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The Makers

In 2007 Mike Thielvoldt, Lira Filippini, Rachael Norman, and Jake Haskell joined forces to build something big for Burning Man, with the help of a fantastic crew.  The Lep's first incarnation was doomed for failure, as peanuts for funding could only provide winches for the wing articulation, instead of the two-way control desired with the hydraulics we couldn't afford.  Night one on the playa, the Lep became a tangled mass, as wind lifted one wing and crashed it over onto the other. 

In 2008, unswayed by this devastation, Mike and Lira reengineered and rebuilt the butterfly... this time with hydraulics — thanks to the funding by one of Burning Man's top tiers of grants of that year.  They also added a steel, passenger-carrying chrysalis, interactive fire, and interactive, remote-controlled color-changing wing lights... among many other details.

In 2010, she graced the playa once again with upgraded LED light-pods that illuminated all the way out to her 55-foot wingspan tips — aided by an expanded crew.

Mike Thielvoldt

Lead Engineer


Mike mixes engineering disciplines like a bartender mixes cocktails; the emphasis is on balance and interplay, and the goal is to delight. In 2007, on the precipice of graduating from Stanford’s masters program in mechanical engineering, Mike was itching to show off some strong new ingredients. So when a group of friends invited him to add an engineered element to an art-car project that had a theme camp’s support, but no well-defined shape, the magnetism of challenge and creative opportunity pulled him in. 

The constraints of a shoestring budget, a tight schedule, and the remit to inspire awe got Mike thinking about organisms that produce huge visual impact with very little actual material. The not-so-humble butterfly fluttered forward and captured the team’s hearts and imaginations.

The Lepidodgera has been transformative for Mike. The wings and supporting thorax tested and expanded Mike’s structural and mechanical design skills. The lights and supporting power electronics and programming were gateways to electrical engineering and firmware; disciplines that Mike would thereafter pursue professionally. The size of the project and the amazing support of a generous team with myriad skills forged Mike’s ability to organize, teach, and communicate what matters. 

Beyond skills, the principle of doing much with very little that the butterfly embodies has stuck with Mike; it is the strongest common thread through his professional life and personal projects. At Makani Power he worked on harnessing wind energy. At All Power Labs (on the site the Lepidodgera was built) Mike designed components for gasifiers that convert biomass to electricity. At Live Spark, Mike designed a burner that produced a maximally luminous flame with the minimal amount of propane. At Gradient, Mike was part of a team lowering the environmental cost of home heating and cooling. At Lunar Energy, Mike led a firmware team to make maximal use of the energy from home solar panels. 

Mike’s hope for the Lepidodgera now is to give it a send-off that lets it keep delighting and inspiring engineers and builders of all kinds to say, “I think if we design it well, we won’t need all that much...”


Lira Filippini

Lead Artist & Project Manager


In 2007, Lira was already harnessing her proclivity for creation and combining research and art.  She had just graduated with a Bachelors in Sociology from UCSC and shortly thereafter, finished commissioned work for a restaurant on the Santa Cruz wharf — which involved painting large-scale realistic murals as well as designing, fabricating, and installing various design elements that brought the outside in.  This fundamentally initiated the itch to collect more form-giving skills.

A Burning Man veteran at age 23, Lira wanted to give back to the community that had captured her imagination.  The Lep hit all the right spots.  At her core, Lira loves a challenge and was motivated by the idea of a giant biomimetic steel butterfly with kinetic wings, engineered strength and the appearance of delicacy — that also deeply resonated with her reverence for nature's capacity to heal, teach, and inspire us.

The arts grant from Burning Man in 2008 was Lira's first experience with grant fulfillment and administration.  Executing the design, fabrication, and finishing of many new components on a tight timeline and budget was a crash-course in technical project management — one of the Lep's many enduring lessons.

She later co-founded a dietary supplement company with her brother, called Nutri-Thrive which emphasized the scientific efficacy of select natural compounds — drawing again on nature's capacity to teach and heal.  She also built and ran three indoor cannabis cultivation systems — engineering completely controlled environments that mimic nature's optimal conditions for plant growth.

