Costume Designers Guild Comic-Con Panel Recap: Tips from the Designers Behind BATMAN V. SUPERMAN, CAPTAIN AMERICA, MOCKINGJAY, and More

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A lively group of today’s most in-demand costume illustrators gathered at Comic Con on Thursday to discuss their latest movie work. Moderated by Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel actor Camden Toy, the panel included costume designers and illustrators Constantine Sekeris (Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice), Alan Villanueva (The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part I and II), Christian Cordella (Captain America : The Winter Soldier), Arianne Phillips (Kingsman: The Secret Service) and Phillip Boutte Jr. (X Men: Days of Future Past). After a brief video of the illustrators’ memorable work from dozens of blockbuster films, the group answered some questions about the experience and talent necessary to navigate the brutal and fast-paced waters of the entertainment industry.  Hit the jump for my Costume Designers Guild Comic-Con panel recap.

kingsman-the-secret-service-colin-firth-suitsWhen asked about the experience of working in collaboration with fellow costume designers, Phillips and Boutte discussed their partnership to create costume designs for the Broadway show Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2014). Phillips designed the costumes for the film in 2000, and revisited her work for the recent play. While in London working on the upcoming Kingsman: The Secret Service she called Boutte, whom she refers to as her “left brain.” They carried on many Skype sessions to collaborate, noting that technology allows people separated by an ocean to communicate as if they are in the same room.

When asked if it was difficult to concentrate on concepts while working on multiple projects, Cordella answered that time is becoming increasingly limited on fever big-budget films,  and that it would be impossible with all of the revisions and changes for one person to spearhead an entire movie (10 hour days, meetings, etc.) Villanueva added: “There are things that you learn and take from each other, even drawing and painting styles. It helps you develop as an artist. It’s a collaboration, and a learning experience.”

Sekeris was asked how he works with a designer from concept to final product. He answered that some script details dictate a lot of information, while with others an illustrator has more freedom to explore. “Some costume designers already have sketches, which is a good guide. Other designers simply hand you notes, then ask you to give them options.”  In his opinion, “Less is more. Give me three words, and I can give you something.” He added: “If you have worked with a designer before, you can learn their aesthetic, and intuitively put it into your work.”

ben-affleck-batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justiceThe question of how much illustration is still hand drawn vs. digital was raised, and Sekeris discussed how an illustrator must master not only drawing, but also digital, Photshop and 3-D mediums. “You must know all of these, because you are competing with the art department, who have brilliant designers of their own. Sometimes a designer prefers sketches only, etc. Everything is time sensitive, and they really like 3D, so they can see all of the details.”

Boutte added: “It really depends on how much time you have. If they say: “I need this by the evening” I might sketch it, but if you’re doing more sci-fi or a spacesuit, you really need to cross over into 3D. You need to know all of those skills to best serve the production, as well as the designer.”

Phillips, who is also a designer, was asked if she uses her own illustrations in her work. She answered: “I used to have to draw to get my ideas out, but now working with Phillip (Boutte Jr.), Dropbox is my best friend. There is an incredible amount of reference that you can use to collaborate and create a silhouette. I’ve done five tours with Madonna, and I’ve collaborated with Phillip because there’s a huge amount of work, options and variations to use. Boutte added: “Arianna (Phillips) will send me references sectioned out: Blue denim, fur coats. Other designers might say: “I really like the color of these pebbles,” and walk away, (audience laughter) so references help. Phillips continued: “You really have to be a fine-tuned interpreter. You have to manage an entire department, the crew, and source many things. We rely on these incredible artists to be intuitive, download a few things, and trust the artist to work on the overall creative product.”

The audience asked a few questions, including a gripe about why sci-fi movies are largely ignored on Oscar night. Phillips rolled her eyes, noting that Oscar voters are older, and enjoy “large, fluffy dresses.”

Another question raised was if the designers felt satisfaction when they see fans recreating their work as costumes at conventions such as Comic Con. Phillips replied that after she designed The Crow (1994) she saw a lot of imitations. Cordella immediately mentioned that he had dressed as The Crow for halloween, to the audiences’ delight. Phillips added: “Imitation is the highest form of flattery. The first time I saw a Madonna imitator in Thailand wearing my design, it was like winning 10 Oscars.”

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