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Awesome Men Throughout History: Don Hertzfeldt

Man, do I love cartoons. This is partly because I am a huge nerd (as are many TSB readers – don’t kid yourselves), and partly because, to quote Don Hertzfeldt, animation is “the purest way of making a movie, because you are literally building every single frame from nothing.” Don says a lot of cool stuff like that, which is why he’s this week’s Awesome Man Throughout History.

Don’s name might not be immediately recognizable, or pronounceable, but you’ve probably seen his shorts. Wait, that came out wrong. You’ve probably seen one of his short animated films because they get passed around the Internet like HPV at band camp, and his early ones are still quite popular with college kids. “Ah, L’Amour,” which he made before he could legally drink, won the HBO Comedy Arts Festival Grand Prize for “World’s Funniest Cartoon,” which it deserved. “Rejected,” which saw a theatrical release in 2000, was an even bigger hit, winning bajillions of awards and an Oscar nomination. If someone ever tells you that their spoon is too big, or that they are a banana, they are quoting “Rejected.” Or mentally ill. Possibly both.

The great Don

“Rejected” is also the cartoon that’s most commonly brought up to illustrate (no pun intended) Don’s influence on modern animated comedy. It’s an effective blend of slapstick, gallows humor, and true absurdism that, unlike a lot of other postmodern art, doesn’t come at the expense of storytelling or emotion. He pretty much set the table for all of Adult Swim’s homegrown content, although none of that stuff is as good as his.

“Rejected” also drew from real life, in a way; Don is pretty anti-corporate, and considered responding to the many offers he got to do television commercials by submitting the worst cartoons he could half-ass, just to see if they would be used. He didn’t go through with it, but that idea was the driving force behind that short, which was a much better use of his time.

Don’s most recent work, a three-part series titled Everything will be OK, has been his most critically-successful film yet, and he’s apparently working on a feature-length animated film and a graphic novel.

What really impresses me about Don’s work, aside from how weird and hilarious and touching it is, is how much of it he does himself. Don writes, directs, produces, animates, edits, and mixes all the sound for his films, which can take years to put together. Animation is often a multi-person, assembly line process, so Don is kind of like the Hasil Adkins of film.

His gear is unorthodox, too. Don’s preferred camera is a 35mm Richardson that was built in the late 1940s and is one of the last of its kind, allowing him to use multiple exposures and mattes in his work. Don is big on wedding old-school or antique film techniques with digital ones, so it’s not accurate to call him a hipster or an art snob. Rather, he’s a guy whose fondness for certain mediums is slowly expanding as he figures out how they benefit what he’s trying to accomplish.

A recent interview with the Onion’s A/V Club goes into this and other aspects of Don’s work, and it’s obvious that there’s a real brain behind his very weird, very simply drawn films, and a very genuine artistic sensibility behind them as well. You can also go to his website for stuff, unless you’re a web designer – the layout might give you a seizure.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.

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