Thursday, 20 September 2012

Helga - Weymouth Maritime Mix

So, I never did get round to talking on here about the delay in Helga's grand debut.  Mostly because at the time it was too depressing, then afterwards I didn't really want to make myself glum by thinking about it too much.
To recap, I made Helga (see previous posts) to appear in the Spirit of the Sea Carnival in Weymouth, which this year was made to coincide with the Olympic Torch Relay to celebrate its arrival in Weymouth.  Unfortunately, when the day came there was such torrential rain (literally, there were flash flood warnings all over the South West that week, it wasn't messing about!) that the parade had to be cancelled.  This was gutting for everyone, especially the organisers who'd put so much effort into making it happen in the first place.  And it wasn't just me and the other 3 large scale costume students that had been working for months on it, there were a group of 2nd years that had been leading around 800 or so school children in making costumes for themselves to wear in the parade.  It sucked, basically.
Anyway, flash forward to September 9th and it was finally Helga's chance to shine! (and luckily the sun did too)  This time round we were there to mark the end of the Paralympic Games, and it was fabulous!

There was a last minute switch around with the performers, since my fellow costumier, Immie, who was meant to wear it, no longer had an actor to perform in her own costume, and wanted to wear it herself.  Luckily Gabby stepped in, and I couldn't have asked for a better performer!  One thing about Helga is that she gets heavy.  I tried to make her out of the lightest materials possible; plastazote foam and pvc pipes, but even so, after an hour or so you're going to really feel the weight - especially with the coastal winds we had to contend with as we were going along the promenade.  But Gabby was an absolute trooper, not only did she look the part with her bright green hair, she battled the wind without complaint and posed and smiled for photos for all the crowd.  And wow, the crowd!  I have never had so much adulation in my life before.  I'd been put in the procession as a motivator, been given a costume from our stockroom to wear, and put next to Helga/Gabby to be on hand should anything go amiss.
It meant that I was right there to hear all the praise and see all the excited pointing fingers and variations of "Oh my god, it's the fish from 'Finding Nemo'!"  Not only that, but because we were right at the back of the procession as a kind of grand finale, the crowd would all cheer as we passed them by.  I tell you, it made all the blood, sweat and tears that went into making her all fade into insignificance.  I definitely want to do Carnival again, if only for the 2 hours worth of ego stroking at the end of all that work!
Anyway, photo time:

And some I nicked from the Moving Tides Procession facebook page:

Me walking alongside looking chuffed (and a little bit concerned for Gabby's back!)

I love how this one shows the vibrancy of it all.  Also, you can see my friend Jess in the  foreground wearing her sunset (or sunrise?) costume.  Had a minor hiccup in that someone forgot to pack her poles, but she was able to scrounge some from some unused costumes and bosh it back together in time - it looks fab!

My favourites were the dinosaurs.  The procession was 'ocean-themed' but  because  we were on the Jurassic coast line there was a big fossil theme within that.  The dinosaurs were amazing!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Athletes Parade – Lion Puppets

Ok, so in my previous post I probably somewhat exaggerated the secrecy involved in this project for dramatic effect, but the Athletes Parade has been and gone now so I’m free to post to my heart’s content.  For those who don’t know, the Athletes Parade was a big event in London to mark the end of the Olympic Games, in which all the British Olympic and Paralympic athletes paraded by on floats, various important people made speeches, and the Red Arrows flew over Buckingham Palace trailing red white and blue smoke to mark the occasion.  All very nice indeed, however, the highlight of the event was clearly the two lion puppets based on the British Olympic Association &British Paralympic Association logos that headed up the parade.  Obviously.  And I am of course in no way biased by the fact that I helped make them.

Source - Flickr photoset: rubenarakelyan

Source - Belfast Telegraph

Source - Flickr photoset: rubenarakelyan

Aren’t they fantastic?  They were built by Kinetika, with Tony Mason and Iola Weir leading the make, and I was lucky enough to get involved for a couple of weeks in their Stratford studio.  I’d previously met the guys from Kinetika when they came to my university to help out with the flag-making for the Weymouth procession (more on that later!) and they were able to advise me on Helga’s construction too.

