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How a Stop-Motion Costume Designer Makes Tiny Clothing for the Big Screen

Whether they’re making spot-on ’80s period clothing or producing hundreds of detailed, Afrofuturistic outfits, costume designers regularly pull off staggering creative feats. But Deborah Cook’s job is uniquely challenging. As head of the 25-person costume department at Laika, the Oregon-based stop-motion studio behind movies like Coraline, ParaNorman, and Kubo and the Two Strings, Cook makes clothing for characters no taller than a pencil.

 

Crafting miniature clothing is one thing, but engineering tiny costumes for character models that need to crouch, sit, and run frame by frame — costumes that will then be blown up on a movie theater screen, showcasing all of their details and flaws — is another skill set entirely. Making a yellow rain slicker for Coraline isn’t as simple as sewing an extra-extra-small coat; it’s also about rigging the garment with wires and weights to ensure that it hangs realistically on the puppet’s twig-like frame.

Because I don’t understand how anyone can make inch-long gloves or minuscule boots, I rang up Cook to learn about the time-intensive (albeit fabric-minimal) process of making costumes for the littlest movie stars.

To begin, how did you land at Laika?

I’ve been at Laika for around 12 years now. I came out here to work on Coraline and set up the costume department for Laika. I only intended to stay for three months, but I got addicted and couldn’t go home. I usually work on two to three of our films at a time, with one doing publicity, one shooting, and doing research and establishing all the characters’ personalities for the new one.

I went to art school at Central St. Martins in London. I studied sculpture, but a lot of my work was driven by fabric. During college, people approached me from the stop-frame world because of the level of detail I was working in. I could work with different materials, from armatures [the jointed metal skeletons that let characters move realistically] to sculpture, wigs, and costumes.

There weren’t that many stop-frame animation courses for people to do, and if there are now, they’re mainly geared toward educating animators, rather than all the other things that come into play in stop frame. [Doing stop-motion costumes] is not anything you can train for. A lot of people we hire have transferable skills.

What kinds of skills translate well to doing costumes for the figures used in stop-motion movies?

We have people who have been ceramicists or jewelers — jewelers lend themselves well to armature, and ceramicists can make 3D shapes with their hands and understand all aspects of a form, plus they work with pigments and make their own colors. Everything here is hand-dyed. Even though they might not have worked with fabrics, if you teach them pattern cutting, they can work with puppets.

Everyone brings something new to the table. We’re a melting pot of skills, and we have our own look. It’s detail-driven and beautiful to look at — very striking visually — and finding people with those transferable skills has empowered that appearance.

What does the process of creating miniature costumes look like?

I work from the outset with the director and character designer. Initially, I’ll break down the script. I read it as a story first; then I go through it and separate out each character and each listed costume, trait, and description and put it all under their character headings. Break it down.

Then I list the items I’m looking for that help imbue character with personality. We’ll make huge mood boards — I have a big workspace with all the boards set up — and massive spreadsheets. You start to build the personality of the character and narrative: how it will change over the course of the film, who they’re seen with, and how that informs the story at that moment. If they become more upbeat or confident, or if they’ve literally been brawling and need to be roughed up, or they’re having a celebration, it commands a costume change. We work all of that out at the beginning, then work toward their costume. It’s a lot of research and legwork initially.

Then we go into color scripting, how the palette will pass through the whole thing. Color and texture have so much power and so much language that people warm to. I think our films are fairly tactile-looking. To me, anyway, it looks like you could crawl into the world because the materials are familiar. They’re not just drawn; they’re made and built. You can touch the fabric of the costumes; you can run your hands through foliage of forest.

What’s your starting point when making clothes for characters that small? A lot of them have these skinny little legs, like Coraline and Kubo — like, how do you make a pair of pants for them?

With our costumes generally, we look for particular properties in the material. We basically don’t use off-the-shelf fabrics. We’re using fabrics as a background to provide a structure that we can build surfaces on. You look for fabrics that have a little stretch in all directions, a little tooth on the surface because that keys the light — it gives the lighting technicians something to work with.

Sometimes we use the same fabrics across films. We hoard them and bring them back because they’ve served us so well. We can make them look totally different, but we know they have the durability we need over two and a half years of shooting and maybe two and a half years of development before that. And after that, our puppets have their own life where they do publicity events and press calls and travel the world and are handled by many more people for years to come. Durability is colossal. It’s way more important than with human clothes.

