Cartoon Costumes Get Their Due

By Valentini, Valentina | Variety, February 21, 2017 | Go to article overview

Cartoon Costumes Get Their Due


Valentini, Valentina, Variety


FOR THE FIRST TIME, an animated feature has been nominated for a prize at the Costume Designers Guild Awards, to be presented Feb. 21 at the Beverly Hilton.

Designer Deborah Cook used her talents to bring to life ancient Japanese characters for the stop-motion film "Kubo and the Two Strings," created by Oregon's Laika Studios and distributed by Focus Features and UPI.

Although Cook didn't receive Oscar love when Academy nominations were announced (the movie is up for best animated feature), her recognition by the guild represents a breakthrough for costume design - and a realization that serious sartorial arts belong in the realm of cartoons as well as live action.

Indeed, even producers of CG animation, such as Disney, are paying greater attention to the realism and authenticity of costumes, as exemplified by "Moana," which is also Oscar-nominated for best animated film.

In earlier days, audiences for animation paid little attention to what characters wore. However, over the past two decades, with technical advances in both CG and stop-motion animation, costumes and character design have developed as animated art forms - much to the appreciation of viewers.

Costume construction "used to be one of the last things to be considered in animation," says Cook, who previously designed the costumes for Laika's "Coraline" and has worked on the company's "ParaNorman" and "The Boxtrolls."

As technology advances, more real-looking costumes appear on the screen, and that "appeals to people," Cook maintains.

To design the costumes seen in "Kubo," she went to Japan to get a sense of how the modern population dresses, including what elements of cultural history are retained and adapted to the present.

"I collected fabrics from vintage clothing stores with authentic colors and surface work and threads, and studied how they were constructed," says Cook, who originally took instruction in fineart sculpture and learned upholstery techniques, metalworking, silicon casting, and mold making. She went on to apply her skills in theater, television, and film.

Cook also referenced historical Japanese costumes from the Jomon, Heian, Edo, and Meiji periods - basically everything from 300 BC to the present day. As she researched, she picked up looks that would inform the film's characters and lend them a sense of authenticity.

"We weren't representing one particular era," she explains. "We were taking bits and pieces of those things and putting them into the finished product."

While CG animation requires some assembly (the costumes are often designed and constructed in real life for maximum authenticity and then adapted to the computer in a virtual format), stop-motion lives entirely in reality. …

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