articles and interviews archive

SEPTEMBER 22, 2003
don: hey
kladica: ok
elgee: welcome, Don
tim: Hey Don
whatthehell: um, hey don
frequencygod21: esta aqui
xerxes: yea dog
stuntgibbon: woo hoo
don: sorry im late
kladica: no wrriess
don: hi tim
quietboy: aditional generic welcome
thenorman leaving room
tim: ready to rock?
kladica: yep
gonesk8in24_7: Additional generic cop compliment Brian.
whatthehell: oh yes
frequencygod21: Moderated mode on!
don: sure
don: im kind of sleepy
don: sorry
shandlanos: hehe
don: my room is very cold
whatthehell: where are you?
*** The Chat Room is now MODERATED ***
don: its been like foggy for a week
tim: OK everyone send some good questions for Don
tim: frequencygod21 says - so what's the new film going to be like? anything to do with bill?
tim: elgee says - Hey Don. What movie did you last buy/rent on DVD?
don: the new film is pretty dense... and very broad..
don: it's about life, i think.. as in the universe and things
tim: bigbadbill says - i saw the animation show in SF on opening night. Why were the animation segements shown in 4X3 rather than 16X9?
don: its kind of sad after 3 years you'd think i'd be able to describe it by now
don: it is very different from the others...
tim: satsuka says - what sort of music do you listen to (if any) while you animate? i heard once that only jazz or classical sets the mood for animating.
don: . no bill movie yet, i don't know when i'll do something with those again
tim: max says - Don, what is your favorite movie?
don: i cant remember the last thing i bought on DVD... but i just saw the last ep of the "blue planet" documentary last night and it is nothing short of stunning
don: highly recommend that series
don: is pretty
don: lots of fish
don: and birds
don: and more fish
don: i'm listening to spiritualized right now
don: i do listen to lots of classical when i animate but really just about anything will do
don: i remember when i was still in school i pillaged the used music store's $2 tape section, just to buy ANYTHING that i hadn't heard before and could have playing
tim: gonesk8in24_7 says - Don, What kind of requirements did you ahve to fulfill to get into film school?
don: the new film has tchaikovsky in it... the next film, if its the one i make will probably
have lots of opera
don: i think it depends on the film school
don: usually
tim: elgee says - Is the bitterfilm's cat yours?
don: the hardcore production ones i think usually require some sort of reel
don: yeah that was my cat. he's dead now but that's ok
don: i think i took that picture when i was 15
don: i will never tire of these sound effects
tim: quietboy says - What are you going to do with temperary anistetics
tim: thenorman says - Do you feel honored or horrified when people quote from your films?
don: i don't think anything... those were kind of an experiment that had mixed results for me.. i am toying with the idea of doing something with bill one day but the rest i'm not too k een on
tim: frequencygod21 says - so whats your schedule like, how long do you animate on any given day?
tim: xerxes says - what is the message you're trying to convey, is there a point, or is the mood the message?
don: i don't really keep hours that seems like it would be way too torturous... i am slowing down a bit tho i don't seem to be able to throw as many hours at it in a day as i did when i was 19-20..
tim: stuntgibbon says - don, there are quite a few older shorts in the Animation Show ... is it harder to find new quality animation now?
don: also the hardest part lately with the new film after all this time is honestly just getting the stamina to sit in front of it every day
tim: iambrendan says - do you do anything other than animating in your free time?
don: i sure do make it sound like an exciting project don't i
tim: icyjones says - will the shorts in the animation show, the original ones, be available for purchase?
don: there are older shorts in the animation show because mike and i think they're just as good as the new stuff, but are similarly suffering from lack of exposure
don: i think there's tons of great stuff being made these days, we just want to create a balance
tim: cowlick says - Who is Frank Chindamo and why did he do that horrible commentary to Billy's Balloon on the Short 6 dvd?
don: :) i think cowlick kinda answered his question for me
tim: chad says - we have bought rejected 2 times now, and want to buy it again, but we're kind of waiting on that compilation with rejected and several other films, any clue when that might get released? *hopeful*
don: the DVD of everything will be out once i can finally wrap up the new short so it can be on there too
don: ..maybe next year? i think "billy" will first appear remastered and sparkly on the first animation show DVD
don: as well as the trilogy shorts of course
don: or whatever we are calling those this week
tim: max says - what filmmakers inspire you?
don: umm..
don: david lynch
don: kubrick
don: i'm never very good at that question
don: actually failures inspire me more for some reason
don: usually when i see something that blows me away i get really demoralized
tim: chad says - what is your favorite ice cream flavor?
tim: seth says - Any specific failures?
don: because uh, i am a jealous competitive little bastard
don: or something
tim: icyjones says - don, do you write the entire script for your shorts, or are they ever a collaborative effort?
don: i typically don't use scripts, the films are usually fleshed out one sequence at a time in my head...
don: ..."lily and jim" was collaborative in the sense that rob and karin improvised many of their lines on the spot and we edited it all together with the scripted stuff
tim leaves the room
don: rob still improvises a good deal of his vocals too
don: hmm it's probably not a good thing that tim left
don: i think maybe i should probably tell a story
don: and hope he comes back
tim enters the room
don: because fuck if i know how to operate this room
don: oh hey tim
don: whew
tim: yikes
don: trouble?
tim: all ok I think
tim: icyjones says - what is the last great movie you saw?
don: rob improvised a bunch of stuff for "rejected"... and i think we came up with some last minute stuff for the trilogy films too
don: i enjoyed finding nemo
don: right now i'm slowly going thru the new buster keaton box set
tim: frequencygod21 says - tell the story you promised!
don: i am dying to see lost in translation
don: but santa barbara sucks because it's not playing here
don: the story will have to wait until tim's computer bursts into flame again
tim: quietboy says - What advice do u have for the aspiring animators?
don: hmm
don: just do your own thing i guess... thats how mike and bill and i sort of got off the ground, we never had any formal animation training
don: i think of the three of us only i even went to film school
don: get your stuff on film or video or digital or whatever any way you can... all you need to start is a bunch of paper
tim: iambrendan says - what are examples of your favorite cartoons?
don: the most irritating thing i hear is "how do i break in?"
don: "breaking in" implies you don't belong there
don: i like very old cartoons, mostly... many of my current favorites in general though are in the animation show (plug)
tim: megly says - is the animation show's point to just be humourous or to show great animation?
don: and after seeing them 400 times some of them are still my favorites
tim: dempcat says - If you could have your own personal TV channel, what would you want it to show?
don: we don't have a point.. we just want to put good films in proper theaters where they belong
don: there is no market for short animation in the united states
don: something we would like to change or at least push in the right direction
don: my personal tv channel would be "off" .. because i am a clever answer man
tim: squee says - Are you upset that the censors at Cartoon Network rejected Rejected?
don: naw
tim: thenorman says - Are your films subtitled or dubbed (or both) when shown in other countries?
don: they're subtitled because it's less expensive and we'd never allow dubbing..
tim: lilcolumbian says - do you feel the reason there is no market for cartoons in the U.S. is because there is a stigma that they're all just childish?
don: we send dialogue sheets for the subtitler in said country, which is always a fun time because something like rejected doesn't make sense in english to begin with
don: i would love to see them dubbed sometime tho just for the sheer horror of it
tim: dempcat says - How's creepy gas mask man doing?
don: there's no market in the US because there's no money to be made.. there's much greater demand for short films overseas, which is also why much of the best work is done in other countries
tim: gonesk8in24_7 says - Will we get to see more of Roberto in the future?
don: i havent seen gas mask friend lately... actually the last time i saw him he was following tim down the street towards the corner taco bell... tim how did that work out btw?
tim: seth says - What's your opinion of the "Anime Explosion", such as it is?
don: i'm not sure i know what anime explosion is?
tim: he stared at me for a bit but then ran off
don: wow
don: that was a couple months agpo
tim: xerxes says - how do you feel about internet piracy of your movies? I never would have heard your name if it wern't for filesharing
tim: shandlanos says - Would you be willing to make your films available publicly for download in high-quality format, if someone else provided webspace?
don: its a double edged sword but in general it really irritates me... to be honest i don't care how many more people could see the films because they're on the internet.. they look and sound so bad i'd prefer they didn't seem them at all
don: i am flattered that they're being pirated so much tho for what its worth :)
don: but i didn't shoot the films on film for them to be on the internet :(
tim: stuntgibbon says - what are those characters in "welcome to the show" (and the everybody dance part of Rejected)? i think they're clouds, but other people say they're cotton or fishsticks
