PES Deconstructs His New Stop-Motion Masterpiece 'Submarine Sandwich'

We talked to the creator of 'Fresh Guacamole' about the deli meats, vintage boxing gloves, and $300 soccer balls of his latest film, 'Submarine Sandwich.'

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10 December 2014, 6:30pm

Screencap via 

Images courtesy of the artist

The connection between pliers and sea creatures, avocados and grenades, or boxing gloves and deli meat may not be obvious—that is until you enter the world (and mind) of stop-motion artist Adam Pesapane, a.k.a. PES. Over the past decade, the self-taught animator has crafted an underwater world inhabited by tools, a classic Italian spagetti dinner, and, perhaps most famously, an Oscar-nominated dish of hand grenade guacamole. Today, he releases Submarine Sandwich, the third in a series about food preparation in which a seasoned deli worker creates "the perfect sandwich" as only PES can.

The project began, as most of his films do, with with a simple idea. In this case, inspiration struck at a MoMA exhibit about industrial design featuring a classic deli meat slicer. "Typically for me it starts with an image," PES told The Creators Project.  "What would I put in it? What would I cut in it? The first cold cut I thought I’d put in there is a boxing glove, and that idea stuck with me. The idea of knuckles pressed to the blade, shaving it off into, as it turns out, these delicate doilies, which to me is just kind of funny."

"The film just kept growing from this initial seed of, 'I want to see this boxing glove in a deli slicer.' Alright well if I have that, I’ll need some more meats, and I need a place to put them so I’ll get a deli case. And then I get the deli case and I’m thinking, 'I actually really need a deli.'" He found another deli slicer like the model MoMA had displayed and was soon on a shopping spree, gathering the materials he would need in order to actually create the sandwich he envisioned.

Even with years of experience scouring eBay and flea markets for props, constructing Submarine Sandwich presented its fair share of challenges. The hunt for a vintage deli display case, for example, took over a year and a half. The soccer ball that doubled as cheese had to be shipped from Peru to his Los Angeles studio. And weeks of research went into planning every detail of the Italian deli in which the action takes place, from the shine of the meat slicer to the decorations on the wall, to his own movements as an actor. "You know you can’t take a picture in an Italian deli without people looking at you like you’re taking something from them," he says. "So I have plenty of pictures from Bay Cities in Santa Monica, just the way they stock their shelves, this kind of junky, trinket quality of it all, where I have glares of the workers."

The intense creative process does have its casualties:  "When you work with food in stop motion or in sound design, you develop a distaste for these things that you once loved," he explains. "I once made an ocean out of peanut butter. You’re licking your fingers because all your clothes and napkins are covered in peanut butter and you’re trying to find a place on your body to wipe it while you’re moving the camera around and before you know it, you don’t want peanut butter for five years. And it's the same thing with deli meat. Oh my god it's amazing how much grease comes off a salami."

"The most challenging shot in this film," PES admits, was the lava lamp shot, which took two days to set up, and another day to shoot. "The lava lamp could only be shaken once, because it kind of destroys them, so if I didn't get it right on the very first try, then we were screwed and we would be shopping for lava lamps all over the world again." The difficulty lay in getting the lava to behave during stop-motion footage. Luckily, he got what he needed. "Each film has a combination of hard and easy shots, but any sort of speedbump, is an impediment to a viewer. I want it to all sort of look like butter—effortless."

Submarine Sandwich is PES's first project financed via Kickstarter, and he calls it "the largest film" he's ever done—he even gained 15 pounds for his own role as the sandwich maker. As opposed to the "tabletop enterprises" represented by ambitious films like Western Spaghetti and Fresh Guacamole, his latest short encompasses the entire environment, as well as—for the first time—his full face and body. While he says he's been making these animated pieces "for ten or fifteen years," although he "can’t count anymore," he's still challenging himself to change and expand. With two feature films on the way, Submarine Sandwich is just the beginning of those boundaries being challenged.

Watch Submarine Sandwich above, and check out more behind-the-scenes images from PES, below:

Visit PES's YouTube channel here to gorge yourself on the rest of his stop-motion shorts.

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Making "Guacamole": A Stop-Motion Guide | The Creators Project