Most people look at a boxing glove and see a boxing glove. Stop-motion artist Adam Pesapane, aka PES, on the other hand, sees leather padded mitts and thinks "Bologna!"
A master of object transformation, the Santa Monica-based filmmaker this week launches his new short Submarine Sandwich. Following on Pesapane's 2008 "Western Spaghetti" and the Oscar-nominated avocado-as-hand grenade short Fresh Guacamole, Submarine Sandwich started its journey to the small screen three years ago at the Museum of Modern Art.
"I encountered this vintage Hobart deli slicer from the 1940's and immediately started thinking, 'I want to slice stuff in that thing,'" Pesapane recalls. "This led to the idea of putting a boxing glove into a deli slicer because to me, boxing gloves look like meat. It just grew from there."
Pesapane shared exclusive making-of clips and chatted with Co.Create about his quest for the perfect cheese-imitating soccer ball, the reason he spends up to nine hours shooting a single frame of film and the secret sauce that ties together all his stop motion short films.
Inspired by memories of the New Jersey sub shop his aunt operated when he was a kid, Pesapane scoured eBay, Craigslist and flea markets to "cast" equipment for the film. "Once I had this idea of swapping in old athletic equipment for cold cuts, then it was like: 'Oh wait, I guess I need a deli case to hold all my meats."
Pesapane spent a year trawling eBay before he located a deli case in Atlanta, Georgia. "I needed a case with a little character and personality.to match what I had in my mind of this old school Italian deli," he says. "You think old relic cases would be easy to find but they're not."
While Pesapane sourced much of the "meat" gear from a Long Beach vendor specializing in old footballs, baseball mitts and boxing gloves, he had to import the "cheese" for the Submarine Sandwich all the way from Peru — in the form of an old leather soccer ball. "I could have bought a new black and white ball but it wouldn't have matched the other leather equipment, which is so textured and aged," Pesapane says. "It's hard to explain but I really need things I use to have personality and flair. There's a little bit of a journey for each object that made its way into the film."
After he and prop master Melissa Bloom altered the leather objects as items fit for a deli case, Pesapane raised $49,000 on Kickstarter, hot glued a tripod-mounted Nikon camera rig to the floor of his studio and spent seven weeks with co-animator Dillon Markey shooting about 2,600 separate images to create the one minute, 48-second Submarine Sandwich.
"Each shot takes between two and nine hours," explains Pesapane. "People think stop motion is tedious because it takes such a long time to make, but from my perspective, I've been thinking about these ideas for a couple of years, drawing, casting the objects, searching for, buying them, altering the objects and getting them ready. Countless hours of preparation went into capturing that moment on film so spending two hours to get a shot doesn't seem like a long time to me."
Like his previous food-themed shorts, Submarine Sandwich relies on Pesapane's a core storytelling principal: surprise. "I always lay out my films as set up and reveal, set up and reveal," he says. "You're looking at something very familiar, but then it's been altered a couple of degrees in perception. The film is structured so that each object creates a little bit of anticipation: 'What's it going to become?' 'What's it going to do?'"
Before he became a stop motion filmmaker, Pesapane worked at the McCann ad agency in New York, where he gravitated to early commercials by Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry. Like those filmmakers, Pesapane likes to fill his films with surreal twists and turns. "Sometimes people comment that my films don't have characters or stories in a traditional sense, but my comeback to that is: if you create a system where people want to know what happens next, then you don't need those other things."