don: when the technology improves one day we may put a couple of them on bitterfilms for free
don: i guess
don: maybe
don: they're sort of fluffy lamb things
tim: quietboy says - What do you think of the Spike and Mike Show now?
rob enters the room
don: i haven't gone to spike and mike for a very long time..
don: ..i think all they do now is the sick and twisted show which is not my cup of tear
don: errr, tea
don: although cup of tear is much more poetic
don: lets go with cup of tear
don: hey rob
rob: what up dog!!
don: bling
don: yo
don: word
tim: dempcat says - Wasn't rejected -on- Sick and Twisted?
don: much respek
don: err
rob: boya casha!
don: yeah most of my films were in sick and twisted, but it was always under the condition that they play them in the "PG" rated classic show too
don: which i don't think they do anymore
tim: thenorman says - Do you enjoy films that are more character-driven or story-driven?
don: on the subject of the internet, if i may backtrack..
don: ..i have to admit that much of my resistance is from my very traditional film schooling
don: i just feel that films belong in theaters first and foremost.. and reluctantly, on video/dvd
don: thus the animation show i guess
tim: max says - Don are you a big Ali G' fan?
don: rob and mike have been telling me about ali g for ages
don: alas i have no hbo
don: but i feel like i've seen many episodes from all their re-enactments
tim: icyjones says - don, are you ever contacted to do more commercial projects, or projects for individuals, like music videos?
tim: frequencygod21 says - What was the last compact disc you bought?
don: last CD i bought i think was this celtic guitar music thing
don: i'm now listening to richard hawley whose voice is a rather startling mix of elvis and johnny cash
tim: 3000bpm says - what television cartoons today do you think best represent animation as a major entertainment form?
don: hey rob have any questions?
don: i don't watch any tv cartoons really.. i can't even remember to catch south park when it's on.. i've seen a few powerpuff girls and thought they were really good actually
tim: dempcat says - Do you ever get upset and angry and resentful of a film you're working on partway through and think it's not good at all? What do you do about it?
don: i'm getting kinda resentful on the new film actually, ha ha... not that i don't think it's very good just that it's been taking so long and so much out of me... i've been in a bad mood for a few months now, extended..
don: luckily the footage is still looking promising and i haven't been completely burnt out yet
don: the show has been taking a lot of time away from production unfortunately so that can get frustrating because you end up animating a scene in several aborted stabs rather than one clear sitting
tim: stuntgibbon says - does "the new film" have a title yet? also, how long is it?
don: so sometimes the pencil tests are a little unfocused and need to be redone
rob: Are you gonna sign stuff in seattle?
don: only for you rob
tim: icyjones says - has any of your work been completely unreleased?
don: the new film has no title, thus we call it the new film.. i don't know how long it will be as it's still being fleshed out but probably approx 10 minutes
tim: hobbes says - Have you ever been targeted by an angry religous or political group, or individual?
rob: we should get a title for the new film
don: scenes are still being patched together so there won't be a running time for a very long time
don: hmm ok
don: the title of the new film is "night boat"
don: ha
rob: aaaaaaaaaaaah, perfect
don: there was one dumb film that was shelved in 1997-ish but it was retooled into a scene in rejected
rob: can you correctly spell the word.... that day that falls in the middle of the week word?
don: lots of other things that just never made the final cut here and there
don: rob spells "wednesday" as "wensday" because he is from the streets
don: yo
tim: cowlick says - Did you get the Ed Emberly drawing books when you were a kid?
rob: yeah! yeah!!
don: yeah!! i filled up many an ed emberly book... wow
don: (swamped in memory)
don: they had those great little "how to draw a duck" diagrams and stuff in the back covers
don: and they were never helpful at all
tim: quietboy says - what do you think of Bill's films? Which one is your favorite?
don: they were kind of irritating though because you could draw through the whole thing and then have to flip the entire book over to draw on the backs of the rest of the pages
don: which didn't do very well for keeping your narrative contruction when you were 4
don: your face or how to kiss are my favorites of bill's
tim: stuntgibbon says - in the live-action version of Rejected, will Kevin Spacey be playing the role of the banana?
don: no i don't think i've been targeted by any angry groups at least not that i know of
don: i don't think the films make anybody particularly angry actually
don: wow tim must be running low on questions
tim: heythatsmyname says - what do you think of the movie Waking life in terms of animation?
don: waking life was beautiful
don: that film should have won the oscar
tim: xerxes says - Dali : Surrealism :: Don : ?
don: pygmy ape
tim: thenorman says - If The Animation Show is super successful, would you consider doing the showcase full-time?
don: the animation show will never be successful
don: ha ha
rob: ha ha haaa haaa
don: i thought rob would get a kick out of that
tim: LOL
don: i'm not sure what you mean by doing the showcase tho
don: but if you are referring to the price is right the answer is yes, god yes
don: there is like a 2minute gap between questions
tim: icyjones says - i remember you mentioning edward gorey in one of your journal updates, are you a fan?
don: maybe we should unmoderate at some point
don: yeah
don: edward gorey is brilliant
don: im still shocked that he's not more popular
don: shocked i tell you
tim: thenorman says - I mean choosing b/t bringing animated films into theaters successfully vs. focusing on your own works
don: it always seems like there's one guy that everybody borrows from who make tons of money and the original guy ends up kinda forgotten
tim: stuntgibbon says - will you be putting your still cartoons into a book soon? i'm feeling very coporate whore, and would like to buy a copy :)
don: i'm hoping that i'll eventually grow into more of an advisor with the show, tho still doing most of the programming with mike
don: would like to have something new for the show every year
don: if that is even possible
tim: 3000bpm says - would you consider running for governor of california?
don: i've been talking to people about doing a book, it's again just a matter of finding the time
don: that was up the air last year (the book, not governor) and got sort of swept aside for the time being along with a bunch of other stuff
tim: frequencygod21 says - Do you think running the animation show every year will be a hindrance to your personal work?
don: right now i am pouring all energies into getting this film finished once and for all so we can all move on with our lives
don: i think i have to travel thru mid october and then i can really settle in and focus
tim: thenorman says - Do you include yourself in any of your works (like hitchcock?)
don: i think i have 3 minutes
don: and then we can all go watch football
tim: xerxes says - whats your team?
don: i am in rejected actually... i am the fat man with the cigar who exits the elevator before ingrid bergman steps into frame
don: we probably shouldnt discuss sports
don: so that we can all leave this room as a group of friends
tim: We now un-moderate for parting comments?
don: i don't think the show will truly interfere with my own stuff..
don: on the contrary it is the one place i will have to count on to put all my new stuff into
don: there's nowhere else theatrically to go to right now
don: sure we can unmoderate. just please no licking
*** The Chat Room is now UN-MODERATED ***
tobiwan: woo-hoo!
chad: *tackles don*
tim: you can all speak freely now
psychonailbunny: wahoo.
tobiwan: go craaazy
3000bpm: weeeee. all hell done an broke loose
stuntgibbon: thanks don
thenorman: pwease come to dallas :*)
frequencygod21: thanks and enjoy!
xerxes: thanks man, great stuff
psychonailbunny: Thank ya Don.
dempcat: Did you have fun, don?
3000bpm: thanks!
heythatsmyname: Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!
don: thanks
icyjones: hey don, any suggestions on sweet short films we may not know about?
thenorman: and thanks for your patience
chad: Come to Atlanta!! We want to have your children here!!!
stuntgibbon: don.. do you "get" ident?
tobiwan: you're a cool guy, don
hobbes: Yeah, I'm in Atlanta too!
quietboy: COME TO ST. LOUIS!!!!!!
tobiwan: and tim too
3000bpm: isnt chad as guy?
icyjones: atl here also
dempcat: Rock on, hobbes.
heythatsmyname: i just want to say hi
don: did i sound like i was in a bad mood today?
don: i hope not
xerxes: naw
tobiwan: for sifting through many boringquestions
psychonailbunny: Nope.
dempcat: Get any really freaky questions, Tim?
xerxes: you seem like a smart and funny person
3000bpm: we loooove you!
thenorman: you seemed very font-y
tim: I'll leave it to your imaginations...
tobiwan: good question...what was the strangest question you saw?
don: so who wants rob to do voices?
don: ha ha
dempcat: so mean
quietboy: oooh ooh me!!
psychonailbunny: lol
icyjones: hey don, thanks for keeping a journal on bitterfilms, its always a treat to catch up on your progress with things
stuntgibbon: i can do all of rob's voices.. so lemme know if he gets sick or something ;)
thenorman: if you sell it, we will come ;)
dempcat: If we make you cookies, you come to Atlanta, yes?
don: i will see all of you later
chad: we'll even take it for free
psychonailbunny: Bye don.
quietboy: bye Don
xerxes: later don, thanks again
hobbes: bye, thanks!
tim: I should hook up a webcaster thingy on Rob's computer, so he can do funny voices for us for real
stuntgibbon: cya don
tobiwan: bye don!
dempcat: bye don, thanks
don: please visit the show so that we can feed robert and tim
xerxes: for sure
chad: bye bye don
don: they are hungry
allegro: Ciao, Don.
don: cheers
don: bye

