Don Hertzfeldt discusses a career creating animated shorts
Published: Sunday, April 1, 2012
Updated: Sunday, April 1, 2012 23:04
Best known for his Oscar-nominated animated short “Rejected,” Don Hertzfeldt is considered one of the most influential animators of the past decade.
While there are many modern animators who use computers for their films, Hertzfeldt uses one of the only working 35mm animation cameras to create his own work. His current tour, “An Evening with Don Hertzfeldt,” brings these animations to life in exclusive regional screenings across the country.
Hertzfeldt will be in Tampa for the premiere of his newest film, “It’s Such a Beautiful Day,” on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Tampa Theatre. His longest work to date, “It’s Such a Beautiful Day,” follows “Everything Will Be OK” and “I Am So Proud of You” in a trilogy centering around Bill, a mentally unstable but highly relatable character.
In an email interview with The Oracle, Hertzfeldt said “there’s definitely a lot of me in all the movies,” but that doesn’t mean he considers his films to be autobiographical.
“I think any writer will sort of take things from their life — dreams, fears, conversations, non-fiction subjects you’re just interested in researching — and sort of weave them into a story,” he said. “It’s not about you, but it might be a very big part of you.”
In the first two films of the “Everything Will Be OK” trilogy, Hertzfeldt narrates the character’s conversations so that there is no need to move their mouths. Yet even without the time-consuming dialogue animation, the trilogy took him more than six years to complete.
“I just try to take it one day at a time,” Hertzfeldt said. “I know by now that a complicated short like (‘Everything will Be OK’) will take up to two years of solid work in dark little rooms. You just have to find ways to make yourself comfortable, set little goals and routines. The key is keeping yourself happy and able to return to the art desk every single day, again and again and again.”
Hertzfeldt said that young animators come up to him and brag about not sleeping for days in order to complete their projects faster.
“I have to tell them to f------ slow down and take care of themselves,” he said. “It’s a really long marathon, not a sprint, and you have to stay healthy. It’s very easy to get burned out on this sort of thing before you reach the finish line.”
Even with great pacing, Hertzfeldt doesn’t always get to the finish line he intended to reach. He said that he usually has the ending of a film planned before he starts making it, but every so often he comes across better ideas as the film evolves.
“More than once, I’ve thrown the ending out maybe a year and a half into production and piloted things in a very different direction,” Hertzfeldt said. “I tend to write as I go, which is one small luxury of working basically alone. I can freely rewrite and reshape when things aren’t going quite right.”
For Hertzfeldt, working alone means being on stage alone. When on tour, his regional film premieres are followed by on-stage discussions with the audience.
“It’s not daunting anymore, but the practice of sitting in front of hundreds of people with a microphone, answering questions, that’s not something I think you can ever get really used to,” Hertzfeldt said. “Or at least, maybe you shouldn’t.”
Yet he admitted that standing in front of sold-out theaters is much better than having to talk to them using a webcam. He said he was on his way to a screening in Indianapolis when bad weather made it impossible for him to arrive.
“That was kind of a drag,” he said. “Hurricanes were directly in my travel path that day, so I was stranded in Chicago in a borrowed flat that my friends had just moved out of. So for the first time I had to chat with the audience over Skype, projected on the screen from a totally quiet and empty room. I think it went OK, but it felt like the loneliest thing ever.”
Hertzfeldt said that there are a lot of new projects he wants to start once he is done with the current tour.
“There are three other projects I hope to get the gears moving on this year, and only one of them is a movie,” he said. “It will require a lot of money and will probably never be made.”
Herzfeld has been offered large sums of money to create artwork for commercials, and has always refused. He recently auctioned off an original drawing from the short “Wisdom Teeth” in order to raise money for the Ann Arbor Film Festival. The drawing sold for $500, but Hertzfeldt said he refuses to sell any of his art unless it is for charity — leaving it to be projected on the big screen.
“I’ve always felt very strange and kind of dirty selling the original artwork,” he said. “Every production drawing from every movie over the past 17 years — sketches, storyboards, too — all of it has just been boxed up and put in closets. The animation drawings aren’t really meant to be seen by themselves, and maybe that’s also why I feel strange about letting them go. They’re supposed to move.”