Working on the lions was really interesting.  It’s amazing how creative you can be with quite simple materials.  The frames for the lion heads were made entirely out of fibre glass and aluminium rods bent and bolted or taped into position.  These were then covered in fabric, and mounted on a purpose built backpack to be worn by the performer.  These were built along very similar lines to the backpack I made for Helga, except that instead of plastazote foam heated and moulded to echo the contour of the back, aquaplast was used in its place.  This was a very nifty material, quite rigid and plastic-y at room temperature, but when you heated it up in boiling water it would become quite limp and flexible, and so could be moulded over the back of a mannequin, returning to its original rigidity in 5 or 10 minutes.

Covering not finished yet, so you get better look at the frame

Inside of one of the lions from behind

Backpack - the aquaplast was also used for those 2 white channels that the aluminium slots into

The manes that flow out behind the lion heads and are held up by other performers were a massive job in themselves.  First getting the acres and acres of fabric all cut out, then binding it all with white bias binding, then roding it all up with fibre glass and nylon rods.  Knowing which rods to use seems to be an art form in and of itself, a whole ton of difference will ride on whether you’ve used a 3 or a 3 ½ mm diameter rod when it come to the movement of the mane in the end, and knowing which ones to use seems just to come with experience.
I thought I’d leave you with a few photos of other things that grabbed my attention from Kinetika’s studio whilst I was there. Enjoy!

(Hanging upside down from ceiling so I flipped the picture)

Next post:  Weymouth Parade (Helga’s debut!)

Friday, 31 August 2012

Hmm well, this blog appears to have become a ghost town again.  Not to worry, I have an exciting project to talk about soon, but I'm not allowed to show it until after the Athletes Parade through London on the 10th of September.  It's all terribly hush hush, you understand?

In the meantime, here's something I made earlier this (academic) year, before I got carnival fever and started producing giant things in garish colours!
It's a Victorian bustle dress for the character of Miss Prism, from The Importance of Being Earnest, and it's modeled by the very lovely Mary Clarke, a fellow costumier extraordinaire!

Peace Out x

Monday, 2 July 2012

Glorious Helga

Of course, when I said that this blog would be horribly neglected until May 15th, what I meant to say was that it would be horribly neglected until July.  Whoops.

Anyhoo, Hand In's been and gone, the Exhibition got dismantled last week, so now all that's left for Helga is Weymouth Carnival, on the 12th of this month.  And by Helga, I am of course referring to my beloved angler fish.  Photo time!

Helga looming over the exhibition space.

Being worn - the painted highlights show up better outside.

From the back - showing how she fits on to the performer underneath.
Aaaannnnndddd, rather excitingly, SHE'S ON THE BBC WEBSITE!!  Admittedly it's only the local news, and they do manage to confuse the Moving Tides Carnival with the Battle for the Winds Ceremony that happened about a month ago.  Easy mistake really, since they're both in Weymouth, and students from AUCB did make costumes for that too.  I'm not complaining though, I'm just completely psyched that Helga's getting so much recognition - the same photo was used to illustrate the exhibition page on the university website as well, which is rather exciting in itself.

So there we go.  I graduated last friday, which hasn't really sunk in yet.  I'm still in Bournemouth until after the carnival, so maybe I won't really feel like I've stopped being a student until I leave here for good.  It's sad to say goodbye, really.  Part of me would adore being an art student indefinitely.  The last few months spent almost entirely in the workshop meant that I got friendly with a few of the students from modelmaking, and that's another area I'd love to explore more.  If only I could stay on for another 3 years and get a degree in that too! 

But no, in truth I think I'm ready for something new.  I have no idea what I'm going to be doing six months from now; and although that's a rather daunting prospect, it's also rather thrilling. 

Watch this space! 

