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Don Hertzfeldt Talks ‘World of Tomorrow,’ the State of Animation, His Next Feature, and More

Written by on April 1, 2015 

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So the sequel for this movie will be vastly different is what you’re saying?

[Laughs] I’ve been circling it, you know. We’ll see, it would be great to keep revisiting. I have no idea. I just never thought of it that way but it’s not too crazy to think about.

Interesting, that’d be great. I’d love to see more of this world. Doing sci-fi here, is there any direct inspirations, either you had before making this film or just growing up?

I think the main thing directly for this film was, visually, I love the old, 50’s and 60’s sci-fi magazines and anthologies and dime store novels, I love the cover art. I love the very modern illustrations. You usually see a bold primary color and then these sharp geometric shapes that’s implying something and then in front of it all are your heroes. And they’re running from something with like a ray-gun or something. I’ve always loved the bold modern designs of the 50’s when it seemed like everything looks better designed than today. You know, a cereal box. So those covers were the direct inspiration for the look, more just these extra geometric shapes moving all these directions, and colors. I wanted the film to really, really explode with color, color, color. We made sixteen different drafts of the DCP that you screen in theaters over and over, just to get more and more color and density out of it.

That’s great.

Yeah, and overall also tied into that, I wanted it to look like a children’s book. I wanted it to look very flat, minimal textures, and again color. Because we’re seeing this from her point-of-view, and I kinda wanted to run away from a lot of the other pitfalls that you see in a lot of digital animation today, which is sort of running towards photorealism and so many textures. It’s almost getting a little boring. You know, I wanted to try something different.

Speaking of the current state of animation, do you find inspiration or maybe just pure enjoyment out of anything today? Or do you kinda go back to your favorites?

I love what’s going on in the independent scene, of course. It’s funny, there’s not that many people doing this, and we’ve all become a little, over the years, more closely knit. There’s more of us at film festivals and things, and by us, I mean like independent animators who are doing this and nothing else. We don’t have day jobs. It’s a very unusual job. But we end up chatting online a lot. We’re all in our own corners of the world, you know. We’re little albino rats in our underground dens doing our projects. [Laughs] It’s nice to stay in touch because it’s sort of an unusual support group; to see what everyone else is working on.

I love classic Disney. A few years ago they released these Disney archived things on DVD in these metal tins. Yeah, one of them is for their Tomorrowland stuff. It’s from the TV show that they had in the 50’s, it’s all their science-fiction stuff. And there’s a hour-long special on there that that Ward Kimble directed called Mars and Beyond and it’s just amazing. It’s amazing that this was produced for television, and it’s brilliant. It’s science, but it’s educational and it’s crazy creative. And it’s again, that 50’s very modern design, and I like the cheesy-ness of science-fiction, also. But by and large I don’t watch a lot of animation. I went to a very traditional film school and all my heroes were live-action guys, and I never even took an animation course in school. I’m self-taught. Most of my heroes are live-action people. If I’m asked to jury animation at a film festival I’ll beg them to put me on a documentary or anything but more cartoons.

[Both laugh] With this project, World of Tomorrow, it’s been exciting to just follow your Twitter account and see you pretty much have full control over the marketing and how it’s seen. You just teased it with a little picture last fall and then it was at Sundance and now people can see it two months later. Has that freedom been nice?

Yeah. I’ve had that freedom in my career doing this thing since the 90’s. It’s one really nice luxury of, not just working alone — well, almost alone — but working with no budgets. The main investment in the film isn’t money, it’s my time. And I don’t need to pitch anything. I don’t need to raise money. I can come up with an idea for something and start animating it that weekend. That just feels very organic. It feels great. Meanwhile I’m making a new feature film and it’s going to require a big budget, a big crew, and there’s just lots of waiting. There’s lots of waiting for the funds, lots of waiting for the people to work. It’s nice to have these projects to just leap onto and just do it. And, of course, by proxy to that, you own everything. We own all the rights. We can figure out the best release pattern for each one.

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With the project you mentioned, Antarctica, is that something that you feel like you’ve been building towards? Is it something you could’ve foreseen yourself getting into five years ago or has it come at the perfect time when you’re ready to take a bigger step?

Well, the script is old. The script is over five years old. It’s been a project that’s been gestating for a very long time. Back when I was writing it I didn’t have the time to leap onto it because I was ramping up the Beautiful Day stories. It’s funny, I feel much, much less intimidated by the size of it than I would have in my twenties. I feel like animating independently, especially working with film stuff, it’s so grueling and it’s so time consuming. It’s really hard to explain or describe to people who haven’t animated, but it’s months and years of your life. It’s like a time hole you enter —

[Both laugh]

— and you work, and you work, and you work, and you emerge and these friends have gotten married, these friends moved away, these guys have kids now. They look at life as the same. You’re frozen in a block of ice, because all you’ve had time to do is finish this project. So to me, approaching a project that’s like this, with actual crew, with an actual budget, I almost feel like — and I don’t wanna jinx myself here — but I almost feel like it’s going to be a bit of a vacation for me. You know, I’m putting in the same amount of time, but my hands aren’t going to be bleeding over this thing anymore, you know? I’m not going to be having to work every single day without a vacation, the weekends, constantly, as much as I used to. So I almost feel like I’ve been through basic training — the worst kind of marines basic training for animation you could imagine [laughs] and now, I can’t see it being as difficult as it used to be. It might be kind of nice.

So, Snoot Entertainment is producing Antarctica. Have you seen like The Guest or Faults, their previous movies?

The Guest, that’s the Adam Wingard film, right? I haven’t seen that one yet. I saw the one they worked on where they are making bets all night, Cheap Thrills. They were involved with that one. I actually haven’t seen The Guest yet. I should put that on my Netflix queue. That one is your favorite?

It’s a fun one. Yeah, that one and they just released a new film a few weeks ago called Faults. It’s really good.

Okay.

I’m just excited for you to be working with them, because they seem like a very smart producing team.

Oh, good to know. [Laughs] I’m familiar with them of course. They’re wonderful. They seem to get it. I’m glad that someone can verify that it shows through in the work they do. I haven’t had the chance to catch up on a lot of it but I will be doing so now.

Yeah, I would recommend it. Well, thank you so much, I’m very excited to let people know they can finally watch [World of Tomorrow] soon.

[Laughs] Cool. Yeah, it’s gonna be interesting to see how the film does online. It’s an experiment for me. I’ve never released something new like this and hopefully if it does well we can follow through with more stuff like this in the future. We’ve got all the old films too on HD that haven’t been put out yet. I’m just trying to feel out how people want to consume them these days, you know? Is it more streaming? Is it something else? I think everyone in the industry is trying to figure out the same thing.

Yeah, definitely. It’s definitely a tricky area depending on the movie. I think for your short, it’s the perfect way though. I would assume, let’s hope.

I hope so. It’s going be a great experiment. There’ll be no excuses if nobody shows up for it because we’ve really done everything we can. Okay, it’ll be a clear message if nobody wants to do the streaming thing.[ Laughs]

Well, have a great day and thank you so much for talking to me.

Thanks, I appreciate it.

World of Tomorrow is now available on VOD and can be streamed above. Listen to our discussion of it here.

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