An animator and director currently based out of Los Angeles, Kirsten Lepore has gained much-deserved attention with her incredibly charming and character-driven stop motion animation, Bottle, a short film depicting an earthy long distance love affair. Set only to the ruminative sounds of sea, of gently lapping shores and glass tinkling with small personal treasures, Bottle’s complex emotional weight is shaded in with hilariously endearing moments, as Lepore’s snow creation bats her long seashell lashes or poses in a new seashell bra. Like Lepore’s 2008 Sweet Dreams - an adventurous tale of an emotionally-evolved cupcake stranded on an island of vegetables - Bottle sits perfectly crafted as a celebration of life’s journeys and quirks, all the while tinged with a very poignant sense of the sacrifice and loss so often required for growth in our own lives.
Named a rising talent by Animation Magazine and Focus Features, Kirsten’s client list boasts the names of MTV, Toyota, Facebook, Nickelodeon, Nestle, and Heinz, while her films have taken top prizes at numerous film festivals, including Slamdance.
Recently, Kirsten was kind enough to take the time for an interview with Clubhaus. Below, our small peek into Kirsten’s arduous creation process and characters!
CH: How did you come to work as a freelance animator?
KL: It’s probably a mixture of interest, technology being accessible, and the internet. I’ve had an interest in animation and fabrication for as long as I can remember. It wasn’t until my Dad gave me permission to go crazy with the camcorder that I started making films - that was around age 11. After that, I made tons of live action videos, stop-motion animations, and eventually moved on to Flash animation in high school, and more traditional methods in college. The internet played a crucial role once I got out of undergrad and really helped me spread my work around. I wouldn’t be able to make a living doing animation if it weren’t for internet sharing and self-distribution.
Describe your design ethos.
I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty lousy designer, either because I never studied it or because I can never make up my mind when it comes to complex design decisions. For that reason, I generally try to stick to something as simple as possible, both visually and conceptually. In my work, I try to stick to the “less is more” approach. Plus, animation is already so complicated, why make it more so?
Of your past and ongoing work, is there a single animation or character that is specifically a favorite of yours? Why?
My favorite characters might be the shape guys from the Yo Gabba Gabba spot I did recently, but I think my favorite animation is Bottle, my last film, mainly because of how much time/love I poured into it, and also because it’s allowed me to meet a ton of cool people (through festivals and such) that I wouldn’t have otherwise met. I feel extremely lucky and thankful that the film has been so well received, especially since I had such little confidence in it right after it was done.
Can you talk about the creation process for Bottle?
Bottle was pretty much a nightmare to create. I was dealing with so many variables, the biggest ones being nature and light changes (which are not generally friends to the stop-motion process). The project took 9 months to complete from initial idea conception to final edit. I spent the first 4-5 months writing, boarding, planning, and gathering the right props. The last 4 months were spent driving to the locations (the wide snowy shots were a 2 hour drive / 4 hours round trip!), shooting, editing, doing post, color correcting, and recording and mixing sound. The snow character was just snow; I’d have to build him fresh every time I went out to shoot. I really wanted the sand character to be purely sand as well, but after countless failed tests, I finally resolved to build a 3 ft high puppet that I covered with sand and lard to make it blend in with the real sand. It was still pretty difficult to work with the puppet, considering its size, poorly constructed armature (my fault), and the fact that it was covered in grease.
The ending of Bottle is so lovely and poignant, with the two characters finally reaching each other and being together the only way they ever could be - by fading into something bigger than both of them. I’d imagine, though, that a lot of viewers could take this as a very sad ending, and I noticed that Sweet Dreams had a somewhat similar character trajectory. The characters don’t necessarily end up happily together, but their relationship and time together ultimately allow for something much bigger than the two of them in the end. How do you go about shaping these themes and character development as you create your stories?
You’re one of the few who totally got the ending (of both Bottle and Sweet Dreams) and put it into words better than I could have! Although I’m always open to people’s personal interpretations, what you just described is exactly how I view the films. In terms of coming up with these themes, I don’t think I have them in mind from the beginning. My ideas for films usually spark from materials; the idea to animate with snow or sand, for instance. With Bottle, I took those materials and generated a story that incorporated the material in a way that was crucial to the concept of the piece. I think the ultimate themes that arose came in part from my desire to resolve stories in a way that is more true-to-life, rather than your traditional/often cheesy happy ending. Not that anything about living sand/snow creatures or an anthropomorphic cupcake is realistic, but hopefully their relationships are.
You can see more of Kirsten Lepore’s work here; beyond Bottle and Sweet Dreams, personal favorites include Kirsten’s Craig the narwhal (above) and Artsy Fartsy.
Stay tuned for a few more fun features we’ve put together from Kirsten’s interview over the next week!