You Already Know the Woman Who Made "Hi Stranger"

'Adventure Time' animator Kirsten Lepore loves that sweet spot between unsettling and cute.

Flickr / kitakitts

Animator Kirsten Lepore uploaded “Hi Stranger,” a stop-motion cartoon of a soft-speaking naked man, to her Vimeo collection in October, but she kept it private for months. This week, Lepore unlocked the clip, and the animation went viral. It was quickly picked up by redditors and shared across Facebook, both by ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) enthusiasts who found it relaxing and meme curators who called it creepy and hilarious. “Don’t say anything,” many Facebook posts said. “Just send to a friend.”

In the video, an unnamed little, naked guy tells the viewer, giggling, that you can look at his butt if you want. He then tells you that you’re beautiful, asks to draw you, encourages you not to doubt yourself, and says goodbye.

Lepore, who animated Adventure Time’s first stop-motion episodes, and has created many, many other viral animated hits, was surprised to hear viewers calling her little, naked man creepy. “I guess I can understand why it’s creepy,” she tells Inverse over the phone. “I don’t personally find it creepy, maybe because I think of him as an extension of me. He’s just a facet of my personality.”

So you were surprised to see it go viral among people calling it creepy?

I mean, creepy is fine. That wasn’t my intention, but I get it. I was definitely going for uncomfortable, especially inciting uncomfortable laughter. I wanted people to go, “What the heck is this guy?” during the first half and then have their emotions shift in the second half. It becomes intimate, which I know can be unsettling for people at first.

Did you anticipate the explosion of viewers though? As of right now, you’re at 1.3 million views in a couple days, and that’s just on your Vimeo file.

No, I didn’t expect it to go viral. It actually went online in November, I think, as part of the Late Night Work Club compilation. Their first video, just a collection of animations from artists who put together some pieces along with a theme during their off-hours, did really well. The first theme was “Ghost Stories,” and this one was “Strangers,” which is where “Hi Stranger” comes in.

What was your concept, if not to be creepy?

I wanted to create a little character who has pillow talk directly with the viewer.

That sounds a lot like ASMR.

Exactly! Exactly. It was heavily inspired by ASMR videos because I have ASMR. When they finally coined that term, I remember being like, “Oh, that’s what that is!” Those videos blew up online because we finally had a word to describe the feeling we’ve had all our lives. My ASMR is mild, but I have really specific triggers. For me — and you know, I haven’t even told anyone this — my trigger for the sensation is when people draw me. That fact is a big part of him drawing the viewer in the video. I’ve always been an artist; I’m usually drawing others, so in the rare moment someone is drawing me, focusing on the curves of my face and concentrating, that gives me, like, ughhh, those tingly feelings.

I have ASMR too, so I actually saw “Hi Stranger” blowing up in that community as well.

That’s great! If ASMR fans picked up on it, that means it was made correctly. I think it really resonated with a lot of people because the animation is supposed to make you feel loved or cradled. We’re in this cultural climate now where I think people are craving that, being loved and having someone “get real” with them.

Adult Swim had you work on Adventure Time’s first stop-motion episode, “Bad Jubies.” Do you have any more work coming up in that vein?

Ah, I can’t actually talk about what it is, but I’ll say this: I’m animation directing an indie stop-motion feature soon. It’s a sort of … beloved viral video that’s been adapted into a feature, so I’m excited about it.

Kirsten Lepore’s incredible animation is all available online.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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