There's going to be a lot of life to
the movement. Everything will have
this pulse, this natural breath to it.
interview and photography
by peter young for dragonframe
PY: Everything was in-camera?
KL: Yeah, totally in-camera editing. I think my first stop motion project was when we were supposed to go to the movies but it got canceled. I still had this pack of jellybeans that my mom bought me and I said, "We have a few hours to kill. I'm going to make a stop motion movie." I remember setting this whole thing up. I just made the jellybeans come together and make all these shapes and pictures and stuff. The ten year old me thought I was so clever. That was kind of where the stop motion started. It was always just fun to put an object on the table and make it float around. I liked the absurdist quality of it too.
PY: But then you went to college for drawing?
KL: I went in as an illustration major at MICA. I enjoyed painting and drawing. My portfolio to get into school was all paintings and drawing, except there was one animation because I started dabbling in Flash in high school. My first animations were in Flash and I thought, "This is really fun. I like doing this." But I didn't think that I was going to pursue it. Looking back on it, I don't know where my mind was at. I took an animation class in my first year at MICA and realized, "Hell no, my major has to be animation. I love this!" Well, I found out later that I didn't pick the best school for practical animation, but it was good that I was at MICA. It ended up being more of a conceptual education, which is what I really needed at that time. I think it gave me a much better foundation in the way I approach stories and I think about ideas and meaning.
PY: Did you get any hands-on training?
KL: There was no technical training at MICA. I was sort of figuring things out myself and doing everything the wrong way but still making it work. I think there were 18 kids in my graduating class and almost everyone was into CG and gaming. I was one of five people that were actually making films and the only person making a stop-motion film. The advantage of that was I got my own windowless 9' x 9' studio for an entire year! I could build and shoot everything I wanted. You couldn't get that at CalArts! At CalArts you get two, three weeks of a shooting space, maybe, if you're lucky. I had my studio for the entire semester when I shot "Sweet Dreams," the cupcake one. I wouldn't have been able to do it without that space.
PY: Right, to shoot ten minutes in two weeks...
PY: Did you have any exposure to still photography?
KL: I actually had a photo class when I studied abroad in Florence, Italy in my junior year of college at MICA. That's when I finally took my first black and white photo class. It was a straight up 35mm black and white course. It was really cool because we had this Italian guy teaching us about apertures and shutters and it was the most ridiculous and romanticized class because he insisted, "You must look through the lens." It was seriously the most out-of-a-movie thing, and it was great. "Look at your depth of field. Make sure it is appropriate for the subject. We must go out in the morning in the fog and shoot the dew on the flowers." At first I thought "Are you kidding me right now?" But it was good, actually essential, for me to learn about. I took a 16mm black and white film class and even having that experience with the Bolexs has totally shaped and enhanced my knowledge, when it comes to the digital side.
A FEW WORDS WITH kirsten
Kirsten Lepore grew up in Princeton, New Jersey. She received a BFA from Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and is currently in the masters program at CalArts. Her last short film, "Bottle," the touching story of two entities coming together against all elements, has garnered numerous awards over the past year. I had the opportunity to sit down with Kirsten at her home studio in Valencia, California on September 25th, 2011.
Peter Young: Kirsten, you have already enjoyed some incredible successes on the film festival circuit at a very young age. What early influences moved you in the direction of stop motion animation?
PY: So you were kind of a camcorder-auteur?
PY: Even just going through the trouble of renting a 16mm camera, checking it out from school and getting the film processed ...As things have evolved with digital means it's so much easier.
When people like something, I think, "Thank God that you like this because that just took years off my life."
PY: I’ve been hearing people refer to you not as an animator, but rather as a filmmaker...
KL: Ah, the romance elements. Everybody says, "You always do romance." Actually my new film, which will be coming out in a year, if everything goes as planned, is not a romance. It is still important that there's some sort of relationship between characters though. This one is about the power and value of friendship in a lot of different ways. I just like it when characters connect. In the past I've tried to keep everything as simple as I can because everything about the process is so complicated. For me, two characters are enough.
PY: In both "Sweet Dreams" and "Bottle," it seems there is a message that transcends the simple love story.
KL: In "Sweet Dreams" I think people are actually pissed because they don't end up together and I guess people are pissed in "Bottle" because ... Actually I view the ending of "Bottle" differently than everybody else does. I didn't intend for it to be sad. Everybody thinks it's sad but for me they end up part of the same material. They’re all mushed together in the water now. That's the only way they are going to be together anyway. But everybody else thinks they that they just dissolved into nothing. I like having the interpretation be up to peoples' personal experiences. Yet, I guess it has to be sort of autobiographical if it came out of my brain.
PY: In "Sweet Dreams" it feels like there is a taboo love that isn’t supposed to be...
KL: I have had one or two of those, so maybe it is related to me. I came up with this story so something about it has to relate to my life even if I'm not conscious of it. But I think you take something out of every relationship you have. You grow naturally. Even when you get hurt you're still growing, still learning something from it. So in "Sweet Dreams," he had this experience, he learned from it, he is obviously changed physically, but also in how he thinks about things. They don't need to end up together. That’s not what it's about. For me, it’s about the experience and what he learns from that experience.
There's a landscape to body analogy taking place. There's going to be a lot of life to the movement in the animation.
PY: That is what I thought was interesting. At first I thought, "Oh, poor cupcake" but then things turns around and he ends up changing his community. The romance was a vehicle to get to an incredibly strong overall message. But now I’m curious about the status of your new film ...
KL: It’s stop-motion and the projected length is ten minutes. The characters are mostly built, but I need to build a ton of props and lots of sets. And there's going to be these waterfall elements that I need to make. I never know how much to say about it, but I will say that there's a landscape to body analogy taking place. There's going to be a lot of life to the movement in the animation that's happening in the background. Everything will have this pulse, this natural breath to it.