Below is the transcript of my presentation on Kirsten Lepore:
Kirsten Lepore is an American, Los Angeles-based stop-motion animator and director. Lepore’s interest in stop-motion began when she was ten years old when her father gave her a camcorder in the fifth grade. Originally from New Jersey, Lepore began to get serious about stop-motion when she taught herself Flash in high school. After high school, Lepore attended the Maryland Institute College of Art or MICA, where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a focus experimental animation. She also received her Master of Fine Arts from the California Institute of the Arts or CalArts. It was at MICA that Lepore began to upload her short films she did for fun. It was on Vimeo that she began to gain notoriety as she received five Vimeo “staff picks” awards. Other awards Lepore has won include a South by Southwest special jury award for animation, a Slamdance award, a Student Annie Award, and various other awards.
Notable brands that Lepore has worked for include MTV, Google, Facebook, and Toyota. Lepore was also named one of the 50 most creative people by Creativity Magazine. Lepore’s work is very prolific as it has appeared on TV, the web, in museums, and at more than a hundred international film festivals. Because Lepore’s work is so successful and well-known, she has had the opportunity to give talks at Pixar and to create a stop-motion episode for Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time episode.
Lepore’s inspiration for her work comes from everything that surrounds her. She states that she has been inspired by her sisters, friends, music, dance, weird conversations, walking through craft stores, and looking at nature are all constantly inspiring. By taking joy in new experiences, Lepore is able to get inspired for her stop-motion work. Furthermore, Lepore is inspired by interesting materials. For example, her film Bottle was created because she wanted to work with sand and snow. In general, Lepore’s process begins with her thinking of an interesting material and then building a story around that. Interestingly, Lepore thinks that the main difficulty of stop-motion is writing a good story.
Lepore’s process for her stop-motion work is very labor-intensive. Already, stop-motion work is very labor intensive, but this is intensified for Lepore as she single-handedly crafts her puppets and sets out of silicone, clay, and experimental materials. One of the most difficult things about Lepore’s process is rigging her puppets. Rigging is required anytime the characters are floating. This can be seen in the stop motion Move Mountain when the characters are running as one of their legs is in the air. A difficulty with rigging is that it requires Adobe After Effects to erase it from the shot afterward. The rig can also cast shadows on the set that may be tricky to work around. So before Lepore can even take the photos, she must think about details like rigging, lighting, and post editing. So after taking the copious number of photos it takes to create a stop-motion film, Lepore uses Adobe Flash to animate it.
Early Works (2007-2010)
One notable early work of Lepore’s is her Story from North America, created in 2007. In the video, Lepore showcases a son crying for her father as he is afraid of a spider in his room. What begins as a normal interaction devolves into the absurd as Lepore’s flaunts her technical drawing skills and film making capabilities.
Lepore collaborated with Garrett Davis on the music for the video. This was one of Lepore’s first-ever animations, and she was eventually awarded a Vimeo staff pick for this. I really like this work of Lepore’s as it shows off her drawing and storytelling abilities. Additionally, the folk vibe intrigues me and recalls an image of old-fashioned America.
Another early work of Lepore’s is her 2008 work, Sweet Dreams. In this animation, which is made up almost entirely of real food, the viewer follows a cupcake that is longing to travel outside of his sugar world to find something new and exciting. One day the cupcake decides to make a boat that it uses to travel to a new land that changes him forever. Sweet Dreams was actually Lepore’s undergraduate thesis film at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). Additionally, this was her first stop-motion film.
I found this stop-motion animation very interesting and the story really drew me in.
The last early work I want to focus on is Lepore’s 2010 stop motion film, Bottle. Bottle shows the story of two unlikely pen pals; a pile of sand and a bottle of snow. By sending each other pieces of their surroundings via bottle, the two beings become closer and abandon their loneliness.
Bottle is a unique work of Lepore’s as it is not filmed on a pre-constructed stage and is filmed on different beaches. In fact, this work took her nine months to make as part of the film was shot in New Jersey and the other part was filmed in Los Angeles. I found Bottle to be visually and emotionally interesting and effective. I think that it was able to tell an excellent story without relying on dialogue between the two characters. Moreover, the themes of loneliness and devotion really echoed with me, so I connected to this work as well. I also like the hyper-realism that the snow and sand texture convey.