JULY 22, 2003

don: ahhh
don: how is everyone doing?
don: i guess that is rhetorical now
don: ha ha
tim: OK everyone, send me some questions for Don!
tim: baine says - Hey Don, what would you say is your biggest inspiration in animation?
don: hmm
tim: phil says - at what age did you begin to consider animation as a career?
don: i read pretty much everything i get my hands on...
don: in order to write and output i kinda need input...
don: i got going with animating stuff when i was 15..
don: i've wanted to make films since i was 4 i think and animation was the least expensive way to get started
don: especially when i got to university
tim: thisbe says - what's your favorite book?
don: i don't know if i've considered animation a career yet tho :)
don: i've always liked "the phantom tollbooth"
don: i almost always read nonfiction tho
don: ive heard "guns germs and steel" is genius and thats next on the list
tim: thenorman says - What made you decide to premiere THE ANIMATION SHOW in Austin?
don: a bunch of factors... we had a great time there when i did the show with bill p in 2001..
don: ..not to mention mike is a local hero
don: and its just a fun theater
don: friday night was ok but the most fun was had saturday
tim: worldbshiny says - may I also ask, at one point, it sounded as if you were leaning towards live action. Is there anything coming up from you?
don: i think friday everybody sort of got our exhausted nauseous vibe
don: theres nothing live action on the plate right now
don: there is a short i've always wanted to make thats live action
don: but all my feature stuff is animated
tim: tim_moore says - do you have any canadian dates set yet?
don: errr i should say feature scripts that is
don: i'm not sure... i know we are talking to many canadian theaters
tim: thegarnisher says - When will we see a Don Hertzfeldt feature film?
don: thats something rob or becca can answer...
don: i'd love to play all over canada and then spread out to the rest of the world
tim: dan_n says - were you inspired by any painters?
tim: shandlanos says - Do you have any new charity auctions planned?
don: feature film = who knows... i
don: its something i was really pushing a couple years ago
don: before i realized i was just frustrating myself and i may as well keep doing shorts for awhile as long as i can
tim: try to keep the questions short folks, thanks
don: im not well versed in painters but i studied a bunch of van gogh whilst painting for this new film
tim: three_oranges says - is there any interest in adding more, rarely seen, vintage animation to The Animaion Show?
don: hopefully we can do a charity auction again before the year's out...
don: yeah, definitely... i'd love to see some fleischer stuff or even tex avery in the show
tim: baine says - how do you feel about animation on the internet?
don: we definitely want to create a balance between old and new
don: particularly stuff that most people have never seen b efore anyway
don: i dont watch a lot of stuff on the internet so i'm not sure
don: i've seen probably 3 cool things done in flash
tim: worldbshiny says - does don have any advice as far as writing exercises or creative exercises when someone is feeling stuck?
don: yeah we're down with any kind of animation for the show
don: as long as it can be projected
don: if you're feeling stuck, walk away... the more you try and force yourself the worse it gets
tim: thisbe says - how do you feel about your films out there in file swapping programs?
don: somebody once characterized writing as like "going to the bathroom"
don: have to go when you have to go...
don: its suprisingly true...
tim: the garnisher says - Will technology creep into how you make your films or will you always work with more old fashioned equipment?
don: fileswapping is great in theory but lousy in practice... i like the concept but i wish there was a way to involve the artists
tim: floyd says - Are you guys acting as producers on any animation, like Spike and Mike sometimes do, or are you only taking finished films?
don: and not just the music labels
don: or film companies
don: im kinda bummed out as to all the bootlegging but i can sympathize
don: tim my computer appears to be frozen
don: oh there we go
don: sorry
tim: shandlanos says - Would you be willing to openly share DVD-quality copies of your films on the internet if someoen was willing to provide the webspace and bandwidth to host them?
don: i think we may produce one day - not this year but if we see something we like we'll throw funds to it :)
don: ...mike was definitely a fan of giving that a shot someday
tim: OK taking a quick intermission here for the folks who've recently arrived
tim: Don cannot see what you type, only I can
don: about technology creeping into the films..
tim: I pass along the more interesting questions/comments to Don
don: ..i don't imagine i will ever have a need or desire to shoot or animate digitally
tim: You don't need to do anything special for me to see your question
don: however there were a couple shots in the outro for the show we just wrapped up that i kinda jacked up and overexposed somehow... we've been trying a couple digital tricks to fix them, with mixed results
don: it looked pretty decent projectred
don: so i guess that counts
don: if we go that route
don: tho today i am trying to psyche myself up to just reshoot those bits and move on
tim: symer says - What do you think about your humour?
don: i think it funny
tim: modest_mal says - do you use computers to mix sounds?
don: yup
tim: thegarnisher says - How do you feel about the new trilogy now that it's out there? Any surprising reactions?
don: we sit over tim's shoulder and bark for many many moons
don: ive only seen them twice with audiences... friday was kind of an overall bummer because like i said i think we freaked the audience out a bit...
don: ...saturday was the reaction we were looking for...
tim: symer says - Who's your favorite comedian?
don: i already know one shot that i probably timed a little wrong
don: but overall they seemed to go ok
don: the optical tracks were very dim though and that kind of bummed us out, need to fix
tim: thisbe says - the website said that the trilogy was a break from a more serious work, any hints on that?
don: i don't really like comedians ...wait, eddie izzard
don: yeah the new film is not really comedic at all... at least not yet..
tim: three oranges says - Why the apocalyptic themes, as opposed to the more slice of life (with the exception of Lily and Jim)?
don: .. its a pretty somber piece so far
don: i think in the end it will be very pretty
don: really not like any of the other films
tim: bbb says - what do you think about the simpsons?
don: thank god
don: i love the simpsons
tim: thenorman says - If propositioned (again?), would you consider using your work for tv commecials?
don: im not sure about apocalyptic themes... actually i guess thats kinda true... never thought about that before :)
tim: elgee says - Favorite movie, all categories?
don: ill never do a commercial..
tim: symer says - What sketch are you most proud of?
don: im rarely proud of any of my drawings :( it is an exercise in futility and humiliation when i draw stuff for fans..
tim: nyarlathotep says - The last minute or so of "rejected", the background crumples up. Could you briefly describe how this effect is achieved?
don: .. at least when you animate a few bad drawings can whiz by and you'll never see them
tim: cb says - what do you think is the future of traditional animation?
don: you'd be embarrassed for me if you saw the effort that goes in to some of those bad sketches
tim: bbb says - who is your favorite character of yours?
don: the paper effects in rejected are all traditional stop motion, combined with the drawings on the papers themselves
tim: bbb says - would you ever write for someone elses work?
don: i dont think traditional animation is in danger at all...
don: bill p made a good point about it recently... its like when the advent of photography changed the art world...
tim: headfailure says - I noticed in 'billy's baloon" that the background clouds don't wiggle the same way the characters do, how did you combine the background and the foreground?
don: ...and thus was born impressionism..
tim: aneurysm says - what advice would you give to new independent animators trying to make it?
don: ..the goal of animation has never been photorealism.. the 3d stuff baffles me
don: the clouds in billy are cut outs that were pasted onto clear cels... the cels were put over the pen and paper art.. sort of backwards as to how cels are usually used
don: i dont know if i would write for someone else.. tho i guess i dont see why not
tim: What do you think of non-photorealistic 3-d animation, like, for example, Shrek?
don: shrek was photorealistic..
don: ..what i mean is, here you have this totally pure film medium, in which you can literally create anything..
don: ..and yet what gets everybody excited is the animation that looks more and more like reality
tim: thegarnisher says - Would you ever consider creating a TV show?
don: boring old reality
don: i've had many meetings to do a show... just as frustrating as the feature film meetings
don: ..everybody wants the billys balloon show.. this week it hits him with a lamp
don: i like the idea of tv because you can do something episodic and tell a story over 12 hours
don: thats something i'd like to try
don: but nobody else does :)
tim: drexach says - what kind of places will the animation show be going?
don: the show will play all over the US and eventually canada in its first year...
tim: tim_moore says - and no one will give you that opportunity?
don: ...during this time or following it, i hope to spread it out to english speaking countries outside the US...
don: ...australia, the UK, etc
don: but first we have to prove our chops here at home
tim: elgee says - What's your opinion on the Academy (AMPAS) in general?
tim: floyd says - What is the most frustrating aspect of getting your films "seen"?
don: i think the ampas has their hearts in the right place
don: i've voted for the past 2 years
tim: headfailure says - this year's animation show lineup looks like many academy award much of a chance would a student film have of getting in?
