And he’s not doing it on his lonesome because that would be a gigantic pain in the a*s. Together with Mike Judge, Don “Rejected” Hertzfeldt has put together The Animation Show, a touring festival of animated shorts for the artists by the artists, promising to put these shorts into more theaters than any other animation festival in American history. In case you missed the tour, The Animation Show has now come to DVD, so you can experience many of the films shown in the safety of your own home without the danger of anyone looking at or possibly even touching you.
Don was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule, which includes laboring over his feature film for the past four years, to answer our questions about The Animation Show and his latest project.
How did it come about that you wound up working with Mike Judge on “The Animation Show”? Did you have to put him into a headlock and make him do it, or was it the other way around?
Bill (Plympton) and I were in Austin for a joint screening of our films and we hung out with Mike for the weekend. The energy and vibe of the audience there really reminded us of how cool, fun, and uncorrupt animation festivals used to be, and how “somebody” ought to do something to bring that sort of thing back into proper theaters. Mike and I talked about it for several months after that and i think the light bulbs went off simultaneously.
What makes “The Animation Show” stand out from other animation festivals?
Well, for starters we actually pay our filmmakers and treat them like human beings… and for the first time an animation festival is being run by animators rather than suits or creepy hippie burnouts…or hippie burnouts who have graduated into suits. I feel like the animation show performs much more of a community service in bringing these films into theaters than the companies of the past…we’re not structured to maximize profits by any stretch of the imagination and it’s very much a passion project for Mike and I. Anyone can tell you that there’s very little money to be made in the United States from animated short films. As long as the show can find ways to continually break even, we’ll be happy.
What’s the criteria for choosing films for “The Animation Show”?
We don’t really have any criteria, they just have to be good films. Animation’s historically been cursed with far too much emphasis on style and format rather than whether or not the piece actually has anything to say. Even people in the industry who should know better can tend to get way sidetracked with pretty window dressing in lieu of content. Any audience would rather watch a triangle made of crayons emote, than stare at a beautiful photoreal statue – and vice versa. Aside from the big theatrical program, we’ve now got the DVD series up and running through which we can release additional films that we feel are just as good but couldn’t fit in, for whatever reasons.
Was it cool doing three new shorts for “The Animation Show” featuring characters from “Rejected” or was it a distraction from your other project?
It was a lot of both…the new film is without a doubt the most difficult thing I’ve ever tackled in my life, at least so far. There hasn’t been a single shot in this thing that’s been easy to produce, and I still have trouble believing I’m already entering year four with it. Some of the earlier sequences in the film were so complicated they took several months just to produce a little more than a dozen seconds of footage. I’ve described it before as writing a novel by etching it out one letter at a time into a rock with your fingernails. It’s all in your head and dying to pour out, but the process is terribly slow and meticulous and maddening…already the next, next film is 60% written in my head and desperately wants to be let out of the cage too; i feel like i’ve got tons of ideas backed up and waiting to go. So being able to whip out three terribly stupid cartoons relatively quickly for “The Animation Show” was a relief…I got to experiment with some new tricks and relax and have fun with the basics of the process again and throw a bunch of things against the wall without having any pressure. I like two of those three cartoons quite a bit, the other came out a real mess and i still felt great about it because they blew off so much steam. On the other hand, they took about nine months to make, and i did lose some focus with the larger task at hand.
What the hell are those puffy little things anyway?
I’m not entirely sure. I think they are like little lambs.
Can we look forward to another tour?
Yeah, that’s definitely on the plate, the only question is when… I think we’re still getting our schedules together for when the next tour kicks off, when the next in the DVD series goes out, etc. Mike is very busy shooting “3001” right now in Austin and I’m still buried with this new film, but we’ve been exchanging tapes of cool films in the meantime to consider for the next show(s)… depending on how things sync up, the next theatrical tour will very likely open either in the fall of this year, or in very early 2005.
So back to your new film. Are you using any computers this time around?
No, no computers… i’ve never gone that route, everything has either been shot straight to 35mm or 16mm. I realized I bit off more than I could chew with this film somewhere in the second year and that was the only point when I wondered if maybe it was a project that ought to be helped out with a computer. I talked to a computer animator friend about it and explained the scenes I was animating and he sort of rolled his eyes and said, “Jesus Christ! That would take years to produce no matter how you went about it.” So it’s just different tools working towards the same goal. There were other shots in the film that I could very definitely have saved quite a bit of time if I’d done them digitally, but it became sort of a personal rule to get through the film “the old fashioned way” like the others, and solve all the special effects needs traditionally with just basic light and camera principles. So I shot the film’s outer space sequence with pin holes and optical composites and multiple exposures, circa 1955… it took months to prepare and two weeks to photograph about 45 seconds – one strip of film that was wound and backwound literally hundreds of times for each optical layer going over the next. If I’d made a single mistake in the process the entire shot would have been useless and I’d probably have flung myself out the window, but the sequence came out rather charming and pretty and I think you can tell that the light hitting the camera lens is real and not a simulation.
The film itself is very, very broad… it’s about a great number of things and I think people will come away with very different thoughts about it upon multiple viewings. I haven’t had much luck explaining it without sounding like a lunatic. I only came up with the right ending about a month ago, at least I think I did. It’s not a comedy. In a weird way I think it’s sort of something I’d probably have done if I’d ever been given an opportunity to do a “Fantasia”-like segment.
Any advice to young upcoming animators out there?
I’m all out of advice… don’t listen to anyone’s advice is my advice. nobody really knows what they’re doing.
Last question – What the hell is wrong with people these days?
Keep track of the progress on Don’s new film at his Bitter Films website.