Kirsten Lepore Talks about “Bottle” Kirsten Lepore Talks about “Bottle”

I wrote about Kirsten Lepore’s short Bottle last month, and enjoyed it so much, that I asked her to answer a few questions about her work. The interview, conducted via email is below. For more about her work, visit

CARTOON BREW: The idea of a relationship between two natural elements seems so obvious in retrospect, but I’ve never seen it before. Where did the spark for the idea come from?

KIRSTEN LEPORE: I had the initial spark about two winters ago while I was home in New Jersey.  I think I was just looking at all the snow in the backyard and thinking how cool it would be to animate a snowman.  I’d never seen it done, and it was definitely something I knew I had to try at some point — it was just a matter of having the time and coming up with the right story.

CARTOON BREW: Did you really animate all that snow? Last year, my hands froze just trying to build a still snowman. I can’t imagine doing animation with snow, and it not looking something like THIS.

KIRSTEN LEPORE: Yep! It was all real snow, moved frame by frame.  Every time I got out there to shoot, I had to rebuild the character (which was about 3 feet tall).  It was also pretty physically grueling pushing around massive snowballs (that probably weighed more than me), running back and forth between the camera and the character every frame, and dealing with wet gloves, boots, and pants.  There were too many obstacles to even name!  My brain hurts just thinking about it.

CARTOON BREW: Were you building and moving these characters by yourself or did you have help? Did you build rigs underneath? Were you able to review your animation as you were shooting? In other words, how’d you do it?

KIRSTEN LEPORE: It probably would have been much easier with a crew, but I’m stubborn so I did the whole thing by myself.  I also would have felt really guilty making someone else stand out in the snow for 8 hours a day.  In terms of the technique, there were no rigs needed for the snow as most things stuck together pretty well (or would freeze together if it was cold enough).  I wanted so badly for the beach character to be pure sand, but after countless tests, I couldn’t get him tall enough without crumbling, so I had to build a trompe l’oeil foam puppet covered with a mixture of sand and vegetable shortening. 

The puppet also wasn’t constructed very well so I ended up needing a ton of small rigs to hold up the arms and some of the objects.  I wouldn’t dare bring my beloved compy on the beach, so I had no frame grabbing software either.  I could only see an approximate review of what I shot by using the turning wheel on the back of the 7D to “flip” through the frames.  I even tried to skip this when I could (simply to avoid touching the camera) because my hands were usually either soaking wet or totally greasy with sand and Crisco.  Yum.  I just posted a micro making-of that shows other parts of the process as well:

CARTOON BREW: After this, do you prefer to animate outside where all of nature is your set or the controlled environment of a studio?

KIRSTEN LEPORE: I definitely prefer a controlled studio, but it was nice not having to build any sets for the piece.  It’ll probably be a few years before I can consider shooting outdoors again; I’d need time to forget how nightmarish the process was.

CARTOON BREW: You graduated from Maryland Institute College of Art a few years ago, and then decided to pursue a graduate degree in Experimental Animation at CalArts, which is where you made Bottle. Why did you decide to continue school instead of jumping straight into the industry?

After I graduated from MICA I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue a graduate degree, so I actually did freelance in animation for two years before coming to CalArts. I needed some time after undergrad to prove to myself that I could make a living doing animation. That “real life” experience was invaluable upon enrolling at CalArts as I already felt much more prepared and confident than if I had enrolled while I was fresh out of MICA. My decision to go to grad school was mainly fueled by the desire to make my own films again, the prospect of connecting with other animators, and to have the option of eventually teaching at a collegiate level. Also, I knew it would force me to move out to California, which is where I felt I needed to be.
CARTOON BREW: What are you working on right now and where do you hope you end up after graduating again?

KIRSTEN LEPORE: Right now I’m doing a few freelance projects and developing my thesis, which I’ll be working on for the next two years.  After graduation it’d be great to continue freelancing and directing.

CARTOON BREW: What are some of the things that are currently inspiring you, both within and outside of animation?

KIRSTEN LEPORE: There’s so much!  I just got back from the Vimeo Awards where I had the opportunity to meet so many creators that I respect and admire, which was totally amazing and inspiring.  So many of the films and speakers got me pumped and eager to get back into the studio to produce new work.  Outside of animation, I’ve taken up drumming again which I’m pretty excited about.  I’m also usually in the kitchen cooking up some weird concoction.  I’m proud to report I recently got over my fear of preparing eggplant, and (unrelated to the eggplant) may have mastered the art of the Vietnamese summer roll.

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