don: a student film has an equal chance - as long as we like it, it's in
tim: three_oranges says - Is there an Animation Show DVD compilation planned, and what can we expect to see on it?
don: there are many nominees for instance, that we do not like (or simply feel people have already seen enough of)
don: absolutely there will be dvds
don: i dont know when the first will be out - maybe 9 to 12 months?
tim: thegarnisher says - Do you think more "adult" animation will find mainstream acceptance in America?
don: we have so much material that we cant fit into the theater show every year
don: the dvds will help take care of that overflow
don: i dont like the word "adult" ..
don: part of the problem is that animation in itself is thought of as childish
tim: floyd says - Is the Animation Show exclusive? If a film is submitted to the show, can it be submitted elsewhere?
don: it shouldnt need to be prefaced
don: and hopefully one day it won't need to be
don: yeah - in fact we encourage filmmakers to send their films elsewhere
tim: three_oranges says - Who is the girl with the butterfly on the Animation Show page? Am I wrong, or was that film not shown?
tim: bbb says - what comes first: animation quality or writing quality?
don: the girl with the butterfly is from a film called "Aria"...
don:'s a beautiful film based on the opera m butterfly.. it will be on the dvd
tim: symer says - Would you do a music video for free if you liked the band?
don: writing quality
don: i would have to reeeaaally like the band. and they would have to be very patient
tim: thenorman says - Will there be lots of promotion for THE ANIMATION SHOW or can we only find out future showtimes via the website?
tim: baine says - When you look back on your films, is there anything you wish you could change?
don: when the show makes its rounds, audiences will receive a proper program so they know what they're seeing
tim: tim_moore says - do you take all the photographs on your website?
don: we're going to do what we can with promotion while still keeping things grassroots
don: ..but yeah the site is definitely the place to check for the latest showtimes (and tim's mailing list)
tim: warpedlenz says - do you have a favorite out of mike judge's canon or work?
don: yes those are all my photos
don: im a big beavis and butthead fan : )
don: i have many fond memories of watching the show at a friends house in high school
tim: floyd says - what do you think of the Animation schools in the US?
don: as i didnt have mtv
don: i don't know... i dont have much experience there as i didnt go to one... but education is probably never a bad thing
don: ?
tim: brian says - how do you feel your education at ucsb influenced your work? was it just for the diploma, or did it enable to you make films such as rejected?
don: going to ucsb was probably the best decision i've ever made..
don: i can tell you honestly i wouldnt be here talking to you right now otherwise
tim: three_oranges says - Any chance of seeing older, "fire"-laden Beavis and Butthead at the show?
tim: thegarnisher says - Don more important ...innate talent or hard work?
don: i made my first 4 films at ucsb... rejected was the first i made outside of university, directly thanks to the success of those ones
don: i don't think you'll see older beavis in the show but mike has been talking about possibly new ones
don: that would be very cool
tim: symer says - "i am a banana!" how did you come up with stuff like that?
tim: bbb says - why didn't you sue cingular for using your style of animation for commercials?
don: hard work, no question
tim: headfailure says - are you planning to take a break after completing your 3+ year opus, or jumping right into another project?
don: i don't know... i guess i should have... suing people isnt my thing. but i guess i will next time
don: ha ha
don: i have another project in my head for after the endless new film...
don: ...but i may force myself onto a boat somewhere
don: ..the animation show is a surprising amount of work in itself as well
tim: thenorman says - You asked audience members from the premiere shows to send in comments/suggestions about the program. Where do we send them?
don: post them in the forums, or send them to rob or becca
tim: andrew says - what i would really like to know is: is there a story behind "tuesday is coming did you bring your coat?"
don: i fear i am typing too slow to keep up with the questions
don: i think the tuesday line is one that rob improvised on the spot
don: he's funny that way
tim: thegarnisher says - Don, will you ever let others do the "grunt" work as it were on your films or will you always personally animate each and every frame?
tim: bbb says - have you ever considered writing a book?
don: i'm not sure... bill p has just started working with fill-in animators for the first time... he says it is working ok but he was freaking out a bit at first
don: i don't know if i could ever let that sort of thing go... unless it was for a feature of course
tim: symer says - Are you able to paint a "good" portrait of something or do you do your best when you animate?
don: yeah i was working on a book about a year ago of art and stuff... it was another frustrating process..
tim: elgee says - Any plans for a tour in Europe?
don: ...and then i realized i'm a filmmaker and why aren't i just making this book a film...thus the next next project
tim: tim_moore says - how do u feel about animators doing commercial work for survival, then independent work for expression?
don: i cant paint or draw realistically whatsoever
tim: floyd says - Bill Plympton sometimes sells his cells. Do you do the same?
don: i hold nothing against artists who do commercial work... i wish they didn't need to but you have to eat..
tim: bbb says - who are your top 3 animators of all time? (other than chuck jones because he is a god)
don: of our hopes with the show is to help these animators out so that making a living as an artist isn't considered to be so outlandish
don: i dont like selling animation art unless its raising money for charity or something
tim: shandlanos says - Have you done any active since you became an animator?
don: i have i done any active?
tim: thegarnisher says - Not a question...just wanted to say thanks for one of the top 5 laughs of my life with Billy's Balloon!
don: thank you
tim: sorry, shandlanos said - Have you done any acting since you became an animator?
don: ray harryhausen
don: ward kimball
don: chuck jones
don: i can think of more
don: probably
don: no acting for me... other than in my own stuff if you can call it that
don: i just did a voice for bill's new feature though but that definitely doesnt count either :)
tim: brian says - i read on your website that you teach, or tought at ucsb. Are you still involved with ucsb? If so how much? I'm fairly interested in attending myself.
don: i taught one class there during the summer of 2001... at least i think it was 2001?
don: it was exhausting
don: i'd like to try it again but not any time soon
don: i recommend the school in any case
don: despite what the la times would tell you
don: all righty i have 5 more minutes )
don: err that was supposed to be a friendly :)
tim: bbb says - whose voices were you in rejected?
don: i was the ones that rob didnt want to do
don: i dont remember at the moment... i think rob goes thru it all on the dvd commentary tho
tim: thenorman - How was the NY Times review of the shows in Austin?
don: i dont think it is out yet - im not sure if its a review either i believe its an article
don: whatever it is i think it comes out tomorrow
tim: elgee says - Will you be spending any time here unannounced?
don: i'd like to
don: time permitting
don: i will be zipping all over the US in sept and oct
don: and desperately trying to finish this film on the side
don: i am listening to opera right now : o
don: that was a woman singing
tim: modest_mal says - why all the traveling?
don: i think the next next film will have all opera music
don: im traveling to support this filthy show
tim: baine says - what's the most time consuming aspect of animation
don: the animating part
don: by far
tim: kafi says - don, where do you dream up your stories?
tim: shandlanos says - What is your opinion of Monty Python?
don: i've been animating the new one for 3 years... photography only partially started 9 months ago or so
don: i dream them up in costa rica
don: i was at the python reunion show in aspen a few years back... for me it was like seeing the beatles
tim: three_oranges says - do you think there is a difference in writing for CG and traditional animation?
don: there shouldn't be... but there probably is
don: ...your writing should drive the animation, not the other way around.. it is just as important as choosing to shoot something in black and white or color
tim: floyd says - How do you feel about the closing of the Dreamworks 2D division?
don: that is, it should drive the medium of animation
don: i am bummed out that the executives are blaming the format itself for their shitty films
don: ok 2 more minutes
tim: elgee says - Any chance of seeing a collection of comics?
don: i hear the dreamworks animators are sadly used to abuse tho
tim: thegarnisher says - Don where would you like to be in 5 years?
tim: floyd says - What is your favorite film (that you have animated)?
tim: thisbe says - thanks for doing this Don
don: i havent been able to watch rejected very much in the last few years but it is growing on me again... tho id have to say billys balloon
tim: three_oranges says - Have you ever considered making a 2D children's animated move, if only to show it can still be done well?
don: just because i have fonder memories making it
don: i'd love to do a childrens film or childrens book
don: that would be beautiful
tim: thenorman says - Do you watch Cartoon Network, even after the REJECTED ordeal?
don: cool
don: sorry i have to go : (
don: but thanks for coming out to say hi
tim: Thanks Don
don: i think this was a successful test of a moderated chat for the other artists to come
don: i am test subject
don: good night everyone
don: take care
tim: We now remove the electrodes from Don's forehead
don: i'll see you again soon
don: cheers


September 4, 2003

Because I’m essentially learning this reportin’ thing on the fly as I contribute to Ain’t It Cool News (my prior education on the profession being ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, HIS GIRL FRIDAY and, of course, James Bridges’ scintillating PERFECT, in which John Travolta gets a lesson in journalistic ethics he’ll never forget while fucking Jamie Lee Curtis a whole bunch), I’ve been blessed on occasion to hit upon a few truisms that don’t get taught at, say, the Columbia School of Journalism. For instance, it wasn’t until this chat with Don Hertzfeldt, the insanely talented (or is that talented, but insane) animator of “Billy’s Balloon” and “Rejected”, and, now, co-creator with Mike Judge of THE ANIMATION SHOW, that I realized there really is a sure-fire subject to which every interviewee is likely to respond warmly and loquaciously. But not even my most depraved conversations with Harry could have prepared me for where Hertzfeldt steered our dialogue next. Okay, that’s more than a bit disingenuous; I’m sure Harry’s already not only well acquainted with Dalmatians porn, but working on programming a full hour of it for this year’s Butt-Numb-A-Thon.

In any event, here is Don Hertzfeldt, the Academy Award-nominated genius who made bleeding from the anus funny again. If only all interviews were this much fun. (Note: To avoid tangential overkill, I had to regrettably trim our discussion of profoundly disgusting websites. Another time, perhaps.)

AICN: Why is there no Hentai Tentacle Porn in THE ANIMATION SHOW?

DON: (Laughs.) I’m actually glad you asked me that.

AICN: That’s the question on everyone’s mind right now.

DON: I’ve been answering the same five questions for two months now. This is very cool. I was really pushing for that, but Mike’s kinda square.

AICN: That’s too bad.

DON: Yeah, we’re stuck with a PG deal, but maybe next time we can get a little… hipper. Have you seen the Dalmatians porn?

AICN: The “what” porn?

DON: The Dalmatians porn?

AICN: Oh, no.

DON: It’s like crazy Hentai stuff, only it’s all based on 101 DALMATIANS.

AICN: Oh, god, no.

DON: It’s the foulest thing you’ve ever seen on the internet.

AICN: Does Cruella de Vil figure into any of this?

DON: No, I think it’s just people with a 101 DALMATIANS fetish, like they… (laughs) I think they just hire some artist to draw the 101 Dalmatians in all of these suggestive poses with tentacles all over them. It’s… it’s actually kind of amazing.

AICN: (Laughing.) So, if the money was right…? Never mind. Anyway… Mike explained a little bit about the selection process for the show, but how difficult was it paring down the selections to fit a ninety minute format?

DON: It was heartbreaking and it wasn’t. When we started from day one, I was a little nervous. Is there enough material out there to sustain a ninety minute show that we feel is quality? I was more relieved to find that we had three or four hours worth that we fell in love with because then I knew that no matter what we pick, it’s going to be amazing. But the stuff that didn’t make it, we’re going to be putting on DVD, or it’s going to be in next year’s program. I was leaning towards 105 minutes, but everybody kind of wisely talked me down. It does become a marathon for an audience to sit through a lot of shorts, probably just because of all of the credits, you know? But we’ve got a couple of things that are better suited for the DVD.

AICN: So you guys do have a DVD planned?

DON: Oh, yeah. It’s going to be kind of interesting because, obviously, it’s next to impossible to get all of the rights that we got for the theatrical show for the DVD. For instance, the Disney stuff, we would never get the DVD rights for that. So, it’s going to be a cool hybrid every year; half of a theatrical show plus half stuff that we think is just as good, but maybe (the prospective short) is, like, twenty minutes long, and it’s a little too much for a theatrical piece. We’re just trying to get a nice mix going. I think we’ll probably be doing DVD’s every year, just our little series that complements the theatrical show. I think it’s cool, too, that the theatrical show isn’t going to be a carbon copy of the DVD. It’s a little more like live theater; it’s gone forever.

AICN: And there are some surprises that you just have to see in the theater.

DON: Right. I think the point of this is to rescue films from television and from the internet, and to get them in the theater. I don’t want everyone to just get lazy and wait for the DVD to come out.

AICN: Any particular favorites? Were there any shorts that you were just dying to get in there?

DON: MARS AND BEYOND is all to Mike’s credit. He discovered that one, and everybody fell for it real quick. I think… especially now that we were able to restore the film, and get the colors out, we’re really jazzed about that one.

AICN: It looked great.

DON: Isn’t it beautiful?

AICN: It’s amazing. It kind of reminded me of Miyazaki.

DON: Yeah, a little bit, huh?

AICN: A little, I think.

DON: I could just watch that forever. I mean, I’ve seen all of these films over 400 times now. I think I’ve spent the last two months in a Burbank screening room with a notebook, looking at these shorts over and over again, just going, “That soundtrack isn’t loud enough! The colors are wrong there! Oh, my stuff sucks!” (Laughs.) But that one (MARS AND BEYOND) I can keep watching. I mean, I know the narration to a tee, but it’s just eye candy. It’s gorgeous. “Ident” was one I was jazzed to get in there just because it’s so weird and surreal and Freudian, and nothing you’d expect from Aardman. Also, I’m really excited about Mike’s, honestly, because I had not seen a lot of that before at all. I don’t remember the last time I saw that “Office Space” short anywhere.

AICN: I had heard about it, but I’d never seen it.

DON: I think he’s going to try and do more stuff like that for the show. You know, not having to worry about coming up with a story. If he just wants to do a guy getting hit with a shovel… I think he explained it that he’d like to be the Sergio Aragones of the show. You know, the Mad Magazine artist who did the margins?

AICN: Oh, yeah!

DON: I think that’s a great fit, just doing ten second vignettes to pad things out a little. It’s really important for him to have fun with it. When he’s done with his latest feature, he can just chill out and draw a guy talking about cucumbers and French fries.

AICN: I’m sure it would be far more entertaining than a good deal of the stuff I’ve seen this summer.

