Academic journal article Framework

Costume Designer/Everything: Hybridized Identities in Animation Production

Academic journal article Framework

Costume Designer/Everything: Hybridized Identities in Animation Production

Article excerpt

As the oft-repeated mantra of costume designers goes: successful costumes are invisible. A costume designer's goal is to create costumes that seem like natural extensions of the character and blend seamlessly with the story world, calling attention to themselves only in service of the narrative or director's visual style. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, but generally costumes are meant to go unnoticed by the audience. Consequently, the designers often go unnoticed by the audience as well. This paradox of invisibility that plagues costume designers magnifies when the costumes are digitally mediated and no longer appear as real clothing, as in an animated film or television show. But if the costumes are not real, is a costume designer even necessary? The short answer is yes, a costume designer is always necessary. Audiences make assumptions about characters based on their appearance, and "before an actor speaks, his wardrobe has already spoken for him."1 In many regards, the clothes are the character. They cannot be chosen thoughtlessly-they must be an external representation of the character's interiority.

Yet most animated films do not have a costume designer per se, at least not until the 2000s. With recent innovations in digital technology comes an unprecedented level of realism in animation, which has necessitated an equal level of verisimilitude in the look of the characters' clothes. For Disney's animated feature Frozen (Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, US, 2013), art director Mike Giaimo called on designer Jean Gillmore to help him create costumes for the film's characters. As Gillmore explains it, the distortions that characterized hand-drawn animation were seen as "part of the charm of the original moving art." However, costumes in computer-generated (CG) animation must appear real or they will be distracting. Garments with a "plastic quality" are "not acceptable to the human eye/brain, and a disconnect happens."2 Similarly, for the 2012 Pixar film Brave (Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, US), simulation supervisor Claudia Chung was in charge of all aspects of grooming, costuming, and shot simulation. Using real wigs and costumes, her team developed algorithms to mimic the natural movement of hair and clothing. Chung created digital patterns and, using Pixar's proprietary software, "sewed" them together so that they looked and moved realistically when animated on the characters. Chung's training is not in costume design but in computer science. She recalls bringing in a live-action costume designer for TheIncredibles (Brad Bird, US, 2004) but found that "the concepts help but the process doesn't." The tricks and tools used by live-action designers to create costumes did not translate to digital construction, so the role has since been filled by Chung on Pixar films, including Ratatouille (Brad Bird, US, 2007) and Up (Pete Docter, US, 2009).3

While the contemporary digital media landscape has certainly increased the necessity for detailed, realistic costumes, the creation of real clothing for animated content is not an entirely new phenomenon. Early Disney films used rotoscoping, an animation technique that began in the 1940s and required live-action reference footage. Frame by frame, film was projected onto glass plates so the images could be traced by animators. Drawings were manipulated as necessary, but the live-action references enabled animators to create fluid movements that looked realistic.4 The reliance on filmed footage meant that live-action reference models needed to be dressed in the costumes of their animated counterparts. This is how they created Alice in Wonderland (Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, US, 1951). Eleven-year-old Kathryn Beaumont, who provided the voice for Alice, also served as a live-action model for the character. Wearing the signature blue dress, white apron, and long, blonde wig, Beaumont performed all of Alice's adventures for the camera and provided a foundation for the character's emotions and physicality. …

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