The Smoke Signal, MSJ's Official Newspaper


Don Hertzfeldt Alumni Spotlight: Online Extension

Scene from Hertzfeldt’s short film, ‘Rejected’

By Staff Writers Sumani Alem & Mingxin Wang

Class of 1994 alumnus Don Hertzfeldt is an accomplished animator and filmmaker with two Academy Award nominations. Check out Hertzfeldt’s responses to interview questions from the Smoke Signal. 

SS: Of all of your short films, which one is your favorite and why?

DH: My favorite film is usually the one that’s not finished yet because it’s still sort of ideal in my head, and I haven’t felt like I messed it up yet. When I get to the end of a project and it becomes “real”, it’s always gone through a thousand little compromises to get there. Sometimes those compromises make it a little better, sometimes a little worse. And when it’s finally playing in theaters, the next movie in my head becomes the new carrot on the stick for me maybe I can get this one a little closer to perfect because of everything I’ve  learned from making mistakes on the last one. No matter how many movies I’ll make, I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I’ll stop learning.

SS: Are you currently working on any projects?

DH: Yes, I’m pretty much always in production on something new. Penguin Random House just reprinted a really strange graphic novel I wrote a few years ago, called The End of the World. The next film will be World of Tomorrow Episode 3, coming out sometime in 2020. I’m just a few more scenes away from finishing animation for that one.

SS: What advice do you have for aspiring animators at MSJ?

DH: Doing any creative work for a living — whether it’s movies, music, writing, art, etc. — can be super intimidating, especially when you’re young and trying to figure things out. So many aspiring young artists become paralyzed with worries about if their work is any “good”. That can be really poisonous to the creative process. Most people who fail at creative work don’t fail because they’re no good at it; they fail because they hesitated so much they never actually got around to completing anything. Don’t let the doubts kill your project before you can even try. Do you remember when you were six years old? When we were six, we all used to draw, dance, sing, and run around without a care in the world about what other people thought about us. That’s a really helpful mental space for an artist doing anything to try and return to. Is your art any good? Is it bad? Suddenly those questions become sort of irrelevant. You won’t know until you’re finished.

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