If we want something to look like jeans, we’ll look for a base fabric that would pass for denim in our scale. We work in one-to-six [model-to-real-life] scale. If you have a regular human-size piece of denim, it’ll hide the subtleties of their leg shape because it’s too heavy and big. The [figures’] joints are delicate, so the fabric has to be lightweight. If it’s too heavy, the puppet might move out of position.

The fabric is extremely lightweight, with backings or wires that help the armature support the costume. It’s a collaboration with [the team] building our puppets. We need to meet in the middle. We don’t just do our work and pass it off. If we know what the puppet will be wearing at the outset, we can build the puppet underneath so that there are no wonky moves.

If you think of something that’s the height of a pencil, which is the height of one of our characters, even the thinnest fabric won’t look like it has the right weight and gravity. So you need to make it super heavy on the bottom of the hems so it looks right for the scale.

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Break a Sweat on Halloween With These 7 Costumes You Can Totally Work Out In

Halloween isn’t just for kids. In fact, the festive holiday is arguably more fun for adults: clever costume ideas, spiked witch’s brew, and, of course, you can still eat candy. And costumes shouldn’t just be limited to themed parties and walking your kids around to trick-or-treat; get festive in the gym with some athleisure-inspired Halloween costumes.

Halloween Costumes For the Gym

As more and more gyms celebrate Halloween, people are encouraged to dress up and get festive for their workouts. But it’s pretty difficult to deadlift when you’re wearing a Jessica Rabbit gown and heels. Here are some athletic costume ideas to get you inspired for the spookiest time of the year. Not only do these look clever, but you can still jump, squat, lift, and row in these comfortable get-ups.

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These Halloween Costumes Are the Perfect Mix of Scary and Cute

For those purists who really get into the Halloween spirit — the spookiness, the mysteries, the old wives’ tales, and the superstitions — you may be inclined to dress up as something classically “Halloween” that incorporates the creepy side of the holiday. More blood, less puns. However, there’s looking scary, and then there’s looking like Cady Heron in her “ex wife” costume. Sometimes you want something in between — not overtly sexy, but not scream inducing.

We rounded up some costume ideas that hit that sweet spot of being both scary and cute. From witches to devils and some creative spooky costumes in between, keep reading to find your perfect Halloween costume.

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‘Mrs. Maisel’s’ costumes swing, pop and dazzle — all by design

Amy Sherman-Palladino didn’t have to do a whole lot of explaining when she first met costume designer Donna Zakowska to brief her on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Zakowska, who previously won an Emmy for the American Revolution drama “John Adams,” instantly grokked the wardrobe requirements for Sherman-Palladino’s 1958 period piece about an Upper West Side housewife-turned-Greenwich Village stand-up comedian.

“It was instant chemistry,” Zakowska recalls. “Even before we spoke about specific garments, Amy was very interested in the cultural aspects of this period. Being a native New Yorker, I understood the divide that existed between Uptown and Downtown. We talked about how the clothes could be a bit heightened because the show is almost like a musical. The clothes needed to reinforce that feeling, which meant I would be doing a lot with color.”

Zakowska grew up in Brooklyn with a family matriarch who shared Mrs. Maisel’s marvelous eye for color matching. “My late mother was an accessories master!” Zakowska says, speaking from New York amid Season 2 production of the Amazon Prime series. “When I went through her clothing after she died, every single box of shoes had a pair of stockings in it, like pale pink or pale green, that matched the color of the shoes.”

As portrayed by Rachel Brosnahan, Midge Maisel may seem unbelievably well put together by contemporary standards, but Zakowska points out that her meticulous ensembles reflect the way regular New Yorkers actually dressed six decades ago.

“There really was this heightened sense of accessorizing and color accents in people’s wardrobes during the late ’50s, and Midge is all about that,” Zakowska notes. “She’s all about presentation, and it was the same kind of thing with Joan Rivers, where you wonder, ‘How did this housewife end up doing stand-up?’ The way they presented themselves was very important, and there was a lot of fine-tuning involved.”

To develop Midge Maisel’s personal style, Zakowska researched eye-popping color combinations featured in Vogue magazines of the period. She also looked to chic movie star Audrey Hepburn and midcentury fashion titans Hubert de Givenchy, Christian Dior and Jacques Fath as beacons of sophisticated urban couture.

“For five or six years, fashion in the ’50s reached incredible heights and really became like sculptures,” Zakowska says. “It was a real celebration of the female form.” Midge’s billowing pink swing coat, for example, makes an unabashedly big statement. “When the woman moves, the swing coat moves with them, and that’s very much a part of the ’50s,” she says. “As you get into the ’60s, everything closes in a bit. That wilder, more open, free-spirit of the swing coat is perfect for what we wanted to do with Midge’s character and very particular to that period.”

