Arts & Culture Blog
Animator Don Hertzfeldt at CSUMB
January 31, 2012
Don Hertzfeldt says he’s a boring person, but fortunately for us, his short, cartoon films are far from that.
The Academy Award-nominated animator spoke last night at CSU Monterey Bay’s Teledramatic Arts and Technology department while showing It’s Such a Beautiful Day, the final segment of a three-part short film about a troubled man named Bill.
Hertzfeldt, having just screened the short at the Sundance Film Festival days earlier, answered questions from film students and fans of his work.
“I feel more intelligent when people think about why they’re laughing,” said Hertzfeldt in response to a question about the bloody violence prevalent in cartoons. “I think of violence as pain, but my work is more like a Road Runner cartoon. It is funny, because the character is still in pain and it’s absurd.”
Hertzfeldt’s work is also is unique due to it being completely drawn by hand and shot on a stop-motion camera from the 1940s. Other than a few effects made in Photoshop and re-shot on the film camera, all of the production is non-digital.
“I do everything wrong, according to the film production books,” he said. “Working one frame at a time is the way to keep it fresh.”
Because the camera is old, it can lead to what Hertzfeldt calls “happy accidents.” Light leaks in the filming and camera parts that don’t fully work correctly have added to the final product and he welcomes those mistakes.
“It isn’t going to be what you want, but it could be better than you wanted.”
Hertzfeldt says he starts with a a basic idea, but let’s the work form itself, in order to keep the creativity always flowing throughout the project. He also doesn’t consider himself an animator, but other elements are key to his productions.
“I feel like a filmmaker that can draw. Animating in the real work part,” he says. “It is the writing that gets me to the art desk.”
He adds in sound at the end, using things like metal dog bowls and random noises to produce effects.
“Sound is underrated in animation,” he said.
Many of the sounds, characters and lines in his movies, like Bill, are indirectly inspired by friends and real conversations. Or sometimes, ideas will come while sitting in traffic or doing the dishes. ”Parts in the three films were verbatim from dreams I had,” said Hertzfeldt. “The subconscious is a party in your head that you’re not invited to.”
It’s Such a Beautiful Day follows a stick figure man named Bill who doesn’t really have much going on. He just exists.
“There was never a punchline (to the Bill cartoon),” says Hertzfeldt. “It’s easy to become paralyzed by meaning (in art), because life gets in the way of making movies.”
In his more recent film, Hertzfeldt has explored meaning and reasons for living, but he still has used blood and gore that made fans laugh from his early work, like in Rejected.
“Life is mostly full of terrible things and that is what we learn from,” he says. “The comedy is the sugar for the medicine of the more serious things.”
In Beautiful Day, Bill comes to terms with his imminent death and understands his dreary life with new, positive clarity. Hertzfeldt says part of the story was inspired by a World War II story told by the perspective of a man marching off to be shot by Nazi soldiers and sees new things along on the road in the town he had lived all his life.
“If no one died, there would be no reason to get up in the morning,” said Hertzfeldt. “Death is the ultimate motivation.”