DON: I don’t get to see anything anymore. The last thing I saw was HULK.


DON: Yeah. Eh…

AICN: I liked it.

DON: I liked it. I still don’t know what it was trying to be, but I liked it for the most part. CGI stuff has gotten to the point now where I’m completely taken out of the movie every time I see a CG character because I immediately think, “Does it look real?” I start analyzing the frame, and I’m not in the scene anymore. I’m just, like, “How’s his skin looking?”

AICN: There is that danger. Gollum was the one that I thought was well integrated.

DON: It was very well done. That’s was the most gorgeous one I’ve seen yet.

AICN: But that’s interesting. I’m wondering if you’d be interested in trying out CG, or do you think there’s too much of that around?

DON: It’s whatever serves the story best. I’m always trying to tell students – because there’s always this trend to stampede to whatever’s new – and when you’re a student you always stampede toward what’s less expensive. Digital, is, obviously, the hot thing, especially for animation. But there’s a lot forgotten in that it’s just as important, if not more so, than choosing… I mean, not just between shooting on film or digital, but 2D or 3D, claymation or crayons… all of that is just so crucial to what your film is saying, and what it adds to your film. It’s like color versus black and white, or super-8 versus IMAX. Your format is huge, and I think a lot of people overlook that. They go straight to CG with their stories without thinking what these other mediums might bring to it. I think that’s a danger. Animation is, I feel, the most powerful film medium because the artist is dealing with every single frame physically – literally, sometimes – and you’re only limited to what you can imagine. You can literally do anything you want to; you can make the most surreal, crazy thing! Yet what gets everyone so excited is boring old reality. Photorealism has never been the goal of animation. I don’t know why that gets everybody excited because it’s just… outside! (Laughs.) I can look outside, and know that it’s great. I mean, it looks like SHREK out there, but who cares? I want to see something I’ve never seen before. When they do FINAL FANTASY… f/x animation like HULK is one thing because you’re trying to duplicate reality, obviously. But when you’re not integrating it, and you can do anything, it’s the lazy choice to obsess on how real it looks.

AICN: I agree. On FINAL FANTASY, I actually thought it looked beautiful until we got to the humans, and then it was the most horrifying thing I’d ever seen.

DON: Yeah. It’s a gimmick. It’s a William Castle trick. There’s no reason to do it other than to say, “We’re trying to do humans now. Buy a ticket!”

AICN: How exciting.

DON: I’m hoping it’s a fad. The whole flap over 3D now… I’m praying it will spark some new inspiration in the 2D folks. Kind of like 100 years ago when photography changed the face of painting, and nobody painted realistically anymore because you had this new thing. It kind of created surrealism. I’m hoping that it can open new doors because it’s so depressing.

AICN: So, then, best case scenario: what will THE ANIMATION SHOW accomplish?

(Don initially answers the question with a laugh that grabs me by the lapels, knees me in the groin and screams, “How do you expect me to answer that, you nancy-boy?”)

AICN: I mean, aside from creating a bunch of Don Hertzfeldt storm troopers, who are going to rise up--

DON: (Laughs.) My precious clones.

AICN: And rule the world with non-sequiturs.

DON: I don’t know. Right now, we’re pretty modest. I think we’re just trying to, at least, create a market for this sort of thing. Right now, if you’re a short-film maker, especially if you’re an American and you’re a short-film maker, there are so few options. Even on the internet now, even with DVD, not only are your horizons… darkened, but ninety percent of the people you can go to will just rip you off and steal your rights away. I think Mike and I share that history. I started doing this when I was eighteen, and I kind of learned as I went how to read a contract, and what “exclusivity” means, and what not to do. There are so many people who will just take you. More to the point, you feel lucky to be on the big screen, which is just wrong. I guess what I’m saying is that there’s no market for this kind of thing in the United States because the short film isn’t really seen as a medium unto itself. It’s usually treated as a calling card for a student, or an independent, who can’t afford to make a feature yet, so he can show it to the studios, and it’s his key to getting funding to finish it and make a feature out of it. Pixar and Sony, they’ll test out their new software with a short before they can make a feature with a new feather program, or something. Whereas overseas there’s a demand for this stuff because their television is government run, so rather than show commercials, they show short films to fill time between programming. Demand obviously equals more product and higher quality stuff. There are actually people bidding over shorts there, whereas here that would be unheard of. Maybe it will take just a half-dozen other festivals like this to come out of the woodwork and create bidding wars for these shorts; to bring the nominees every year to Middle America where they’ve never been seen on the big screen before, and get the spotlight on these filmmakers. Some of my favorite films of all time are shorts, and it’s kind of frustrating to see people to feel lucky just to have them on the internet, for chrissakes.

AICN: It’s not the ideal presentation, and, frankly, it looks like crap.

DON: Exactly.

AICN: You’re actually… you’re younger than me, which kind of sucks.

DON: (Laughs.) Sorry.

AICN: (Laughs.) You make me feel like I’m not trying hard enough… but I think we’re close enough in age that I assume we were probably watching the same early morning and afterschool animation that I was in the 80’s.


AICN: HE-MAN, G.I. JOE, TRANSFORMERS, VOLTRON… all of that. Did the overly serious, kind of moralistic tone of these shows play a part in shaping your irreverent sensibilities?

DON: I was more of a film dog when I was growing up. I always wanted to just make movies. Cartoons… I mean, I watched the “Loony Tunes” like every other kid, but I wanted to make STAR WARS. I mean, I always drew, like every kid drew, but when I was fifteen I got a video camera for my birthday, and it had a frame motor on it, which is really rare, actually. You could take it frame-by-frame; it was called a “time-lapse” feature, but you could jimmy it so it would take a frame at a time.

AICN: I actually had one of those, too.


AICN: It was 8 mm.

DON: Oh, right. I have one of those now, actually, because I still pencil test on video, but I was still testing on this old broken down camera up until a year ago. It kind of got me through high school, survival-wise. Every weekend, I would teach myself more about animation, and just do these little cartoons of stuff blowing up and people running around. I got into UC-Santa Barbara for their film program, and I learned pretty quickly that everybody else doing their student projects were spending upwards of twenty to thirty thousand dollars to make 16-milimeter short films using their rich uncle’s money. I couldn’t afford that, and I realized that I already know how to animate, and no one is using this animation camera. I made my first cartoon there for $400. You can work by yourself, and your eighteen year old roommate isn’t playing a fifty year old. No matter what you do in a live action student film, it’s still going to look like a student film. You can’t control the weather, you don’t know what you’re doing yet, and you can’t show it anywhere after the campus screening. So, it was really just a practical thing. I made enough to make the next cartoon, and I made the four films in four years, then I was able to afford to buy the 35-milimeter animation camera that we have now for the new stuff. It’s weird. I’ve never taken an animation course, I’ve never formally studied. Obviously, I can’t draw like the Disney guys can do those life drawing and stuff. I’m just doing what I can, and it came out interesting. It’s hard to describe, I guess.

AICN: It’s essentially minimalism.

DON: Yeah. It serves the story somehow. I wouldn’t be doing this if I were trying to do FANTASIA 2000 with the whales, or something ridiculous like that.

AICN: That actually might be interesting with stick figures. But do you think you could explain the legitimacy of minimalism, and why animating stick figures doesn’t mean you’re a lousy artist?

DON: Well, I am a lousy artist. (Laughs.) I always compare it to the music world. You can find a million singers, like opera singers, Mariah Carey-style singers, who can sing better than Bob Dylan. And you can find a million session players who can play guitar better than Bob Dylan. But that doesn’t mean Bob Dylan doesn’t have anything interesting to say. I think it’s very comparable in the sense that, for instance, Disney has a thousand animators working, and they’re your session players; they’re the violinist in the orchestra. They’re not writing anything, but they’re playing the notes very beautifully. I think I’m more of a garage band, the do-it-yourself kind of guy. It’s the only analogy I can think of that justifies it. (Laughs.) I think it does serve what we’re doing. I don’t think “Rejected” would be very funny if it was 3D, for instance. It’s got a certain charm to it. But it’s very frustrating to me, actually, because a lot of people see stick figures, and they just assume, “Oh, this guy’s drawing with his left hand.” They immediately think it’s poor animation, whereas I’m animating in twos and ones, which is on par, or better than, at a technical level, the highest quality studio stuff.

