Have you ever watched an animated film and thought, “Does an animated film have a costumer designer?” I mean the characters on screen aren’t live actors so is a costume designer really necessary for an animated film? Maybe you’ve never thought about the costumes used in an animated film enough to even realize that perhaps there would be a costume design team. The answer is yes, an animated film does use a costume designer and costume design team. When I was invited to attend an all expense paid press trip to Pixar Animation Studios last April for an inside look at the process of creating Pixar’s upcoming film, INCREDIBLES 2, I had the opportunity to sit down with the costume design team for INCREDIBLES 2. It was fascinating and I learned that not only does INCREDIBLES 2 have a fabulous design team but the costumes play a major role in setting the tone of the film.
“Costume design for animation is really no different than costume design for live action…” Deanna Marsigliese
During the INCREDIBLES 2 early press days junket I sat in on a presentation on how they designed the costumes for the film. The movie takes place during the mid-century so the style is all about mid-century modern. Think dresses, structured shirts and pleated slacks for the men, flowers for the ladies, voluminous skirts with petticoats underneath all topped with a fitted shirt or cardigan sweater. No one inhibited this style more than Deanna Marsigliese, Character Designer at Pixar animation studios who was the first presenter during the “No Capes! Costume Design” presentation.
She told us that since she was a small child she loved fashion and now as an adult she loves to dress in period clothing from the mid-century. Naturally, when it came time to start production on INCREDIBLES 2 Marsigliese was asked to be part of the team for her knowledge in what mid-century modern fashion was all about and how to bring that to life in an animated film. She told us that she started with Edna Mode’s own fashion line. You remember Edna from the first film, right?
I love her. She stole every scene she was in in INCREDIBLES and I have no doubt that she’ll be doing the same for INCREDIBLES 2. To create Edna’s new fashion line Marsigliese said that she started with what she knew; what she knew was the first film. To do this she needed to be able to access everything she could from Pixar’s Archives (remember when we talked about that holy Pixar ground? You can read all about it here.). She looked at Edna’s fashion sense from the first film and even noted that Edna describes her fashion as bold, dramatic and heroic. Marsigliese went with that to create the entirely new fashion line which will play a role in the new film.
“Costuming is an opportunity to really become the character,” Marsigliese described to us, “The trick is to not think of the costume as separate from the character actually as one…costume choices should support the storytelling and if they’re done well they’ll tell you more about the character themselves.”
Do the background characters in an animated film have costumes designed for them?
Yes! Each and every background character has a costume designed for them. Now, it’s not as tedious as hand drawing 1000 different characters, this is Pixar after all, and they do have computers to help with the process. I was actually really surprised during my tour at Pixar by how much preparation and concept art goes into a Pixar film. For example, for the background characters, Marsigliese told us that the background characters should compliment the background, not standout but blend in. For INCREDIBLES 2 this meant really diving into the fashion trends of the mid-century modern movement that the film is centered in. To do this Marsigliese looked at the everyday fashion of the 1950s and 60s.
How has the costume design process changed from INCREDIBLES to INCREDIBLES 2?
Pixar’s Art Director Bryn Imagire worked on the first INCREDIBLES film 15 years ago. Imagire told us that the technology from the first film to the sequel has dramatically changed…for the better. Costume design is easier now than it was when production on INCREDIBLES began in 2003. The pieces that they design for the characters are more garment like rather than being shaded onto the character. The big difference is that in the first film the clothes were drawn right on top of the skin. So if, for example, when any of the Incredible family is wearing their costumes and they move, the logo stretches and looks odd. That was a very challenging part of the design process during the first film.
To help her find inspiration, Imagire used natural elements like snakeskin to help design Evelyn’s look for the film. She makes a template of sorts and then adds in these real life images of different textures and then places them onto the character’s body. After she has a number of idea’s she takes the concept art to Brad Martin, the director of INCREDIBLES 2, and together they decide on a final look.
Designing the costumes to move realistically with the animated character – how do they do that?
The technical aspect of the animated costume design goes to Fran Kalal and her team. Kalal is the Tailoring Lead for INCREDIBLES 2. To describe what she does, she told us that she “leads a team of people that takes what we know about art and fashion to make the outfits and what we know about math and science to make the outfits move.”
She said that she’s a huge costume nerd and loves to sew; in her spare time she likes to make physical costumes of the digital ones she creates at Pixar. I wish I had a photo that she shared with us of some of her work. It did not disappoint! The characters in INCREDIBLES 2 are superheroes and a major challenge the costume design team faces with this are the laws of physics and gravity that many of the film’s characters defy. The clothes the characters are wearing need to move realistically with them. To do this, Kalal and her team build a 3D sculpture of the costume in their computer. Then they use one sculpture to receive instructions and be invisible on the character and the other to be visible and receive the colors and textures of the actual costume. From there they create panels of the costume, the same way you would with a design; then they create these triangles called tessels and the points of the triangle act as a spring and moves wherever Kalal and her team point to on the 3D sculpture in the computer.
Bottom Line: Costume Design is as Important in an Animated Film as a Live Action Film
During all of the presentations that I saw at the press day at Pixar, I kept thinking about my own children and how their education at a STEM elementary school can help them if they wanted to get a job like this. When I think about animation I think about art and drawing but there’s so much more when it comes to the CGI-animation that Pixar does. That’s what they do! They’re artists and math geeks! How cool is that? Set your sights high and really watch some documentaries about Pixar. I think you may just inspire your child to pay more attention in math class.
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Bert Anderson is a blogger and social media manager mom of three living outside of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. She’s the author behind the blog First Time Mom, where she honestly chronicles the peaks and valleys of parenting. Even though she has more than one child, Bert maintains that whether you have one child or 19, there’s a first time for everything. She’s a lover of coffee, conversations, pop culture, healthy living and fitness.