From Coraline to Box Trolls and now Kubo And The Two Strings; Film Juice’s Janet Leigh delves further into the animation world with costume designer Debora Cook to find out exactly what it’s like to dress the miniature heroes we’ve come to know and love.
What’s the most interesting thing about designing costumes for stop motion?
Conceptually it’s the same [as building a costume for a person]. Their costumes drive their personality and support the story and the narrative as well but actually constructing it is quite different. What you get for free when you’re costuming for a human is [the way] humans move. The costume just follows them. But for stop frame? You have to … put some kind of structure in that costume that helps to make that costume move in a naturalistic way.
From start to finish how long, roughly, does it take to produce the costumes for the entire movie?
Our films take around two and a half years from start to finish and that includes all of the research that we do beforehand. I work with the director and the project designer, formulating the costumes. So we do maybe six months to a year before the rest of the crew become involved.
What was the most interesting costume you designed for Kubo And The Two Strings and why?
Doing the sister’s cloak was pretty amazing because that was really, really different and was not constructed from fabric as some of our cloaks have been before. It’s constructed from around 400 hundred individually shaped feathers that are all armatured into the puppet body. It’s all wired to link all of those feathers together. It was pretty interesting how that one evolved.
There are a lot of fight scenes. How do you create costumes with movement in mind?
Interestingly armpits and crotches are the most difficult things to pattern cut. Our characters are not regular human shapes, so that’s even more complex. The choice of materials is really vital. They need to have a certain amount of stretch in them but not too much or stretch in certain directions. We make several different versions of the costumes so we can test the puppet in its most extreme poses. We look ahead to the storyboard so that we can see what actions that character is actually going to take and make sure that the costume is going to stretch with them. We have an amazing rigging department as well here so what you don’t see is their help in making the characters move.
Were there any disasters when crafting the pieces?
A few! When we’re trying out different fabrics and we run them through the laser cutter some of them will catch fire when you’re not quite sure of the fibre content! There are some funny wafts around the studio sometimes and you think ‘Oh dear, that one didn’t work, we’ll have to find a different fabric!’
Of all the Laika productions you’ve worked on, what’s been your favourite costume to make and what one are you most proud of?
I don’t think there’s any one costume, rather I think it’s the costume process itself [that I’m most proud of]. We’ve evolved our own process and I feel really proud to be quite a big part of that. Just finding new ways of doing things. I think our costumes get better and better with each film; become much more technically proficient. The costume team has grown here from six to 17 over the course of our films and the [the costumes] have become very specialised and quite unique in the animation world. We’ve definitely got our own flavour that isn’t comparable to any other studio and I think the costume development here has really lead that difference. I mean, there are certain aspects of different costumes where you suddenly come up with a new technique and you think *excited gasp* now we can use it for this and this. We’re building our own catalogue and library of techniques and processes that evolve over time as well. We’ve created a standout look for ourselves.
What are you working on next?
*Whispers conspiratorially* I’m not allowed to say. It’s all Top Secret but it’s going to be marvellous. We’re mid-shooting our next film at the moment and I’m working on the first part of the one after that so we’ve got lots and lots planned.
Does it lean more towards a Coraline vibe or a Kubo And The Two Strings?
I’m not allowed to say! It’s going to be a huge surprise and you’re going to love it.
When will it be out?
I think, approximately, it’s a year or so away.
Kubo and the Two Strings is out now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital, courtesy of Universal Pictures (UK)