it deserves.

  • Mac

    BTW,the primary music(marimbas,:36 in)is “Breathe Me”,by Sia,and was used in the final moments of HBO’s “Six Feet Under” when the the end of the family’s lives are revealed. Though borderline cliche since the music has already been used in those death scenes,it is still effective.

  • Wouldn’t consider this animated by any means, but I still enjoy seeing it. Bill Hicks is great!

  • sporridge

    Recommended starting place for newbies (beware if your ears are easily scalded):


    Go directly to the British TV documentary “It’s Only a Ride.” Not only a fine summary of Hicks’ short career (and, sadly, life), but of his impact on fellow comedians.

  • Daniel Spencer

    Im surprised to hear some people have never heard of him. In the UK he remains an icon and a huge influence on british stand up., Although I think he lost some of his spark when he quit smoking (no pun intended) I guess people in america were more tuned into the Bill Hicks rip-off and altogether more ‘MTV’ friendly Denis Leary.

  • J. Champlain

    Secret goldfish, if you seriously can’t tell the difference between motion graphics, cut-animation, character animation and mocap, then it would be pointless to continue this discussion with you.

  • Professor Widebottom

    If I was a brewmaster with my own cool website, I’d probably insert stuff that I thought was passionate about, even though it’s only routine After Effects too.

  • secret goldfish

    J. Champlain don’t be too concerned, I can well and truly ‘tell the difference’ between various animation styles and techniques I’m just not as eager as you to outright dismiss and see individual styles as somehow less worthy of being called ‘animation’, especially when they all share such a common discipline and thought process in order to be created.

    We hardly had a conversation though, you only ever seemed to offer two sentence replies aimed at dismissing anything I had said. I still don’t know what you consider as animation apart from giving life to your work which is kinda vague, open to interpretation and can be done with a still image as Brian Kidd already pointed out.

    I wrote the original post simply because some of comments I read on the Brew, I find overly dismissive like the teenager I saw walking out of Pixars UP who immediately declared to all his buddies that the film was utter ‘CRAP’. It was actually pretty funny how loudly and proudly he made his announcement but also kinda sad at the same time how dismissive he was.

  • Hi, I’m the director/animator on this film and for most of every day for three years it sure felt like animation. It was long, solitary hell to bring an untold story to the world in a way that would hopefully get it noticed and bring the legacy of Hick’s work to a wider audience.

    As to whether it gives life to the work? Well, the first thing it does is put Bill back at the center of every scene, in a way that wouldn’t be possible by looking at 10 middle-aged talking heads recounting their memories. It puts you back into the world that Bill grew up and lived in, and it shows you how those that knew him saw him and their deep bonds and relationships. And it seamlessly mixes the best and most poignant of his comedy, so you see him develop as a person off stage as his comedy evolves on stage. Combining the two in chronological order is still a profound experience to watch. Many people report that now they understand him more.

    We’ve now sat with over 30 audiences from regular screenings to major film festivals and in every screening people come out emotional and many have cried. That feels like something has stirred them. If any of you get to watch it. I mean really watch it. You’ll see that you stop noticing that it’s stills and instead you get caught up in the story. It’s that STORY that is the driving force to any narrative, and all the visuals, whatever they are; pencil drawings, photos, plasticine or cheese-whiz, are merely a window into that story.

    My own view is that motion graphics are a subset of animation, because they require the same imaginative planning before committing to how you will illustrate a shot, a scene, a narrative to communicate to an audience in the most effective way and make them understand and move them. And animation itself is just a subset of storytelling, just like live-action, theatre or the comedy that Bill himself performed. All are a created vision, put together to allow us to understand something more profoundly, through distillation and metaphor.

    Or, increasingly and in the wrong hands, to make us buy shit, or vote the wrong way, because our minds fall for exactly the same tricks.

    This is also nothing to do with Hollywood. It’s 2 guys who didn’t get paid for four years to record a story from the memories of those who really knew Bill, before it was too late.