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Comic Con 2015: The CDG On Display

Members of the Costume Designers Guild gather to present “Technology as a Costume Tool” at the 2015 Comic Con International Convention.

Costume designers will tell you – Comic Con attendees are much more than fans of Superman’s flowing cape or a Storm Trooper’s protective armor. With extreme attention to detail and the skill of the most experience seamstress, many attendees will recreate costumes from their favorite film or TV show. They’ll match dyes and fabric, duplicate tailoring and present a finished piece that leaves the original costume designers basking in the ultimate flattery – the loving recreation of their work.

A number of costume designers patrolled the 2015 Comic Con show floor in search of costumes they deemed well-executed, creative expressions. Renee Nault, an illustrator who helped designed costumes for the original “Star Trek” series and its subsequent franchise, was so taken by a young man’s perfection of his commander’s uniform she openly wept. “While his fit was a little off, I was astounded by the amount of dedication he made to getting every last detail correct, right down to perfecting the outdated coloring.” When not celebrating the aptitude of the show’s finest costume designers, esteemed members of the Costume Designers Guild (CDG) presented panels including “Technology as a Costume Tool” and “Today’s Costume Designers.”

Panelists included costume illustrators, costume department heads and costume designers who discussed issues related to preparing costumes and tools of the trade that allowed costumes to be designed efficiently. Participants included: Timothy Wonsik (former department head of costumes and archives at Marvel Studios), Soyon An (Jem and the Holograms), Christian Cordella (Jurrasic World), Alan Villanueva (X-Men: Apocalypse), Jared Marantz (Batman v. Superman) Oksana Nedavniaya (Suicide Squad), Ann Foley (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Kristin Burke (The Conjuring) Giavanna Ottobre-Melton (Agent Carter) and Ivy Thaide (Pitch Perfect 2). Tyranny of Style Editor Joe Kucharski moderated both panels.

Although costume designers and illustrators have been using a variety of computer programs for years including Photoshop, ZBrush and 3D rendering software, their mixed feelings on the process became evident during the “Technology as a Costume Tool” panel. Veteran illustrator Nault described the benefit computer programs had on multi-department communication.

“I can create with more detail; there is no miscommunication when sharing ideas and no wasting time presenting something that was misinterpreted,” said Nault. “I can create an immediate template for a fine embroidery, resulting in a intricate detail on a kimono being completed in five days.”

The danger that arises in making immediate changes is an unreal expectation from some directors and producers regarding the confines of building and finalizing the pieces. While early designs can be changed immediately, constructing a garment takes a much greater amount of time. Wonsik shared a means Marvel developed to help save time and money when building unique pieces for lead actors.

“We scan the actors and create molds,” said Wonsik. “The costume designers are able to prepare pieces to the exact proportions of the actors. We also do a lot of scanning that is used to print unique fabrics that helps save time and money.”

Despite the technological advancements, both the illustrators and costume designers emphasized the importance of strong communication and flexibility amongst departments. The designers supply fabric samples, photographs and key composition elements that emphasize color choices and contrasts. The illustrators make a point to embrace and present the style that matches the designer they are working with.

“Some designers do their own design, and you will have to work from that. You have to be flexible, embrace different techniques,” said Nedavniaya. “Know when they want photo real or a pencil drawing. Also you need to understand the budget, and if there will be custom fabric or a lot of sculpture or special applications to present what is most helpful.”

The panelists on “Today’s Costume Designers” were able to highlight specific circumstances they have dealt with when working with time constraints. An discussed a situation where a director refused to commit to a jacket color – an important detail relevant to a popular comic character. Insisting on the creation of a black jacket, An was forced to apply “ten layers of pink paint with an airbrush at 6:00am” to the jacket moments before it was to be worn when the director realized his error.

“That jacket was so stiff, it’s a good thing it wasn’t needed beyond that shot,” said An.

Each panelist discussed balancing their creative impulses with the needs of the directors and producers they work with. While they spend time researching material, testing fabric on camera, developing mood boards and, in the case of Foley, creating five hand-stitched sequin gowns that contained hidden panels for safety gear while fulfilling all other demands in a tight nine-day schedule, the panelist agreed last-minute changes are unavoidable. Burke shared her means of maintaining her sanity while dealing with these frequent pressure tests – particularly when she’s on a location far away from home.

“When I’m on location I’m away from my family, so I like to volunteer,” said Burke. “I may spend some time with a homeless shelter, or at a rest home. It’s a way of giving back to the community and to keep a hold on human interaction.”

To learn more about the Costume Designers Guild, please visit: