2001 Academy Award© Nominee, Best Animated Short Film

the Gold Hugo - Chicago International Film Festival 2000
Official Selection - Sundance Film Festival 2001

available on
bitter films: volume 1
Rejected


"In the spring of 1999, the Family Learning Channel commissioned animator
Don Hertzfeldt to produce promotional segments for their network.
The cartoons were completed in five weeks.
The Family Learning Channel rejected all of them upon review,
and they were never aired..."

Production began on March 3, 1999 with the final cut completed and sent to the lab in June 2000. While not his longest running production, at the time "Rejected" (2000) was Don's most behind-schedule and wildly out of control project. The movie went through drastic changes straight through the end of post-production, growing stranger and more experimental until it finally bore little resemblance to its original outline. The cartoon's big finale wasn't conceived until midway through production, while individual scenes were redesigned, shuffled around, and significantly reconstructed right up to the last day of sound mixing.

Making things difficult on a technical level, "Rejected" was meanwhile the first film produced at Don's then-new 35mm studio. Most of Don's animation was completed before the camera gear was purchased and the movie was then photographed before any of the editing equipment was in place. A projector was purchased in an attempt to be able to view and edit the film in-house, but the idea crashed and burned quite literally in impressive plumes of white smoke - the projector was broken on delivery. With no way to view any of the finished footage, the entire movie was instead spliced together blind, with proper editing sessions later taking place in the dead of night on the Warner Bros lot when nobody was looking.

The film's first cut - clocking in at over twelve minutes - was radically retooled and fine-tuned down to one and two frame edits. A finished scene was cut many weeks after picture was locked, the order of commercial sequences was constantly shuffled around, more was cut out, more was reshot, and every moment of dead time was thrown out the window. Don believed the first cuts of the film to be an abject failure and approached editing and sound design on a "rescue mission."

Over eighty hours were spent mixing and recording sound for the 9 1/2 minute cartoon, reworking scenes several times over. Don had animated the lip synch of the characters before any dialogue was recorded - and in many cases before dialogue was even written - allowing for vocal improvisation for nearly every scene. The growing experimental nature of the production left the door wide open for an almost infinite number of creative choices, and trial and error required many extra days to rework certain scenes over and over again until they seemed right. Many sequences were recorded and mixed one way and then torn down and rebuilt from scratch, often with entirely different dialogue - other times a scene played funnier when the dialogue was simply played backwards. Other scenes contain a mess of experimental layers of music, noise, and effects.

A chunk of the sound mix was also concentrated around the film's finale, for which "the world's greatest crash-box" was created - a sound effects box filled with broken bottles, concrete, glass, lightbulbs, and giant rocks that was thrown down stairs, against walls, and from great heights. There was much drinking involved. Don created other sound effects for the finale by distorting his guitar amp or sampling and severely manipulating industrial sounds, engines, and motors.

Like all of Don's films, no computers were used in the picture's production. All the finale's special effects were captured in-camera: Don performed experiments with the animation camera's motor to create the desired camera and motion blurs, whereas the crumple and paper effects are a simple blend of stop-motion-animated paper and traditional animation, not unlike Genre. The final result of all this in the film's conclusion is really something on the big screen.

The film premiered in the Spring of 2000 at the San Diego Comic Convention to an audience of over 1,000. Don totalled his car on the freeway on the way home from the premiere but escaped unharmed.

In 2001, "Rejected" was nominated for an Academy Award. To date it has received twenty-seven other awards.

During the film's theatrical release a small but growing confusion surfaced over whether "Rejected" was "real." Urban legends circled around the film, particularly fueled whenever a film critic would reprint a synopsis of the film in lieu of actually watching it, going to press with false descriptions of the film as a documentary reel. The legends later found new life when "Rejected" was due for its American television premiere, uncut and commercial free, on the Cartoon Network in 2001. The air date was delayed for a year due to internal trouble with the network's standards and practices department, who finally gave the film a green light to premiere in November 2002. After a week of promoting the film, the network then pulled it 48 hours before its scheduled time, for reasons still unknown. So "Rejected" became truly rejected and more confusion over its true history grew. Unfortunately the film has still never aired on American television, despite having played on international networks now for years.

The short currently enjoys a strong cult following and is probably Don's most recognizable film.

Learn more about the film in the
BITTER FILMS: VOLUME 1 DVD archive:


- "THE MEANING OF LIFE" TIME LAPSE DOCUMENTARY
- "THE ANIMATION SHOW" TRILOGY CARTOONS
- RARE FOOTAGE FROM DON'S EARLIEST CARTOONS
- ORIGINAL VIDEO PENCIL TESTS
- DELETED SEQUENCES
- "REJECTED" TEXT COMMENTARY BY DON
- "LILY AND JIM" DELETED DIALOGUES AND OUTTAKES
- "THE MEANING OF LIFE" SPECIAL EFFECTS DOCUMENTARY
- "REJECTED" ENTIRELY AWFUL AUDIO COMMENTARY
- "LILY AND JIM" REUNION COMMENTARY
- ABANDONED "SPANKY THE BEAR SHOW" FOOTAGE
- SKETCH TO SCENE COMPARISONS
- EXTENSIVE PRODUCTION NOTES
- NEVER BEFORE SEEN PHOTOS!
- BEFORE SEEN PHOTOS!
- "AH, L'AMOUR" BONUS 2005 SOUNDTRACK
- 16 PAGE RETROSPECTIVE BOOKLET
- BRAND NEW ANIMATED MENUS AND TRANSITIONS

read about the film's production during 1999-2000 in Don's journal and in past interviews.


