The Story We Wear

THE STORY WE WEAR

An introduction to Costume for Animation, Gaming and Illustration

Since I was young, I've been fascinated by the stories a costume tells. However, as more of the sketcher than the seamstress, I wasn't sure how I could make use of this interest. When Disney's Tangled came out and Claire Keane's gorgeous art was featured in the "Art of Tangled" book, I was intrigued to say the least. Seeing LAIKA's amazing films only increased that interest. I started exploring the possibilities of design for animation and began experimenting with how one might use costume for the animation mediums and what unique considerations would need to be taken into account. 

The concept of turning my insights into a book was pitched to me in 2015 by my mentor Chris Oatley. I admit I was overwhelmed with the challenge of presenting things that I had learned through personal trial and error but after a good practice run during one of his magic box courses and some courage instilled in me by many of my awesome friends, I decided to take the plunge and figure this whole thing out.

Things really started moving along when I decided to reach out to four of my good friends. A small group of Oatley Academy costume geeks that I had either gotten to know better due to mutual admiration for our outfit choices at CTN-X, a shared love of stopmotion, or because other academy students had shoved us together knowing we’d hit it off (Thanks guys!). Anytime we ran into each other, we were eagerly sharing the knowledge we had gathered from our diverse costume exploits. In the end, it just seemed natural to gather our resources and create something much better than I could have ever created alone.

You can learn more about the artists/authors in the About Us section.

You can learn more about the artists/authors in the About Us section.

Coming from different specializations and levels of professional experience, the common observations and conclusions about the industry were quite interesting. Not only were we able to help each other learn about the differences in our applications, we were able to validate the ways we saw costume being used, or not being used, in our fields. It was pretty exciting to think that by using this project to kickstart a conversation about costume, we might actually be able to help the storytelling community improve as a whole.

One of the major things we noticed was a lack of mentors who could nurture this niche community of costumers working outside of traditional live action or theatre. Because, while there are many amazing resources out there for costume research, there isn’t a lot of information exchange within those traditional communities in the way we see it in animation.

To respect their approach, the competition is fierce and those trade secrets are what help a costume designer get that advantage they need to compete. However, without the same structure of mentors in these alternative applications, there’s very little to work with and build upon. Those who adapt are a scrappy gang.

Learning and adapting on the fly, they often come from diverse backgrounds, transitioning from other specialties. The desire to tell good stories, and the love of costume as a great way to do that, pushes them through and helps them find their own ways to use it.

Deborah Cook of LAIKA came from a sculpture background and has been making amazing ground in exploring the possibilities of costume in stopmotion animation. Image:  Go Behind the (Crazy-Complex) Scenes of The Boxtrolls - Wired.com, 2014. Photo by Jose Mandojana.

Deborah Cook of LAIKA came from a sculpture background and has been making amazing ground in exploring the possibilities of costume in stopmotion animation. Image:  Go Behind the (Crazy-Complex) Scenes of The Boxtrolls - Wired.com, 2014. Photo by Jose Mandojana.

We hope that by sharing our own collective experiences and insights, we’ll be able to build a stronger foundation for current and future costume designers. The book will only be an introduction to the topic, but by starting this conversation and inviting the community to engage, we hope to help build an industry that will support a thriving culture of costume mentors and students alike.

We've made a real effort to get to the heart of our diverse approaches so we could share what we thought were the best introductory insights. It is not our intent to dictate rules to follow. Instead, we would be thrilled if the coming book helps you tap into what costume means to you personally, as well as how you might customize your use of it just as we have. Whether that’s just through understanding how to communicate more effectively through your personal wardrobe or towards actually taking on the challenge of choosing costume as a speciality. There are so many opportunities to explore and with each new insight you gain, you are building and nurturing this field for everyone to enjoy. 

The Discovery by Norman Rockwell. This is a great example of the storytelling power of an iconic costume. The Discovery, Norman Rockwell, 1956. Oil on canvas, 35¼" x 32½". Cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post, December 29, 1956. From the permanent collection of Norman Rockwell Museum. 

The Discovery by Norman Rockwell. This is a great example of the storytelling power of an iconic costume. The Discovery, Norman Rockwell, 1956. Oil on canvas, 35¼" x 32½". Cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post, December 29, 1956. From the permanent collection of Norman Rockwell Museum. 

If you'd like weekly posts leading up to the book release you'll find some fun features, tips, insights, resource links, and book updates here on the blog. If you have any costume questions, ideas for topics to address or would just like to share your thoughts, head on over to the Contact Us page. We look forward to hearing from you! 

Header Image: Prom Dress by Norman Rockwell, Saturday Evening Post cover March 19, 1949

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