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A Few of the Fingerprints on the ‘World of Tomorrow’ Universe

Note from Don Hertzfeldt, November 2020:

hi everyone,

here’s a little list of movies that in one way or another have made a mark on the world of tomorrow universe.

world of tomorrow was written by a lifelong fan of science-fiction who never had the opportunity to write science-fiction before, so each episode so far has felt like a ridiculous, desperate geyser of ideas that had been backed up for years. and there have been so many intersecting influences from other movies, books, and music that trying to follow the thread of one particular idea into the past often just leads back to big confusing jumbled balls of christmas lights.

but some of the threads are easier to follow. many…

Block or Report
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • A.I. Artificial Intelligence

    A.I. Artificial Intelligence

    when stanley kubrick originally had plans to direct A.I., he listed the “rosenkavalier” waltz in his notes as music he wanted to use somewhere in the movie. i don’t know if anyone knows why, or where it was intended to go. when i read about it, i decided to “borrow” this idea and the waltz has sort of become the world of tomorrow theme now.

  • Alien


    when i was designing david’s cockpit in episode three, he sort of wound up in this strange reclined position, which i thought was very similar to the dead “space jockey” guy they find in alien. so i added more piping and industrial tubes in there to play that up. because if you’re going to go there, just go there. but i just now looked up a picture of the dead guy in alien and he’s actually not reclining in his chair very much at all, like i thought i’d remembered. he’s actually just sort of slumped forward. well, never mind.

  • Blade Runner

    Blade Runner

    The notes for this film reportedly contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    there are blade runner references all over the place, especially the soundtracks, but i think this particular one in episode three was more unconscious. there’s a stuffed bunny in young david’s nursery that emily sees, and, thinking he likes bunnies, she draws them all over the blue planet for him and it becomes this sort of self-fulfilling centuries-long bunnies obsession. but david also seems to like unicorns. there’s a small unicorn toy in his nursery, and hundreds of years later, one of his clones has a unicorn on the cover of his diary. i wanted his diary to be weirdly stunted, like something a preteen would own, and the first thing i thought of was a goofy rainbow unicorn sort of diary. and then i thought oh yeah, blade runner. by the time i got around to animating the diary scene, i think i had also forgotten that i’d already planted a unicorn toy in his nursery.

  • The Big Snit

    The Big Snit

    first of all, this is one of the funniest cartoons ever made. while playing scrabble, the wife has this bad habit of fluttering her eyes (and then taking them out of her head and shaking them), and i always liked how they put this soft, bird wing sort of sound effect in there for her eyelids as they flutter. anyway, it’s a very small thing but i think it’s why the older clones throughout world of tomorrow have occasional fluttering eyes, as a little sign of their deterioration.

  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind

    Close Encounters of the Third Kind

    the special effects cloud tanks of close encounters and poltergeist have always held a special magic over me, and when my girlfriend got involved in the production of similar ink tanks and practical interplanetary effects on terrence malick’s voyage of time, we were both fired up to build our own cloud tank at home for episode two.

  • Cockaboody


    this might be one of the earliest cartoons to record people candidly speaking and turning them into animated characters. i remember seeing this in film school and loving that concept, but just wishing that they’d built more of a new thing out of it rather than just animating the children as they already were.

  • Coney


    this was an experimental short film by frank mouris. it’s a trip to coney island, with multiple exposures and lights all flashing atop one another. i asked him many years ago how he planned these shots because so many of the double exposures looked so perfectly composed. and he said, “oh, i just blindly ran the film multiple times over random lights and stuff.” and i thought, well that is perfectly badass. because the animation world was always so meticulous and slow and regimented, i hadn’t yet begun wrapping my head around the concept of just really fucking around and experimenting. so while something like that coney conversation may have been a bigger influence on the experiments in it’s such a beautiful day, the spirit of just throwing wild footage and lights together to see what can be built out of it is still all over the digital experiments of world of tomorrow, including the look of “in-between time”.

  • Creature Comforts

    Creature Comforts

    another example of characters being animated from candid audio recordings, but ah hah! this time they’ve used the audio to create something totally new.

  • The Departed

    The Departed

    The notes for this film reportedly contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    i can’t really say anything without spoiling things, but when writing episode three, i thought, this scene is kind of starting to remind me of the departed.

  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

    E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

    there’s this decades-long music argument over whether john williams’ score for E.T. was inspired by a particular passage in dvorak’s “piano trio no. 4”. so i thought it would be fun to use a different section of the dvorak piece to create david’s theme for episode three.

  • Forbidden Planet

    Forbidden Planet

    the sound design for all of the episodes have had one foot squarely in the theremins and “electronic soundtracks” of the 1950s. forbidden planet is also my favorite kind of science-fiction, in that it’s truly weird and isn’t afraid of going way over the top with its ideas. many genre films today seem too afraid of being “unrealistic”, which seems to prevent them from having much fun.

