"Story from North America," this week's Tin House Reels feature, seems to come from another moment in time. Animated to look as though it was created in Gustaf Tenggren's studio, the film fluctuates between a Kafkaesque nigthmare and the giddy hallucinations of a college acid trip.
To create the perennial look of the film, Kirsten Lepore (vimeo.com/kirstenlepore) and her collaborator Garrett Davis employed the time-consuming process of animating their drawings rather than going with a digital approach. Forgoing her usual medium of claymation, the short is a departure for Lepore in other ways as well. "Story from North America was pretty much the opposite of my normal animation/storytelling process—which was a pleasant change," says Lepore. "Usually I board every scene meticulously and stick pretty closely to my original plan. Even my storytelling process usually begins with some material or technique I want to explore, which I then develop a story around."
Lepore and Davis met while attending MICA, the Maryland Institute College of Art, where they collaborated to animate Davis' "The Spider Song," which became "Story from North America." Davis' song was recorded only once, and Lepore wanted to extend the rawness of the song to the animation style. This resulted in a looser process, which Lepore found to be liberating.
"We decided from the beginning that we weren't going to storyboard the film at all. Instead, we'd have a quick meeting where we each took a different verse, vaguely discussed the direction we wanted to go in for that scene, and then just split up and did our thing separately. It was really exciting to come together to shoot our verses as we would finish—since we had no idea what either one's would look like. To keep with the 'raw' spirit, we also agreed that we wouldn't pencil test or redo any animation. It was all about just going straight ahead and embracing any weird idiosyncrasies that would arise in the animation."
There is a unique humor and openheartedness to much of Lepore's work. Combining that warmth with Davis' bizarre, Grimm-influenced storytelling instincts proved to be the perfect combination for the cauldron, as "Story from North America" casts the sort of spell that stops time and allows you to forget that feet are meant to stay planted on the ground.