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Angler fish progress

This blog will continue to be horribly neglected until after Hand In (May 15th!), but here's a little preview of how my angler fish is looking lately:

The frame is almost finished, just got to add a couple of extra poles to the front to hold up the lower jaw.  The plastazote fish skull is getting there as well.  Here's my design concept if you need a reminder.  My plan this week is to get them both finished and stuck together (they're just held with masking tape in this photo to check the positioning) and to cut out and add on the ribs and fins too.  Then next week I can add the lure, paint it all and add the teeth too and then it'll be complete!  I'm counting down the days..

Monday, 16 April 2012

Designing vs making

Still hard at work on my angler fish costume.  I'm working on the understructure right now, but also having a mild to medium panic (the type where you can't sleep because your heart's beating too fast and your brain is continuously whirling on about how to make this bloody costume) because my budget doesn't cover getting the plastazote I wanted for the outer shell, and I need to get started on it now!

Anyway, digressing for a moment, this project got me thinking today about something one of my tutors said at the end of our first year when we deciding whether to specialise as designers or makers.  A lot of us (including yours truly) were really conflicted.  I adore both, and find that one without the other is nowhere near as gratifying as a project that you get to build up from a germ of an idea to a realised costume all off your own back.  I love designing, but it wouldn't feel right for someone else to make the costume for me.  And likewise, interpretting someone else's vision is fine, but I much prefer exploring my own.  I think a lot of it comes from the way I design, which is very unstructured.  I'll start developing an idea, but then it'll always evolve as I'm making it.  I'd never be able to complete a final design before starting on construction without feeling very constricted by the limits I'd set myself!

But unfortunately that doesn't seem to be the way the costume industry works, and costume degrees have definately changed to reflect this over the past few years.  In Bournemouth (my uni) it used to be that you didn't specialise until 3rd yr, but by the time I started, we had to choose a year earlier.  In Wimbledon you have to choose right from the start!  So you end up doing a degree either wholly in costume design or wholly in costume interpretation.  I suppose it makes sense, as so many jobs are just too big for one person to handle, so obviously you're going to need specialists in the various fields; but then there's the fear of being labelled as just a designer or just a maker, and then finding it increasingly difficult to balance your work load to include both.  That's my fear anyway.  I ended up specialising in making, by the way.  I decided that I'd be able to learn a lot more practical skills from my tutors that way; and therefore be able to confidently create more of my trickier ideas.  It does leave me worrying that I don't have a lot of experience in design though, and I worry that I might be passed over for a design job because of my specialism in making.  Only time will tell.

Anyway, to get back from that mini rant to the point I was making about my tutor's comment.  One of her arguments against people being both a designer and a maker at the same time was that ones prior knowledge of construction would tame the design.  She argued that someone who knew how to make would be constricted by their preconceived ideas of what was possible to make.  A designer with less constructional skill, however, who designs without wondering how it'll be put together, might be able to come up with something new and original that would force their construction team to find innovative ways in which to make it.

At the time I remember thinking this an unfair generalisation, but it still concerned me.  Would my developing skill in construction hinder my more "out there" design concepts?  Was becoming a better maker making me a worse designer?

In a word, no.  And this project has proved that.  If anything, my increasing knowledge has led me to make my designs MORE challenging.  There's no fun in designing something if I already know exactly how to make it, and I adore figuring out new materials and new ways of constructing that I've never tried before.  I've always been an overachiever in all my creative endeavours, and that's a further reason why I wouldn't want to design for someone else to make.  I have ridiculously high expectations of myself, but if someone else was completing the construction side of this project for me it would be unthinkable to expect them to put as much into it as I'm doing, and it would be unfair to ask them.  But I never learn when it comes to giving myself a shit load of work to do!  I've truly jumped in at the deep end with this unit, and as terrifying as it can be, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Anyway, unfortunately I don't have any good progress shots of my fish costume to round off this post with, as it's still very much in pieces, but here's a photo of a ballroom dancing dress I made for my cousin last summer.  That's not her wearing it, my cousin's a bit shorter so it comes to a nicer ankle length hemline on her, I just don't have any photos!


Saturday, 31 March 2012

Bath Costume Exhibition Photoshoot!