The show’s profusion of immaculate outfits dazzle as sheer spectacle, but Zakowska also makes sure that her clothes serve the story. In a three-minute (Episode 4) montage unspooled to the tune of Barbra Streisand’s “Happy Days Are Here Again,” Midge goes through four ensembles created from scratch by Zakowska and her crack team of New York City tailors.

“We trace the whole arc of Midge’s relationship with her husband,” Zakowska says. “When they move into their new apartment, she’s in this beautiful pink silk dress. Then she’s carried through the door in the pale blue dress, which I call her Marie Antoinette look. I actually used a little headdress from my mother for Midge’s hat. The New Years Eve party, we put her in the green dress, and then we go to the final shot, where she’s standing in this empty apartment. The silhouette becomes much straighter as a way of lending gravitas to her mood in that moment. Midge had the happy home and suddenly there’s this void.”

Midge eventually starts spending more time in Greenwich Village with her gruff beatnik manager, Susie (Alex Borstein). Describing Susie’s jeans-and-newsboy cap dress code, Zakowska says, “There’s a little bit of Bob Dylan coming in there, a bit of Joan Baez, and you might see Pete Seeger wearing that kind of cap, which I think lends Susie a certain authority. I pulled elements from all of those characters to give Susie this masculine edge, in high contrast to Midge. That’s what makes their relationship so interesting.”

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Pet Costume Co. Secures Investment

Pet Krewe Inc., a New Orleans-based pet costume company, has secured an undisclosed amount of seed financing.

The round was led by Jimmy Roussel, president and CEO of the New Orleans Startup Fund. As part of the agreement, Roussel will join the company’s board of directors.

The company will use the funds to secure branded entertainment licenses, develop its in-house pet tech augmented reality component and bolster its marketing efforts.

Pet Krewe is led by Allison Albert, CEO, and Brittany Sobert, CDO. Starting in the fall of 2018, each costume will come with a comprehensive augmented reality component. Put simply, the augmented reality application will create an immersive digital world for consumers, according to company officials. In doing so, Pet Krewe seeks to increase both consumer engagement as well as brand equity.

Moving forward, Pet Krewe will continue to build on its foundational costume catalogue of mermaids, unicorns and lions with costumes for all shapes and sizes of dogs. Through investments in augmented reality, digital marketing and licensed brand marks, Pet Krewe will continue to scale its parade–all while retaining its core value of experiential inclusion, officials added.

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We’re Calling It Now: These Are the Most Popular Halloween Costumes For Kids This Year

Year after year, little ghosts, mummies, and witches run around screaming “Trick or treat!” as they wander through their neighborhoods carrying pumpkin-shaped candy buckets — but every year, there’s a slew of costumes that make everyone say, “Yup, expected as much,” for a different reason. Between all of the popular new movies, TV shows, books, and video games from the year, there are always a ton of new favorite characters to pretend to be each Oct. 31. From Fortnite characters to a select few trendy animals, we’re calling it now: the following costumes are going to be the most popular of the year.

Just be sure that if your child’s asking to dress in one of these costumes that they’re sure it’s the one they truly want — because shopping for a Halloween ensemble with indecisive kids is one of the worst parts of the holiday.

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BlacKkKlansman’s Costume Designer On The ’70s Trend To Wear Now

On Friday, Spike Lee’s BlacksKkKlansman, a movie based on a wildly true story about an undercover operation to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan with a Black detective from Colorado Springs in the ‘70s, opened in theaters. Considering everything old is new again, and that thee silhouettes from the ‘70s are in high demand, we asked costume director Marci Rodgers about the pieces from the film we can wear in real life. Turns out: She’s banking big on denim and fringe.

“I love fringe,” Rodgers tells Refinery29. “A good fringe coat or jacket will take you far. It never goes out of style.” It was important for Rodgers to work with pieces, like fringe, that feel timeless, but also speak to the time period in which the story was set. The costume designer sourced tons of items for the film at costume houses in New York and LA, but also she says, scored big in Brooklyn vintage shops like Beacon’s Closet and L Train Vintage. After Lee sent Rodgers the script, she says she set up shop in Howard University’s library in D.C., where she dug through an archive of Black magazines like Essence, Ebony, and Jet to make sure the clothing was historically accurate.

