Kirsten Lepore Gives Adventure Time a Stop-Motion Makeover
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
Whoever you are, and wherever you are, find a television and sit in front of it at 7:30PM ET. WNW Member #3094 Kirsten Lepore has written and directed "Bad Jubies", the newest episode of Cartoon Network's Adventure Time, which airs tonight. What's more, she's given the show a complete stop-motion makeover. We spoke to Kirsten about the process of recreating this world with her voice: "In terms of creating a version of the show that felt like me, it was actually less of a challenge than I thought it would be. I think my visual style and story sensibilities have a lot in common with AT’s off the bat, which made the process go pretty smoothly. The hardest part for me, that really forced me out of my element, was writing all the dialogue and jokes. My personal films usually have no dialogue whatsoever, so I was incredibly nervous when I finally went to pitch to the network. Luckily it turned out to be a great experience."
This is too cool! How’d you get tapped to write and direct an episode of Adventure Time?
About a week after I released my grad thesis "Move Mountain," I got an email out of the blue from Adam Muto, the showrunner on Adventure Time, saying that they'd always wanted to do a stop-motion episode and after seeing my film (which was coincidentally also an 11 minute stop-motion short), they thought I would be a perfect fit to write and direct an episode of the show. After freaking out with excitement, I said yes, and started developing concepts for the episode.
Did you know from the get-go that you would give it the stop-motion treatment? What was it like, recreating this world on your terms, in your wheelhouse?
It was always going to be a stop-motion episode, as this is what the network was excited about - but it’s also what I specialize in, so it made sense. I definitely came up with some concepts in the beginning where Finn and Jake were a little too aware of the fact that their medium changed and Pen talked me out of that. I’m so glad he did, because I think what the episode evolved into was much better. There’s still a little wink & nod at the fact that they look different, but I tried to keep it subtle. In terms of creating a version of the show that felt like me, it was actually less of a challenge than I thought it would be. I think my visual style and story sensibilities have a lot in common with AT’s off the bat, which made the process go pretty smoothly. The hardest part for me, that really forced me out of my element, was writing all the dialogue and jokes. My personal films usually have no dialogue whatsoever, so I was incredibly nervous when I finally went to pitch to the network. Luckily it turned out to be a great experience - there were about 30 people in that room and everyone laughed! It felt great to know that this storyboard I slaved away at privately in my bedroom for 5 weeks actually worked as an episode once I shared it with an audience.
Can you give a little insight into the process of writing and directing an episode? Were you a big fan before working on the show?
It’s funny, I actually didn’t really watch the show before I got the directing gig. But I set out to watch every episode for research, and about 4 episodes in, I was already completely obsessed with the show and had become a super fan. So at that point, the pressure felt even higher to create something that would fit into this wonderful world that had already been established. Writing was definitely the hardest part of the process, but once I was finished, it was a joy to direct it and actually make it happen. It was incredibly exciting to finally step back from all the animation and building responsibilities that I usually take on, and let the professionals at Bix Pix (where we did all the production) work their magic with me supervising. They did such an amazing job - sooo much better than anything I could have done, and it was such a joy to work with them. And directing wasn’t without its stresses, but it was certainly more enjoyable with a team than by working alone.
What other animated shows would you love to work on, and add your touch?
Oh man! I’ve never even thought about it! Hmmmm, it’d be pretty fun to do a Simpsons' couch gag, actually.
Based on everything you've learned as a creative professional, what are some top tips you can share with the WNW community?
I think the biggest ones that have helped me are:
1. Finish your films/projects.
This is more applicable to people making time-based things or really huge projects that take extended periods of time. I’ve found that inevitably there’s a point in those long projects that you’re totally over it and want to give up. But the world hasn’t seen it yet, so it’ll still be new and exciting to them - but they can only see it if you finish it. Sometimes you really have go back to your initial sketches and get back in touch with what excited you about the project in the first place to reignite that spark.
2. Put them online and keep a well-curated online portfolio.
This is pretty simple, but I have to say it because I often see people hiding some of their best work away because they’re too self-conscious or something. I think it’s really important to keep your online portfolio up to date and constantly evolving. The internet is the best free distribution platform - it’s how I’ve gotten all my work and why I’m able to support myself. The WNW community seems to have their stuff together though, so I’m not even sure how much this applies. I feel like the community members really know how to design and to present themselves professionally.
What’s next for you, besides remembering daily that you just wrote and directed an episode of Adventure Time!
Haha - it is really exciting! But currently I’m helping a good friend write her show that’s in development, as well as working on a new short of my own that I hope to complete in the spring!