Designer Costumes

One of the best things about making a home movie is that all your costumes become designer costumes because they are one-of-a-kind creations by you. And believe me, depending on the skill level you have, some are more “one-of-a-kind” than others. But, back to the schedule, I’m going to talk you through some thoughts and concepts, which I hope will be useful. Alright, class, have your pencils ready and your glasses clean because here we go.

First, we have the basic-est of basics: What genre is your movie? Fantasy? Western? Historical? Modern? Science fiction? And so on. Answering this question will help you narrow things down a bit. If you’re doing a modern spy-thriller, your chances of having long, flowing cloaks or hoopskirts go down. Whereas in a French Revolution movie, you can throw out the laser-gun belt or spiked hair. (Although considering some of the wigs they had back then…)

Once you have established the type of costume you’ll need, it’s time to design. Don’t panic. Take a deep breath. Count to three and then read the next line. You don’t have to be an artist to pull this off. I’ve seen costume sketches where the artist draws the character and costume and surroundings so well, it looks like a piece of art in itself. Then they’ll do two or three different options. If I knew how to draw that well, I probably wouldn’t be here writing this article. But, since I am a confirmed “stick-figure” draw-er, I have a little trick that you might like.

Take a full-length photograph of one of your actors and print it out on a piece of paper. I put two actors on one sheet, just to save paper. Now, a few tips about the photograph. Have the actors wear dark clothes and stand against a light background, say, a white wall or door. What you’re looking for is the actor’s outline.

When you have the pictures printed, get some blank paper, lay it over the actor, and trace their clothes in pencil. This gives you something to work with. Grab the pencil again and start modifying. Long sleeves instead of short, a skirt instead of jeans, a cape or cloak, a hat or helmet, glasses or elephant ears… You get the idea. If you need the head, trace it when you trace the clothes.

Got a pencil outline you like? Okay, add color. At this point you might want to make a couple copies of the costume, just in case you want to try a different color. Here again, genre matters. Also, the nature of the character. A pink vest for the rough and tough sheriff would be unexpected, but it wouldn’t be best for dramatic purposes. Comedy, yes. Drama, no. Anyway, once you get the costume colored, cut it out and lay it back on the actor’s photo. Voila! A quick and easy design.

Costume design concept Costume design concept 2

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