AICN: What’s the average production period on your shorts?

DON: “Billy’s Balloon” took about nine months. “Rejected” took about a year and a half. The three new ones for THE ANIMATION SHOW took about nine months. It’s entirely too long, and it’s because I’m doing everything. I don’t use cells, so there’s no recycled animation. Most of the time, everything you see on screen is literally being drawn over and over again. That’s what makes it jittery. Meanwhile, Bill Plympton can make a feature in the same time it takes me to make a short, which is endlessly frustrating. But it’s just a different production method.

AICN: He’s like a well-oiled machine. He’s been doing it forever.

DON: He’s a lot like a 1950’s exploitation director. It’s great to listen to him talk. He calls them “pictures”, and he’s got that kind of excitement about putting out all of these movies. It’s very inspiring.

AICN: Do you go into these shorts expecting to take them to such extremes, or does that just evolve naturally over the entire process?

DON: Extremes? How do you mean?

AICN: Like in “Rejected”. Did you have the whole thing plotted out, where your mental state would gradually decline, or was that something you worked into? (Essentially, what I now realize I was asking in a bizarre roundabout fashion was, “Do you script your shorts?”)

DON: I don’t really start with scripts because the stuff takes so friggin’ long. Especially with comedy, you just get sick of the jokes after a while. Inevitably, I come up with better ideas as I go. I don’t know… when you write, do you feel like this? Because a lot of the time when I’m writing, it seems like re-writing is more important than the first stuff you get down.

AICN: Well, for me, the first stuff is always bare, and not terribly funny. When you embellish it, it becomes livelier and funnier.

DON: Yeah. And it’s, honestly, just more fun to make when you’re not tied down to a script for nine months, and you doubt the stuff while you draw it. It’s changed from show to show, but something like “Billy’s Balloon” or “Rejected”, which starts with maybe just a handful of scenes, or just a concept, and I just start animating. It’s such a horrible, time consuming process, but you’ll come up with something better. I think the very first thing I animated for “Rejected” I threw away, and did a different thing that was a little step up. I don’t think I came up with the ending until we were close to the end of animating all of the pieces, and then everything changed again when it was shot. That finale was a disaster when it was finished; it was just not funny, it wasn’t working, it was too slow. Rebecca and I just reedited the order of those sequences over and over again. We cut out every bit of fat we could find. Then, going into the sound mix, lots of those talking heads, we didn’t know what they were saying yet. (Laughs.) Rob and I did the voices. In that sense, we would record a scene, mostly improvisational, and go, “Okay, it’s kind of funny that way.” Throw in some sound and, like, “Oh, it might work.” Then tear it all down, mix it in an entirely different way, with different lines of dialogue, and then it’s funny in a completely different way. It starts getting to the point when scenes started getting funnier when the dialogue was backwards. We were just so close to it, and got deeper and deeper into it, and pushed more and more out there. I think you just reach a point where the film says, “Stop fucking with me!” And you know, “Okay, this is it. We can’t mix that anymore.” The trilogy for the show was the same way. The intermission, and all of the surreal stuff… we’d animate a few scenes, and then we’d watch it and go, “You know, this isn’t enough. He needs to run around more.” So I threw in the stuff with the rainbow and the ponies (laughs)… running around in the flowers, and that worked a little better. I don’t know if that’s how a lot of animators work, but it just seems more fluid and organic to me. It’s a better time, being able to play like that.

AICN: I saw that you’re taking ten seconds out of “Intermission in the Third Dimension”.

DON: Yeah, that was the one time where a test screening actually helped me. I’ve never really done them that much. A lot of times, I like leaving scenes long and awkward, kind of twisting the knife and making things uncomfortable.

AICN: I loved the guy walking forward and walking back.

DON: That’s the segment we cut.


DON: Well, not the whole segment.

AICN: But the longer that goes, it’s just great.

DON: But it’s poison. The original joke was, and Mike and I were talking about this a *long* time ago. We always wanted to do a 3D short for real. We looked into it, and talked to a lot of 3D people. The polarized way is really the way to go – the red-and-green way can get a little irritating – and I think we might try doing it for real one year. But we just came up with some ideas, and that was just a leftover. We were like, “We should spend all of this money doing this 3D thing, make everyone put on the glasses, and all he does is walk back and forth.” (Laughs.) And we should just have him do it for a minute, just have him keep walking. So, we had been talking about that, and I think that’s the problem. I think it was much funnier when it was originally supposed to be in 3D.

AICN: (Laughing.) I still think the idea is hilarious. I don’t have glasses on, but he’s going to keep walking back and forth.

DON: (Laughs.) I know. Well, I was like, “I think I’ll throw it in there anyway and just say ‘3D glasses not available in areas,’ and just make people sit through this.” And have car horns going off, so it’s like surreal, like it’s all supposed to be so amazing. That’s one that I went a little too far on. It played twice in Austin, and both times it started with a *huge* laugh. He starts walking up, and everyone gets it. We were like, “Oh, we hate this shot now because it’s so long, but it works. Thank god!” And then the laugh… you can just taste it, it just starts dropping and dropping, and he just keeps walking. I was like, “Oh, fuck, I pushed this!” It was just poison with the audience. But we were like, “Well, maybe it was just Austin.” And in L.A. it was the same thing. They just start hating you. So, I trimmed that down. I saw it for the first time today, and I was like, “Oh, yeah, it’s perfect now.” It’s just long enough where people are sick of it, and then it’s off the screen. On the other hand, though, you know that long distance shot in “Billy’s Balloon” where it just picks him up and drops him?

AICN: Yeah.

DON: Goes all the way down, picks him all the way up, and drops him again. That goes on for way too long, and that always had the same effect, too. Audiences laugh huge the first time, polite the second time, but the third time they just hate my guts.

AICN: But that’s great! That’s holding on to it too long, and generating that audience contempt.

DON: But that was on purpose. The thing with the walking, I was like, “Ooh, we don’t want to do that there.” Maybe I’m losing my touch. I don’t know.

AICN: I don’t know… it’s just my opinion. Trust me, it’s—

DON: But the fact that you said, “NOOOOO!” It’s good that you liked that scene.

AICN: Yeah, but I’ve been liking a lot of things that other people don’t. I think I’m a really bad judge.

DON: I like the 3D bit the best. I wasn’t too happy with the intro. The ending’s pretty cool, but it’s a little too short for me.

AICN: Robots always go over big.

DON: That was rough to do, but great to see when it was finally up there.

AICN: What animators, and animated series, are you into now? Are you watching anything like ADULT SWIM?

DON: Not really. Honestly, I feel like a tool because I don’t watch enough animation. I loved FINDING NEMO; I thought that was the best film I’ve seen all year. Those guys can do no wrong, it seems. I’ll still watch THE SIMPSONS if I remember it’s on, but there’s a lot of stuff—

AICN: And KING OF THE HILL, of course.

DON: (Laughs.) Of course! Absolutely! KING OF THE HILL is great! I also wish I saw SOUTH PARK more often, but I never know when it’s on. I don’t watch a lot of T.V. I feel like one of those assholes who say, “Oh, I don’t watch T.V.,” but I *really* don’t watch T.V.

AICN: You have a life.

DON: Actually, I don’t have a life. Sometimes I think I’d rather watch cartoons than sit and draw them.

AICN: Why wouldn’t the Cartoon Network air “Rejected”?

DON: I don’t know. I never really got an explanation. I felt bad for them because it wasn’t their fault, and I think they were very embarrassed. I was bummed out just because they hyped it like crazy, and I think a lot of people were looking forward to it, and they didn’t get to see it. I’ve heard a lot of rumors – it was supposed to be on for two years or so – and they were always struggling with the censors allegedly over the fact that one of the characters says “Sweet Jesus!” I always thought that was hilarious because I thought they’d hate the blood and the guts and the nastiness, and the word “fuck” is barely bleeped, but you just can’t say “Jesus” on their network. But apparently everything else is cool. (Laughs.) Then, I heard that wasn’t really true, but it was… I never really got a straight answer. Then, it was going to air, and when they yanked it they didn’t really give me an explanation. (The Cartoon Network) talked about it, but it sounded like they didn’t even know why. The latest rumor I’ve heard is that somebody in a position of power at the network, not at the Cartoon Network, but at Turner Networks, somehow saw it and declared it not funny. And his personal opinion overrode the ADULT SWIM guys.