I made a passing reference a couple of posts back to a costume photoshoot I was going to be helping out with.  In case you were curious, I was refering to one for this upcoming exhibition at Bath Fashion Museum.  It'll be running from 17th July to 2nd September, and from the sneak peek I've gotten so far, there are going to be quite a few rather delectable costumes on display, so it'll be well worth checking out!  My job, alongside the curator, Yvonne, and a few other volunteers, was to dress the mannequins for the shoot, padding them out where necessary, and trying to make them look as historically accurate as possible.  This was a slight challenge for some of them, including a gown from The Tudors tv series, where we hadn't been provided with the correct underpinnings, and so had to mimic the shape of a farthingale as best we could with bubble wrap and pins!  It was a fun couple of days, and such a privilege to get to handle some really fabulous costumes.  Hopefully I'll also be involved in the actual set up of the exhibition itself in July.  I've yet to see all the gorgeous costumes they're getting on loan from the RSC so I can't wait!

And now for some photos :-)

Elizabeth I - worn by Helen Mirren.  This was so sparkly, I just wanted to pet it.  I'm not sure rhinestones are particularly historically accurate, but I'm sure we can forgive a littel artistic license for the shiny!

Full length shot

Henry VIII from The Tudors, worn by Jonathon Rhys-Meyers, you can see him in costume in the photo on imdb.  Also a glimpse of our not so glamorous dressing room.. aka, the hallway outside the photography studio.  Luckily the mannequins weren't prudish ;)

Henry's spiffy boots!  I wish I'd gotten a good photo of his breeches too, they were lovely. 

The aforementioned bubble wrap gown from The Tudors.  I can't remember who wears it, but apparently it's in the opening credits.

Another Henry VIII, from a different production, unfortunately I can't remember which one!  Side note:  Trying to put in the cod piece so that it doesn't look completely ridiculous was somewhat tricky.  Hopefully it only looks slightly ridiculous.

I can't remember where this one was from either, not even the king it was meant to be worn by.  Terrible!  Still, looks good, doesn't it.

This is a replica of the Queen Mother's wedding dress, but I'm not sure who wore it and in which film.  It looks stunning but was a bugger to steam.

And finally, a Wallis Simpson dress from W.E, worn by Andrea Riseborough.  Probably made by Jane Law's team, as I saw a couple of other dresses from that film in her slideshow when she gave her lecture at my uni recently.  I (probably unfairly) wrote off that film as being unwatchable when I heard that Madonna had directed it, but the costumes I've seen so far look so delicious, I might just have to see it anyway!)

And a final photo of the inside of the bodice of that dress.  You can see they've used a weight to give the neckline it's lovely drape.
Anyhoo, that's all for now folks.  Work on the maquette version of my puppet costume is going painfully slowly, since the glue I'm using takes forever to dry, and the pieces of foam that make up the skull need to be held in place while it's drying. Blahhh.  One must persevere though!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Backpack finished!

I'm in a very celebratory mood today, finally I have something to show for all the work I've been putting into this unit!

May I present to thee my finished carnival backpack:

It may not look like much, but a lot of work went into this baby!   This photo's from today's fitting, which went really well.  It fits Immie like a glove, and the unitard fits just fine as well (no zipper in yet though, hence the pinned up back seam!).  I have since made a few minor adjustments, like adding an extra bolt through the bottom of the mdf, and a couple of extra plastazote wedges underneath the aluminium strips.   But anyhoo, tis done now, and that's a real load off my mind.  Now for the complicated part, the puppet structure!

P.S.  I may be nice and post a tutorial for this at some point.  During my own research on backpacks the complete lack of information available over the internet was EXTREMELY irritating.  Thankfully I went to a workshop with Kinetika where I was able to see a couple of their examples, as well as getting a few pages of instructions that I followed to a certain extent.  It's been quite interesting for those of us working on this project to see how differently each of our backpacks have turned out according to our particular design.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012


It looks like my dream of creating my very own Sherlock coat will have to be put on hold for a little while, this final unit is taking over my life.
I haven't actually described it on here yet, so here's theh first paragraph from my learning agreement:

For this unit I will design and make a carnival costume for a principle character in the ‘Spirit of the Sea’ Olympic Torch Relay celebrations in Weymouth.  The theme of the event is ‘Oceans of the World’, so I will research this theme and produce a series of designs, one of which will be selected by the carnival committee.  I will then realise this costume for an individual performer in the procession.
Here's my design:

And in colour:

So jaaa, very exciting - but also somewhat daunting.  I've pretty much finalised the design now, and I've spent the last few days putting together the "backpack"; the bit that the whole structure sits on.  It's not until this past week that I've realised just how lacking in 'workshop' knowledge I've been.  I'd never used a drill before, or a riveter, and terms like penny washers, blind rivets, and countersunk screws meant nothing to me.  It's meant that the start of the construction has been frustratingly slow going at times, while I figure out how everything works, but as I get the hang of more and more things it gets more satisfying.  Luckily for me there are three other students in the same boat, so we lend each other moral support for each day we spend in the workshop learning something new.

I need to get the backpack and the unitard (to be worn underneath) ready for a fitting on friday though, and that's got me hyperventilating somewhat.  For a start I'm going to be in London helping out on a costume photoshoot (can't wait to see the pretties!) on wednesday and thursday, so today's the last day I have to get everything ready.  To complicate matters further, the straps haven't turned up yet.  As I said, aaaaaaaghhhh!!!
Wish me luck!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Costume-Making Royalty

So today our visiting lecturer was none other than Jane Law, pretty much a celebrity in her own right in the costume making world.  She and her team have created costumes for everything from Pirates of the Carribean, to the Young Victoria, to more recently W.E and The Iron Lady.  Take a gander at her website and feast your eyes on the pretties!

She had a lot of interesting points to make about making your way in the industry, and there was definately some food for thought there.  One interesting thing she mentioned was that film often allowed for a more collaborative process with the designer than theatre.  This was a surprise, since I'd assumed that as films tend to be bigger, there is a stricter code for who does what, where as in theatre it's more about everyone diving in and working together.  Apparently though, in her experience, theatre/ballet/opera designers tend to have more time and so are more likely to come to you with a beautifully rendered design with little to no flexibility in interpretation, where as for film they'll often turn up with just a bundle of fabrics and other knick knacks, or inspiration pieces hired from Cosprop and turn round and say 'Do your thing, Jane!', giving her a massive freedom to interpret their initial design concept in a far more creative way.  Penny Rose and Jenny Beaven both take this approach a lot.

This led on to a question about whether she felt that designers take too much credit for work that is produced by a whole team of people.  I've often wondered this myself; a quick glance at Jane Law's imdb page shows that she was uncredited for 18 out of the 51 films she has worked on so far.  And she's one of the most prolific costume makers in the country, what about the people that work under her?  Or freelancers that work for themselves?  Do they ever get a name in the credits? It doesn't seem altogether fair, but she didn't seem to mind in the slightest.  Her reasoning was that to be a costume designer takes a lot of tenacity, and that whilst there were a lot of creative people in the industry, not a lot of them had the single mindedness that it takes to make it as a designer.  Designers are the ones having to fight for their idea with producers and money people, and they're the ones in the firing line if everything goes horribly wrong.  It's the thought of the tediousness of all that which makes me shy away from wanting to design for large productions.  I adore designing, but in my own little bubble, and the thought of having to battle every step of the way to get my concepts across seems like far too much effort.  Still, it is a shame that costume makers are so under appreciated by the industry and the world at large.  I must admit that whilst my motivation for becoming a costume maker is the joy of making beautiful things, I would be thrilled to see my name up there in the credits.  It's nice to have a little pat on the back for ones good work.

Anyway, fact of the matter is, credited or uncredited... I want her job.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Chernabog t-shirt

And now for something completely different, here's my hand painted chernabog t-shirt, based on the devil from the Night on Bald Mountain segment in Fantasia.

And the image I based it on:

I sketched it out in chalk on the tshirt, then went over with Tulip fabric paints.  I LOVE it, Night on Bald Mountain is one of my all time favourite pieces of animation ever.