How saying 'Hi, stranger' helped this stop-motion animator's viral career

Meet the stop motion artist who is one of Vimeo’s most watched creators

You may not remember the name, but you probably remember the feeling you got when you saw "Hi Stranger."

The stop motion animation features a skinny nude doll soothingly talking directly to the viewer while a gentle melody plays in the background.

Although jarring at first, it's meant to be supportive — and with 2.4 million views on Vimeo and a coveted "Staff Pick" designation, people are captivated. It was covered by The Telegraph and Jezebel. Even "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" did a parody version featuring a cartoon President Donald Trump.

The character was inspired by a year of going to therapy, her interest in ASMR videos, and being "creatively exhausted," creator Kirsten Lepore said.

"It was really fun to try out this weird experiment to see if it would work and it would resonate with people," Lepore said. "I was really shocked actually when it took off the way it did. I guess people really identified with this character."

Vimeo's Staff Picks highlight notable work on the platform, giving them more exposure and notoriety — and an average of 100,000 views. Out of the more than 600 Staff Picked Vimeo creators, 72 percent said it lead to them receiving paid work.

Lepore, who has won the honor five times, said all of hers have led to jobs including Google Doodles, an ad for Motorola, a clip for "Yo Gabba Gabba," and an upcoming project for Belvedere Vodka.

"The internet has been huge in helping filmmakers from all different walks of life get their work out there and get it seen," she explained. "For better or for worse, it's because no one is seeing you. People just see a name or a screen name or an alias. It kind of keeps things sort of anonymous. It's kind of nice that way. People aren't judging you on what you look like or your gender anything like that. They just see the work, and take it at face value."

Kirsten Lepore/Vimeo

Lepore started making stop-motion videos at 10 after her father lent her their family camcorder. After going to college for experimental animation at Maryland College Institute of Art in Baltimore, Maryland and getting her master's in the same subject at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California, she found herself with a body of work. Finding it hard to secure traditional distribution especially for her shorts, she began uploading her high-definition clips in 2008 to Vimeo.

She soon got her first Staff Pick for "Guess Who," a whimsical clip where the game characters sing along to "It's Nasty" by Grandmaster Flash.

"It sort of gave me all this confidence, and I started thinking I could maybe do this for a living," she said.

Lepore's biggest project to date was also tied to a Staff Pick. It was actually her graduate thesis – an animated short about a girl traveling through a magical yet treacherous landscape called "Move Mountain". After she submitted it to several film festivals without any luck, she decided to upload it to Vimeo. Within a day, it was named a Staff Pick.

"Then literally a week later the showrunner from 'Adventure Time,' which was Cartoon Network's big hit show, got in touch with me and said, 'Hey I saw your film on Staff Picks. We feel like your style just gels with the show real well, and you'd be a really good fit to write and direct a stop-motion episode. It was the best news ever."

While she's doing more projects offline including other commercials and an upcoming feature-length animated film, she'll always upload her content online. She posts on multiple sites, but uses Vimeo as her primary platform because it's an ad-free and better for filmmakers like herself to showcase their work.

"The online format has been really huge in helping me and my peers getting work, mostly because you can kind of see the films anywhere," said Lepore. " It's kind of like this free distribution platform that's really, really incredible -- not to mention the work looks really beautiful on it."