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Comic Con 2015: Costume Illustrator Oksana Nedavniaya Reflects On Her First Con

Sitting on the Costume Designers Guild “Technology as a Costume Tool” panel at the 2015 Comic Con International Convention gave Oksana Nedavniaya an unrealistic feeling. The costume illustrator who’s work ranges from “Hotels for Dogs” to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Ceremony costumes recalled her first visit to Comic Con roughly ten years ago – a visit that opened the door to her career..

“A teacher of mine from California State University Long Beach had told me about the Costume Designers Guild,” said Nedavniaya. “After I graduated, I saw the CDG was holding a panel at Comic Con. I went and brought my portfolio.”

Prior to her first Comic Con visit and a chance meeting that would change her life, Nedavniaya had begun dramatically modifying her career trajectory. A professional concert pianist with a desire to draw people and clothing, Nedavniaya took a few art courses to explore her interests. She exited her music career in 1999 to study fine arts, looking for a way to combine her love of illustration and the human form. Robin Richardson, one of her professors at Cal State Long Beach suggested she look into careers in costume design, suggesting the CDG would be a great place to review options and explore opportunities.

Nedavniaya first encounter with the CDG came through attending their Comic Con panel. After the presentation, she pushed through the crowd to speak with Isis Mussenden, a costume designer who spoke about her work on 2005’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Mussenden reviewed Nedavniaya’s portfolio and spent a few moments speaking with the fledgling illustrator. Nedavniaya left the event feeling the brief interaction was the highlight of her Comic Con attendance.

A few weeks later, however, she received a call from Mussenden. Mussenden recalled her illustrations and asked if Nedaviaya would be willing to provide some costume illustrations for 2009’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.” This opportunity kick-started Nedavniaya’s career. In addition to her first professional costume design illustrations, she met many individuals while working on that film that have ushered her into many other opportunities, including her upcoming work on “Suicide Squad.”

“There was a person in the IT department on ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ who knew Kate (Hawley, costume designer for ‘Suicide Squad’) was looking for an illustrator,” said Nedavniaya. “That is how I got connected. Most of my jobs come from word of mouth.”

Every job Nedavniaya works on requires a different approach, depending on the needs of the costume designer. In some cases actors have been cast, allowing the illustrators to focus on some very specific technical drawing that will directly relate to sizes and dimensions. Other times, there is no cast in place and costumes are worked out specifically to define styles and details.

For “Suicide Squad,” Nedavniaya discovered Hawley had gone through a great deal of research in preparing for the look of the costumes involved. Hawley had put together a number of mood and atmosphere boards that included beautiful drawings she created herself to communicate ideas and concepts.

“During the first stage for this film there was no cast set, but a general direction for the characters,” said Nedavniaya. “Kate is very much about creating a general mood or direction (with some of the costumes). We were very focused on creating an atmosphere.”

For “Suicide Squad” Nedavniaya explored combining some very specific directions with establishing specific moods. Due to the quantity of work, she remained involved with the production as costumes were being built, a process she is not always present for.

“It was great to see some of the samples being made. It’s my favorite part, seeing the 3D version of my image,” said Nedavniaya.

The illustrator helps pull together all the details of a design, presenting a realized version of their vision prior to green-lighting a build. While Nedavniaya always prefers working with pencil and watercolor, the majority of contemporary costume illustrations are done digitally. Through these digital examples, they are able to easily adjust colors, patterns, hemlines and overall designs until the costume designer sees the perfect version of their vision. At that point, the illustration moves down the line to a pattern maker who prepares the version for a seamstress and tailors.

Nedavniaya notes there is a very different process for creating illustrations for film or television versus a live production. When she worked on the illustrations for costumes designed for the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics, it was important to recognize the outfits had to be as easily read by a camera zooming in as crowds sitting hundreds of feet away. Being a native of Russia, she had the opportunity to incorporate the symbols of the region into the design and found her creative influence truly gratifying.

“I was born in Russia, so this was a chance for me to go back,” said Nedavniaya. “I spoke the language and understood what was important to the people who grew up in Moscow. It was very exciting to be part of that creative process.”

Upon the conclusion of the “Technology as a Costume Tool” panel at the 2015 Comic Con International Convention, Nedavniaya joined her fellow panelists in meeting Comic Con attendees and reviewing some of their portfolios. The experience made her nostalgic, recalling her “fairy tale moment” when a chance encounter opened the door to her current career. While she sometimes contemplates stepping into a costume designer role, she is currently happy to be involved purely on the creative side, working directly with the costume designers as they define the look and styles of their content.

“The costume designers are so much more than being creative. They are the leader of the team, and have to be on top of everything,” said Nedavniaya. “Right now I am happy to be living in this dream come true.”