Production credits

  • Camera, Writing, Animation, Sound,
    Production, and Direction by Don Hertzfeldt

  • Editing by Rebecca Moline
  • Music by Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Sound Mixing by Tim Kehl
  • Voices by Robert May and Don Hertzfeldt
    with Jennifer Nyholm
  • Copyright 2000 Bitter Films


"Rejected" reviews

  • "Halfway through comes the program's one true masterpiece: Don Hertzfeldt's Rejected, the longest item on display at nearly 10 minutes, uses the most primitive possible animation - stick figures, basically - in an increasingly hilarious and surprising narrative; this is arguably the greatest self-reflexive animated short since Duck Amuck."
    Andy Klein, San Francisco Weekly

  • * * * * * (five stars)
    "Stick figure animations are executed by no one better on the planet than filmmaker Don Hertzfeldt. His work has been part of the Sick and Twisted Animation Festival and he continues to make audiences laugh until they have trouble breathing with his bizarre looks at life. Rejected is no different... What follows is some of the most twisted sh*t ever... I can describe it all day, but you need to experience the pure joy that is Rejected. Hertzfeldt continues to shock the hell out of us while we laugh our asses off."
    Chris Gore, Film Threat

  • "But for the most audacious, exuberant and purely joyful cinematic experiences to come out of Sundance 2001, I'd have to cite two animated films; the first, Richard Linklater's hallucinogenic Waking Life, a dream-film that grows on you more every second you surrender to its surprisingly suspenseful narrative... and Don Hertzfeldt's hilarious 10-minute stick-figure opus Rejected -- a collision between art, commercial culture, and madness, he writes on his website -- a description that we've come to identify with the Sundance Film Festival itself. Fortunately this year, however, there was a little more art and a little less commercial madness."
    Anthony Kaufman, indieWIRE

  • "The showpiece -- upstaging beautifully executed segments by Aardman and Pixar -- is Don Hertzfeldt's Rejected. This nine-minute wonder consists of several wildly inappropriate line-drawing segments commissioned by the fictional Family Learning Channel, followed by even weirder, more violent toons made for a commercial sponsor. Following the entirely justifiable rejection of all his short cartoons, Hertzfeldt starts drawing with his left hand -- and the cartoons themselves start deteriorating along with his mind, to marvelous effect."
    Lou Lumenick, New York Post

  • "...the festival's single greatest moment... this is the highlight of not only this year's Spike and Mike fest but quite probably of the last five or so years as well. It's that good. Combining Hertzfeldt's trademark line-drawing style with sublimely surreal nonsequiturs and self-reflexive stop-motion, it's one of those rare animated works that not only makes the laughter fairly explode out of you but also virtually guarantees itself a spot in animation history. Hertzfeldt's short alone is worth the price of admission."
    The Austin Chronicle

  • "...instant gratification... of all the films in the 2001 lineup, it's the least Oscar friendly. It was nominated anyway... Rejected pits its excruciatingly minimalist form against a double-decker concept. Sarcasm graduates to reflexive insanity as Hertzfeldt's frustration with [the channel's] dissing his admittedly unacceptable submissions turns to fury... the human resonances, psychological meandering and social asides enhance the art, as opposed to the look outstripping the ideas. The form skips merrily behind the content. This is what separates the animated statements from the cartoons."
    Wesley Morris, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "...brilliant... runs in the exact opposite direction from slick Pixar, deploying black and white stick figures in deadpan-voice episodes (with scenes of blood shooting from an anus and jetting out of eye sockets) and ending in a fantastic self-referential apocalypse."
    David Cole, Time Out New York

  • "Born from the same twisted mind that brought us the deliciously cruel animated short Billy's Balloon, ...Rejected continues Don Hertzfeldt's marriage of simple animated line drawings with the unexpectedly disgusting plot turn. We learn from the written narration that Hertzfeldt was commissioned by the Family Learning Channel to come up with a series of promotional segments. His submissions are so weird and existential, they're promptly rejected, which causes the cartoons themselves to implode on one another. I laughed till it hurt."
    Warren Epstein, Gazette (Colorado)

  • "...surreally funny... The energetic young filmmaker Don Hertzfeldt had the audience in stitches with his hilarious animation short, Rejected..."
    Chicago International Film Festival

  • "A journey via minimalist drawings into a bizarre world of rabbits and spaceships. 'This is one of his best,' says [Spike] Decker of Hertzfeldt. 'I've worked with so many animators that you just know after a while who's got what it takes. He's got the gift.'"
    Loren King, Boston Globe

  • "Hertzfeldt's twisted mind comes to life through bare-bones, but very expressive, stick-man art... What follows is the decline of the animator into total insanity and the havoc it wreaks on his cartoons. Brilliant animation."
    Fraser Black, Vancouver Westender

  • "Gold... every [promo] was conceived by the most randomized thoughts in Hertzfeldt's brain, and put onto paper... by far the funniest film at the entire festival. In a festival where you expect to see the unexpected, Rejected delivered just that, and so much more. I can honestly say I have never laughed harder at a piece of animation in my 10 years of attending the Festival of Animation - both Classic and Sick and Twisted."
    Ryan Gutierrez, Radar! UC Riverside Highlander

  • "...biting satire and utter sarcasm..."
    Glen Starkey, San Luis Obispo New Times

  • "wickedly funny... Once again, his cartoons feature the blank-white backdrops populated by squiggly stick figures with bulging eyes who laugh, scream, wiggle, bleed profusely and wreck the papery landscape. Very strange."
    Michael Ziegler, Athens Flagpole, GA

  • "There's a whiff of Blair Witch as the reel turns into a diary of the filmmaker's spiraling despair."
    Bill Stamets, Chicago Sun-Times

  • "...a self-reflexive series of skits that build and build, pushing the punch line further and further toward the edge... another winner."
    Ted Mills, Santa Barbara Independent

  • "...hysterically funny."
    Nancy Redwine, Santa Cruz Sentinel

  • "The jewel in the crown and the most high-concept offering... The well-written film makes use of minimalist stick figure-type characters, long moments of awkward silence, cascading showers of blood and a mastery of deadpan comedy."
    Byron Kerman, Riverfront Times

  • "...itís easy to suspend disbelief and imagine a demented animator going insane from the pressure of selling out, submitting these hilariously inappropriate segments to an appalled educational network. Hertzfeldt seems to be warning prospective employees about what could happen if he were expected to promote insipid childrenís programming, or to hawk frozen fish sticks with his talent for animation. I doubt if any ad agencies will hire him after this, but I certainly hope to see more of Hertzfeldtís twisted masterpieces in the future."
    John Tebbutt, FFWD Weekly, Calgary

  • "...genius... a must-see for fans of radical tongue-in-cheek animation. Rejected successfully pokes fun at the corporate world and the advertising industry. Make sure you attend this screening!"
    Doug Hoepker, the Champaign-Urbana Octopus

  • "This hilarious and dark film should jump immediately to the top of the don't-miss list. Featuring short bits supposedly rejected for advertising promotions, Hertzfeldt lets his black-comic genius run wild. The animation techniques featured in the final section of the film are demonically low-tech and brilliant... Hertzfeldt is poised to become the next big thing."
    Bryce Edmonds, denver citysearch

  • "...surreal... the film's little squiggles inhabit a bizarre world of non sequiturs and jabs at corporate perfidy that suddenly deconstructs around them in an apocalypse of crumpling paper."
    Maitland McDonagh, TV Guide Online

  • "...my favorite [short] that Iíve seen so far this week... The sense of humor is insane and had me gasping for air. On the other hand, there was stunned silence from some of the other people in the room... this is a really funny filmmaker, and he pays off every joke beautifully."
    Aint-It-Cool-News

  • "This 9 minute animated tour de force was nominated for Best Animated Short at this year's Academy Awards, and it's easy to see why. This corrosively funny little film features Hertzfeldt's stick figure drawings and Simpsons-style sensibility in a made-up premise that the comic sketches are promotional items rejected by a television network and various corporate sponsors. The stability of Hertzfeldt's creations breaks down as the 'rejections' mount, until the film's animated world collapses in a violent, cataclysmic finale. A must see."
    the Memphis Flyer

  • "As the short progresses, the narrative moves from odd non-sequiters, to satirical play-lets, to apocalyptic, spiritual turbulence. This single short film provides a more satisfying cinematic rush than most of the features that the studios churn out each year."
    the Screening Room

  • "...the real prize in this year's selection... On the surface, Hertzfeldt's work looks like a crude laugh, and thus the Oscar nomination this piece received is a strange honor for a cruel cartoon. Still, Hertzfeldt's film should have won. The cartoons here purport to be rejected ad spots for the fictional Family Learning Channel on cable, shorts done with such violence and horrible ineptness that only a maniac would have considered them salable. Hertzfeldt scores the film to some especially turbulent Beethoven, to reflect the crisis of the artist at last bowing down to sell out and finding himself incapable. Here, the animator is a mirror of Kafka's hunger artist, who would have eaten like anyone else, if he only could have found something he could have choked down his throat. What's at stake in Rejected is nothing less than the spirit of animation, resisting the attempt to keep it in marketplace bondage. With his evil little drawings, Hertzfeldt tries to flail the cuteness and commercial potential out of animation, for once and for all. "I'm a consumer whore" "And how!"
    Richard von Busack, San Jose Metro

  • "...too good to be true. This animator, more than any other, is in touch with the true dark magic of animation."
    San Francisco Metro

Awards for "Rejected"