Continuing to prioritize community, Lira served as elected President of the Bodega Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, founded the Sonoma Coast Visitor Center, and co-founded and remains VP of Waves of Compassion Foundation.  Many of which have expanded upon the grant writing and administration that she continues to do.  Lira has taken numerous leadership roles in local political organizing in both Santa Cruz and Sonoma Counties and is very engaged in the area of affordable housing and state legislature.

Lira also works in branding, website development and content creation with an emphasis on research.  She weaves a thread of engineered art into all of her endeavors — sometimes in a pamphlet or website design and sometimes in building a bat-signal for guerrilla campaigning.

Jake and Rachael

Jake Haskell

Rachael Norman

Thanks for becoming a master get-er-done fabricator living in the machine shop with us in 2007.  Ripping a van down to a flatbed, turning piles of pipe on the lathe to slip-fits, orchestrating teamwork, welding, grinding, and band-sawing your ass off.

Thanks for being a leader and masterfully getting shit done in 2007, specifically: talking Mike and Jake into living and breathing an art car for a summer, finding us a live-in space to build it, managing finances, sourcing materials and a van, precision-forklifting tons of metal and finding an amazingly cute way to build the eyes.  Thanks for taking the lead on the 2008 Burning Man grant application.  And of course, for the extensive use of your sexy purple Hobart welder.

Zubeyir Mentese

Thanks for literally originating the idea to build an art car for the Dematerial theme camp — spurring the Lep's first incarnation; for connecting Lira with Rachael, Mike, and Jake; and for helping get shit done both on and off the playa… EVERY single year!

Kim Harrison

Thanks for helping tremendously in 2010, including with the design, fabrication, testing, and troubleshooting of the LED light pods.  And for being a key assembly and disassembly team member.

Corwin Hardham

Thanks Corwin for CADing the individual sheet-metal strips with all the tessellated hexagons and facilitating access to Makani’s waterjet and XOX’s kitchen tabletop.

Pete Lynn

Thanks Pete for tig-welding the many stainless eye pieces together... and burning the shit out of Lira’s face, in so doing ;-).

Joseph Dungan

Thanks for bringing an enduring stoke, both on and off playa all 3 years; for handling the sound system design and procurement, for teaching us rigging and putting yourself in harm’s way to bring the broken wing down in a controlled way in 2017.

Adam Drake

Thanks for rallying a dynamite crew and showing up with muscle ready to do anything from Dematerial camp in 2007.

Jess Weiss & Orion Lakota

Thanks showing up and working as a duo on 2-person jobs in 2007, like bending much of the wing perimeters and generally fabricating and beautifying a bunch of things.  

Diane D'Aoust

Thank you for the 14 years of free storage, for joining us for assembly on the early-arrival weeks in 2007 and 2008, and for generally being there for us with labor and love.

Gordon Thielvoldt

Thank you for saving the day with mercenary fabrication and welding services on several desperate occasions; for showing up for on the early-arrival weeks for assembly in 2007 and 2008, and for lending your van and trailer to the dust-filled fate all 3 years.

Christine Frazier aka 'Evil Chris'

Thank you for planning our 2008 fundraising party; for running our social media; and for planning and running the best camp kitchen in 2010 — keeping the team well fed and hydrated during our week-long assembly.

Masha Oguinskaia

Thank you for all your help in 2010: soldering endless connections for LEDs; kicking ass during the week-long assembly on play, including stitching wing accents in the dirt; and for helping us with web presence.

Nick Reid

Thank you for light-pod and assembly work in 2010, especially for hours stitching wing accents onto chicken wire in the dirt.

Larkin Donley

Thank you for helping to hand-paint and bake many hundreds of tiny pieces of glass for the Lep's eyes in 2007.

Sonny D

Thanks for joining us in 2008 on playa, packing, assembling, and generally keeping an unflappable chill.

Frank and Melvee Filippini

Thank you for coming in 2010 and helping work out problems, and for opening your house to us to-and-from playa, as a midway rest and regroup area — feeding sometimes quite the large team, and half the time dealing with quite the pile of dust.

Did we forget you?  We know we've had many a smiling face lend a hand to make this beauty what she is.  If we've forgotten to include you, please let us know

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