AICN: I think it probably *was* Ted Turner.

DON: (Laughs.) That would be pretty cool, actually. It’s too bad; I hope it will be able to air somewhere on American television, but, ironically, it’s aired on Cartoon Network Spain… and all over Europe. They have the rights to show it for another nine to twelve months, but I think they’re going to have to write it out, and then I can take it somewhere else.

AICN: Do you have any feature length ambitions, or live action?

DON: It depends on the story for live action. I’d love to give it a shot if I come up with something that I think would be better told with live action. I was peddling a few animated feature scripts. I think I took a meeting with every animation studio in L.A. I think that was right when I was graduating, when “Billy’s Balloon” was finished. I was going to write something at Fox for, like, a second, but then TITAN A.E. imploded their entire division. But, honestly, I suck at pitching. Have you ever had to do that?

AICN: Very few times, and, yeah, I’ve certainly not learned the art.

DON: As you can tell, I usually stammer when I talk. I’m really bad at that. I’ve almost gotten to some impressive levels at a couple of studios, but I’ve learned pretty quickly that at least I’m lucky enough to have an audience for the shorts. I’d like to try it again, but the time it takes, and the energy it takes to get something off the ground. Just listening to Mike’s stories, and he’s making a new live action feature right now, or he’s trying to get it through… it’s just a lot of stress. And by the time you’re ready, you’re already sick of your own script. I think it’s inevitable that I’m going to give it another try one of these days, but I don’t feel the pressure so much anymore. When I was doing shorts five years ago, I felt the need to break out of shorts, but everyone wanted to do “The Billy’s Balloon Show”. Nobody wanted to do anything episodic or interesting. I mean, you’re a writer, you know how it works. Everybody wants dinosaurs on a boat looking for Private Ryan. It’s hook, hook, hook. Nobody wants to see stick figures having a conversation.

AICN: Maybe Stick Figure Tentacle Porn. That’s where it’s at. Have you thought about playing THE ANIMATION SHOW at penitentiaries?

DON: I think, in this day and age, any audience is a blessing. I think we’ll play every venue that will have us.

AICN: And the schedule is ever-expanding?

DON: We’re shooting the moon with this thing. I don’t care if we lose money in half of these venues, like in some backwoods theater where there’s no market traditionally for this. Mike and I are not interested in raking in the dough here. It sounds cheesy, but we want to be the good guys, and we want to get this stuff seen and exposed, and into the mainstream. I think we’re going to play every state and take it international, if we can get the rights.


JULY 2003
Animated Films Hit the Road
By Elvis Mitchell, New York Times

AUSTIN, Tex., July 22 - - Don Hertzfeldt, the young, amiable and highly praised director of a series of animated shorts featuring stick-figure protagonists, is vexed by the prospects of hand-drawn animation, especially the general studio response to the form.

"I really get frustrated with the studios because so many people just can't get past the word `animation,' " Mr. Hertzfeldt said here this week.

"You can't just have characters talking for these guys," he added, speaking of studio executives. "You have to make them turn into turtles or doves or something. It's all visuals, like what kind of software are you using for the shirt textures? Writing, characters, editing is all secondary for them."

Mr. Hertzfeldt was in Austin for the world premiere of "The Animation Show," a compilation of animated shorts that he and his partner and primary financier, the animator Mike Judge, are about to send around the country. The plan is to get the show to every state. Mr. Judge is the creator of the animated television series "King of the Hill" and "Beavis and Butt-head."

Mr. Judge is just as eager to disprove the studios' fears that hand-drawn cartoons are as dead as another "Charlie's Angels" sequel. DreamWorks certainly seems to think so. On Monday its animation director said the studio was giving up on traditional animation after its new release, "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas," showed disappointing results at the box office.

But, Mr. Judge said: "The public doesn't think like that. They don't say, `I'd like to see some hand-drawn animation.' Or, `You know, I'm in the mood for CG tonight.' Either the movie works or it doesn't."

When "Beavis and Butt-head" became a hit, he said, "they all wanted to make a `Beavis and Butt-head' movie, but nobody wanted to do it as animation."

"They wanted to make it live action because the rule was, anytime you make an animated film and it's not a family film, it fails. And this one executive just got in my face and said, `No one's going to pay $7 to see two crudely drawn characters go "Uhhh." ' And I just said: `MTV owns it, go make your live action thing, I won't go see it.' But eventually they said, `Let's make this,' and it ended up being huge and making so much money that I even got some out of it."

"The Animation Show" has been put together just as animation is bigger than ever but when independent animated shorts are barely noticed. For most of the country they tend to surface once a year, when the nominees for best animated short are recited during the Oscar telecast, generally the time for a bad joke by the presenters and a snack break for most viewers. But a screening of "The Animation Show" on Saturday in Austin, the second night of a lightly promoted event, drew appreciative crowds.

The shorts selected by Mr. Judge and Mr. Hertzfeldt, a hilarious and occasionally odd group, range from Oscar nominees like "Mount Head," a kind of raucous, angry Japanese fable, to a tribute to Ward Kimball, one of a group of Walt Disney's pioneering animators known as the Nine Old Men. The compilation also contains work by Mr. Hertzfeldt, including his Oscar-nominated film "Rejected" and several brand-new shorts. "Rejected," a departure from his usual stick-figure animation, is populated by puffy-guy figures, a cross between a low-flying cloud and a popcorn kernel with a personality disorder.

Mr. Hertzfeldt's love of short-form animation is what motivated "The Animation Show." "I'm always bummed out because there aren't really many opportunities to see independent animation in the U.S.," Mr. Hertzfeldt said. "But in Europe you can see it everywhere; the governments and TV finance it because there's no commercials over there and they run the shorts between shows."

"Rejected," he said, has "played every place in the world on TV but the States."

"It's like having to get an import single of your favorite American band, because they couldn't release it here," he added.

Mr. Judge, who has known Mr. Hertzfeldt since 2001, said he got involved with the project "because I love the way animation looks on the big screen."

For this North American tour, the two are scheduling as many stops as possible. Mr. Hertzfeldt will attend when "Animation" plays the Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles on Aug. 15, and both men will be in Manhattan when the films are shown at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center on Sept. 4. The next day "Animation" will begin a brief run at the Quad Cinema in Manhattan.

Some of Mr. Judge's early animation work is also part of the compilation, including the animated short that eventually became the live-action cult gem "Office Space." "But in the future, the hope is we can develop stuff, to help people out that we see have talent," Mr. Judge said.

The animation short-film circuit that used to hit colleges and small towns years ago has almost disappeared. The best-known survivor, "Spike and Mike's Sick Twisted Festival of Animation," still rears its head occasionally, stirring surges of exhilaration for the midnight bongwater crowd.

Mr. Judge, who grew up seeing classic Warner Brothers and Disney cartoons in theaters, wants to seize the opportunity to bring short animation back from being treated merely as branding by Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel.

"The thing that made me want to animate was going to those animation festivals when I was in school," Mr. Judge said. "I'm 40, and people my age, we all loved the old Warner Brothers stuff, and just assumed the form was dead. And I went to the festival, and everything not only looked great and was really cool, but it was done independently."

Mr. Hertzfeldt began making shorts with a video camera while still in high school and sold his first film to the "Spike and Mike's" festival in 1995, when he was 18. He studied film at the University of California at Santa Barbara. "The beauty of U.C.S.B. for me was that there was an animation camera there and no one was using it," he said. "I was able to make a film a year my four years there."

A successful tour for "The Animation Show" might revive interest at the studios in playing animated shorts in theaters before the main features. Mr. Judge warms to that notion. "That would actually be a good idea for companies like Fox Searchlight or Sony," he said. "Because you can make money with them."