As we’re fast approaching a 1-year mark since I became head of costumes on Team Avatar: Adventures of the Appamobile, I felt like it was high time I shared with you my design process, because I’m TOTALLY AN EXPERT NOW AMIRITE GUYS?
Disclaimer: I am not an expert. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never taken a costume design class or any design class at all. I have no professional training and I’m not really writing this to explain to others how to design, but really as a personal blog so that a year from now I can look back on this and facepalm. Feel free to gain any insight you want from this, but it’s not the industry standard way to do things, and it’s probably not the best way either. It’s what I found out from being thrown in the deep end with a cannon tied to my ankles. It may be useful. It may not. Good luck.
So, for me, the design process has a lot of steps: scribbles, research, sketches, and technicals. Sometimes they happen in different order from what I say here. Research and Scribbles have to happen more or less at the same time.
So here we go
Step 1: Scribbles
So here’s the kind of thing that I do. They usually happen on lined paper in notebooks or on the back of receipts or in my moleskine (If you don’t have a Moleskine, get one. It makes you look like a deep misunderstood artist, which is what you are, right?). These are not the sort of thing that my director would EVER see, or she would fire me and then probably start panicking.
A lot of these scribbles are just free flowing ideas, sometimes something like noticing how a woman’s skirt in a coffee shop lays and then sketching that, and thinking “OOH WOULDN’T IT BE AWESOME IF THE LORD OF THE UNDERWORLD HAD A HAT?!” sort of thing. Your scribbles need no logic. They just happen. Trying to make them good or trying to make them have reason is wrong.
Sidebar: Hang out in coffee shops and shopping malls. Look at people and look at clothes. If you’re trapped in your studio/dorm room all day, you won’t get to see new things, and design is all about seeing new things.
Step 2: Research
So, you’ve got Team Avatar. Team Avatar is Avatar: The Last Airbender set in the modern age but not really but kind of but not really but sort of, and Team Avatar wears superhero costumes because Sokka is silly. So, of course, when you’re coming up with designs, you look up the source material and superheroes.
Sometimes, you end up with much more vague things. I have had a director tell me, “It’s like the 1990’s, if the 30’s was in the 50’s.” In that case, you look up all of the eras, save all of the pictures that inspire you in any way.
Now you need to branch out. You look at the technology of the era. What materials can you use (Aang is a vegetarian. He probably wouldn’t wear leather, maybe not silk)? What materials were available in the era? What materials capture the feel of the era?
Sometimes, I rely on Google image results to do some of the work for me. If I’m really stuck, I try to break the character down into a few keywords and then see if anything weird comes up (For Bumi, I searched for “Crazy modern king,” and got a picture of this guy in a storm trooper helmet with cases of beer stacked from floor to ceiling behind him).
Now, you’ve got a crapload of pictures. Time to take them in photoshop or print them out, cut them out, rearrange them, tape them on your wall, stare at them, get confused, go get coffee, scribble some more, come back home, get really confused, call your friend in New York and talk about how confused you are, feel like the world isn’t making sense, scribble some more, and go to sleep.
The next morning, you look at those scribbles you made, put them into your collage, and repeat the process.
Step 3: THINK ABOUT IT
Now you have like 400 little things that you’re thinking about that are floating around in your mind and slowly driving you insane, and you need to think about it. Costumes aren’t enough to just be logical. Everything tells the story. So you’re not creating a fancy costume. You’re just coming up with an everyday outfit for a main character. Costumes are part of the story. Who is this character? Did she pick the outfit? Did her big sister buy it for her? How does it show her personality? Even if someone else picked it out and dressed her, she will add her own personal touches. These are important. The costumes are an extension of the characters. You know you want the Lord of the Underworld in a hat. Why? Why is he in that hat?
Inherently, more scribbles will happen here, and you will probably start talking to yourself and your roommate will program the school’s therapist into her speed dial and wait for you to have your psychotic break.
Step 4: Finalize it
Now you know what you’re looking for. Draw it. I love watercolors for this because they’re vaguer than any other medium, and this sketch is about vagueness. You CANNOT attempt to nail down every detail on this. Details kill creativity. Don’t think about how you’re going to do it. Just get things on paper.
Draw your model. How does your model stand? She reflects the feel of the design. Don’t worry about keeping her neutral at this point.
**Key point!** You need to make at least 3 designs, 4 would be better, of each design you need. This way, when you show them to your director, they will pick their favorite. If you show them, it’s a matter of “I like it,” or “I don’t like it.” Four designs, one almost always gets chosen unless your director was thinking along totally different lines than you were.
in between step: MORE RESEARCH: You probably drew things without thinking about the fabric that you’d use and things like that. Time to look at fabrics and think about how you’ll do things. Nothing drawingwise is needed, just know how you’re going to do this.
Step 5: Technical Sketches
Now you break down every piece, every detail of the costume. What does the jacket look like on the back? Where are the pockets? How do I do that? (These are really only necessary if you’re giving the designs to a costumer or your costume designer demands them. If you’re also costuming the show, you can work off of your sketches usually.)
I like to do my technical sketches with just a pigment liner, very little variance of line weight. You know all of that emotion that you poured into your watercolor? Yeah. This is the opposite of that. Technical sketches are not emotional. They are the transition between the emotion that you put on the page and the emotion that the actor will put into the clothes. They must be emotionless and technically accurate.
Step 6: Make it.
Step 7: Put it on the actor.
Step 8: ?????
Step 9: Profit.