Actress Laura Harrier’s character, Patrice, is an activist who is a mash-up of Angela Davis and Kathleen Cleaver, two women who were very active in the Black power movement. “Patrice needed to always be in Black,” Rodgers says, noting that she kept it interesting by playing with different textures. As for Connie Kendrickson (played by Ashlie Atkinson), who is plus-size, Rodgers couldn’t rely on finding the perfect item at a vintage shop. “I also designed a lot of her clothing (as well as pieces for John David Washington) because she is a full-figured woman, so I just wanted to make sure she was represented correctly within that era.”

“I’m still in shock,” Rodgers says of working with Lee on the film. “I just wanted to make sure everything was historically correct while adding my flair here or there,” she notes. “And that everyone leaves thinking love and not hate.”

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This Alien Halloween Costume Is Out of This World

Let’s face it, even the most seasoned Halloween pros can leave costume planning to the last minute. That’s why this year we’re taking it back to the good old basics with costumes that require minimal DIY expertise, won’t break the bank, and take no time to craft. Enter: the pastel-loving millennial alien. The perfect solution for anyone who spaced (get it?) on Halloween.

Of course, every alien needs a set of antenna to phone home. You’ll want a headband, silver jewelry wire, wire cutters, hot glue, ping pong balls, and spray paint to complete this look. Start by lightly spray-painting your ping pong balls a few different dusty shades to create a multi-color effect. We used lilac, lavender, and periwinkle. Wrap the jewelry wire around your headband and create your wiggly antenna shape. Finally, hot-glue the ping pong balls to the end.

Now comes the fun part! For an otherworldly feel, a quirky wig and sunglasses are a must. Play up your features with a silver cream eyeshadow on the eyelids, lips, and cheekbones. Next, add pinks, purples, and a bit of blue and green eyeshadow. This Ben Nye Lumiere Eyeshadow Palette ($65) is a lifesaver for us every Halloween. Top your look off with a glitter liner like Urban Decay Heavy Metal Glitter Liner ($20). Okay, now you’re ready to take on the night.

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Hilarious Pet Costumes That Will Make You Wish Every Day was Halloween

Halloween isn’t just for humans anymore. Dressing up our pets has become arguably one of the best parts of celebrating the spooky holiday (as long as your furry friend is a willing participant, of course). Unlike children, our four-legged friends always let us pick the costume — and this year the pickings are better than ever.

So whether you’re planning to take your pooch trick-or-treating or you and your kitty are staying home to hand out candy, here are 12 pet costumes that are guaranteed to give you a happy howl-o-ween.

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Grant Gustin Slams Body Shamers Who Mocked Him After The Flash Costume Surfaces Online

Grant Gustin, 28, has a message for body shamers.

After a photo of Gustin, 28, wearing a prototype of his new costume from season 5 of The Flash surfaced online this week, many fans became outraged with both the look of the suit and Gustin’s looked in it.

“Yikes the test photo suit doesn’t look good. I actually prefer the chin strap. Grant Gustin doesn’t have a superhero chin or physique,” one fan wrote in reference to the costume, which appears to be made of a different material and has a smaller Flash emblem than in previous seasons.

On Wednesday, Gustin responded to all of the negativity on Instagram. “So here’s the thing about this bullsh– photo leak. It’s a cool suit,” Grant said.

“That’s a terrible photo that I was unaware was being taken, much less being posted. Some things need work and they will be worked on. We’ll get there.”

“As far as the body shaming. That’s what p—— me off. Not even just for my sake. I’ve had 20+ years of kids and adults telling me or my parents I was too thin,” Gustin continued.

“I’ve had my own journey of accepting it. But there’s a double standard where it’s ok to talk s— about a dudes body.”

“I do my best to stay in shape and add as much size as I can throughout these seasons. I’m naturally thin, and my appetite is greatly affected by stress.”

RELATED: New Mom Caitlin McHugh Claps Back at ‘Trolling’ Body Shamer After Posting Video in a Bikini

“Stress is something that ebbs and flows for me throughout the season. Thus, gaining weight is a challenge for me. I didn’t cast a slim actor as The Flash,” Gustin explained.

Gustin also went on to encourage people who’ve also been a victim of body shaming.


“I went to an audition for a role I never dreamed I’d actually book. But, here I am 5 season later. I’m happy with my body and who I am and other kids who are built like me and thinner than me should be able to feel the same way.”

RELATED ARTICLE: The Flash Star Grant Gustin Is Engaged to Girlfriend LA Thoma — Check Out Her Ring!

“Not only that, but they should be able to feel like THEY could be a superhero on tv or film or whatever it may be someday.

“I love the suit that has been designed for me, and I think when everyone sees it in its entirety, you will love it too. Things have been adjusted since that leaked shot was taken, and more things will continue to be adjusted until it feels right,” Gustin added.