A more recent work of Lepore’s is Move Mountain, which was made in 2014. This story follows a girl who travels up a mountain with the goal of getting medicine that will help her. This work addresses illness, which is important for Lepore as she suffers from a chronic illness. Other themes of the work include perseverance and courage.
Move Mountain was Lepore’s CalArts thesis that took two and a half years to create 10 minutes. She initially did not have it posted anywhere online. She then put it on Vimeo and the next day it was staff picked. A week later she was contacted by Adventure Time, and they asked her to write and direct a stop-motion episode.
Personally, I love the scenery of this work. You can tell that Lepore spent a lot of time on the artistry of it as the set, characters, and sound design all fit perfectly together. Lepore also excels at portraying a journey, which is extremely difficult in stop-motion as a lot of rigging is required. This work is also intertextual as Lepore used characters from her previous works.
So right after Move Mountain, Lepore wrote and directed an episode of Adventure Time called “Bad Jubies” that aired in 2016. The creator of Adventure Time actually saw her work Move Mountain and thought that it would fit excellently with Adventure Time. I haven’t actually watched Adventure Time before, so this was the first episode I had ever seen. I have to say that Lepore’s ability to write and animate interesting characters really drew me in.
An interesting and very different work Lepore made between creating Move Mountain and her Adventure Time episode was her wedding invitation. Made in 2015, this work tells how Lepore met her husband and highlights of their relationship thus far. Lepore actually collaborated on this video with her now husband, Dan. I find this work intriguing as Lepore jumps from her and her husband donned in Frank-esque masks to actual footage of themselves. This transition is almost seamless and adds character depth to both her and her husband.
More recently, Lepore has begun working on advertisements. 5 months ago she did a piece for the Mini’s Created in a Countryman campaign. She actually built and animated this entire work inside the trunk of a Mini. I think that constraint is interesting and adds a sense of accomplishment to the work. The video is also aesthetically pleasing as the colors and animation are eye-catching.
The last work of Lepore’s I want to focus on is her 2017 short-film, Hi Stranger. This video was actually Lepore’s contribution to the Late Night Work Club’s new anthology of short films, Strangers. I found this clay animation partially unsettling as the main character talks directly to you. This fourth-wall break and metafictional angle drove the video to go viral as it gained over 200 million views online. The character also lies naked and permits you to gaze at its “butt.” Strangely, the character’s bare body and vulnerability allow the viewer to become more comfortable. Lepore was inspired by her experiences with therapy and creative exhaustion to create this work.
I personally found this video to be odd, but very entertaining. I really like how unique it is as well as there is definitely nothing like it out there. The video is also like an emotional roller coaster because at first you are creeped out, but in the end, you become relaxed and adjusted to what you are watching. I think that this video discusses some themes of love and self-care as the character says that “you are worthy of love.” I think that Lepore’s ability to use vibrant and detailed visuals like sets and characters to deal with intense subjects is what sets her apart from other artists.
Currently, Lepore is working on animation directing an indie feature film.
Larger Artistic Themes
Lepore’s work seems to follow some similar themes, specifically nostalgia and mindfulness. In general, her videos use cute and silly characters and sets to discuss intense, but profound messages. She also focuses on how humans or sentient beings interact with the environment. This can be seen with the entire premise of Bottle and the healing plants in Move Mountain.
Connections and Related Artists
Any stop-motion work usually reminds me of Coraline, which is Henry Selick’s 2009 3D stop-motion animated dark comedy film. I think that Coraline deals with more macabre subjects, but that it Lepore’s work shares the same kind of seriousness that Coraline has.
A more recent stop-motion work that Lepore’s work reminds me of is Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. I think that Anderson used color similar to Lepore as they both use eye-catching color palettes.
- Now that you have seen other stop-motion works, do you think that Lepore’s style of stop-motion is unique? If yes, what do you think makes Lepore’s style of stop-motion unique?
- Lepore’s stop-motion work usually does not have any dialogue. Do you think that adding dialogue to Lepore’s work add or detract from its quality? Why or why not?
- In an interview, Kirsten Lepore says that she is intrigued by stop-motion because she believes that the medium has not yet been fully explored. Do you agree or disagree with Lepore? Why or why not?