  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • The Fly

    The Fly

    The notes for this film reportedly contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    i’ve always loved how the cat gets teleported into some sort of nowhere dimension. you even hear it screaming as it goes. it’s so stupid and great. i’m pretty sure this is why someone gets teleported to “nowhere” in episode two. speaking of teleportation hijinks, when i wrote “the end of the world” i had a scene in which someone’s nervous system suddenly appears outside of their body, but then i remembered that this also happened in watchmen so i cut it out of the book. but i later recycled the idea in a reverse sort of way, when a clone’s skeleton gets teleported out of his body in episode three. but now that i think about it, that was probably just inspired by the fly again, probably the gory 80s version this time.

  • Full Metal Jacket

    Full Metal Jacket

    i think emily’s line, “now is the envy of all of the dead”, has some roots in private joker saying, “the dead only know one thing: it is better to be alive”. there’s also an REM lyric that goes, “now is greater than the whole of the past”, and when i first heard that i thought, “huh. is that true? i’m not sure, but i kind of want that to be true.” so i think her line was a combination of these two thoughts.

  • GoodFellas


    one of my favorite things in episode two is this fast camera push-in: emily’s about to start dancing and she looks up right as the music starts and the camera rushes forward at her. it struck me as a very martin scorsese type of shot and there’s no doubt that’s who it came from. so let’s chalk that up to goodfellas because it’s cool to have goodfellas on any list.

  • It's Such a Beautiful Day

    It's Such a Beautiful Day

    i can’t seem to stop writing movies about memory.

  • La Jetée
  • Michael Clayton

    Michael Clayton

    The notes for this film reportedly contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    tom wilkinson’s murder in michael clayton was such a powerful, clinical way of killing somebody. it wasn’t the sort of murder you usually see in a movie. no one will ever know what actually happened to him. and it seemed so creepy and routine. i think it might have influenced “the cleaners” of episode three a bit.

  • Life of Brian

    Life of Brian

    The notes for this film reportedly contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    i wasn’t sure what direction to go in when i was working out the sound effects for david’s spaceship. we’ve already heard so many space engines in movies that they’ve gotten sort of boring. david’s ship is a sort of junky one and i started to like it more when i started using lighter sound effects, like snowmobiles or growling leaf blowers. then i realized it was starting to sound like the crazy alien spaceship in life of brian, like a high-pitched motorbike sort of thing that was barely in control, and i leaned more in that direction.

  • Multiplicity


    i guess this is kind of funny because i’ve never actually seen multiplicity. but i remember reading a review of it back in 1996 or something that mentioned it had to do with the idea of clones becoming more deteriorated the more you copy them, like a page that loses information from getting xeroxed over and over again. and i guess that’s really stuck with me for 20 years, because here we are.

  • Peter Pan

    Peter Pan

    “we can be children forever”

  • RoboCop


    zorgbot needed a voice and i thought it would be funny if this cute looking robot had this horrifying, deep sort of ED-209 voice.

  • The Shining

    The Shining

    “I have many memories that I would like to share with you now, emily. we can go visit them together, like seeing pictures in a book.” i don’t remember anymore if that was a conscious shining reference or whether i’ve just seen it so many times that it’s become part of my vocabulary?

  • Sleeping Beauty

    Sleeping Beauty

    “the sleeping beauty waltz” is another classical piece in episode three, but i used it more as a connection to the disney movie than the ballet, because disney added lyrics to it that made sense for david and emily: “i know you, i walked with you once upon a dream.”

  • Slow Bob in the Lower Dimensions

    Slow Bob in the Lower Dimensions

    the title has always stuck with me. it’s just a great title. hearing “the lower dimensions” instantly makes it something i want to see. so i think this is why i called the episode three worms “the moaning caveworms of the lower emotions”.

  • Spaceballs


    when describing the confusing relationships between all the clones, at one point emily says, “…his roommate”, and yeah that was a direct spaceballs reference.

  • Special Delivery

    Special Delivery

    this was another NFB short that i saw at an animation festival when i was maybe thirteen. it was probably my first introduction to a movie that was a “farce”, with the story growing out of these ascending layers of funny complications. when i was plotting out all the complex layers of episode three, my brain went back to this cartoon, and remembering that if done properly, a confusing, overly complicated storyline itself can be a source of comedy.

  • Stranger Than Paradise

    Stranger Than Paradise

    i saw this back in film school and my biggest takeaway, weirdly, were the cuts to black. i don’t know if i had ever seen a movie so freely cut to black like that before and i loved it. it felt like a very low-fat, documentary way to edit a movie. and there was also just something really cool and confident about cutting to black. like, this guy’s not messing around. BLACK! so i started doing it already in my student films and the cuts to black are still around in episode three.