Great costume design requires many different elements. “Being able to turn it up or down or kick it sideways, throw it upside down on its head, and make it quiet sometimes or make it disappear,” says Joanna Johnston. “It’s the ability to adapt to a constantly moving target. You need a lot of diplomacy in the job as a costume designer. You need to be able to work well with people, you need to be able to work well with actors, and deal with any issues which are there. You got to have a sense of fluidity in what your vision is.” The requirements for the theatre are different than what is needed for film. “In theatre you have to be able to project a distance to the audience. Now with 3D and Blu-ray in the cinema you can put in a tiny detail up close to the face, an absolute minute detail and it’s going to be blow-up to 8 feet. You can put great subtleties of character in film but in the theatre you have to change the scope of that.”
“The biggest change has been motion-capture work for a costume designer which I have been involved in,” observes Joanna Johnston. “3D is great and designing for 3D is fantastic. I’ve only done one 3D film, Jack the Giant Slayer . If I would do another one I would be wiser now on how I could utilize that to a greater degree in the design sense.” Digital filmmaking is not going to make the profession obsolete. “I’ve been involved designing for visual effects people so there’s still a place for costume designers. You can’t control it because it goes into another whole arena which is out of your control. But if they’re interested in what you have to say, your guidance in regards to the behaviour of cloth which are not within their area but within the costume designer area, everyone can work quite collaboratively. The process makes it slightly different than if it’s a straight live-action film.”
Many thanks to Joanna Johnston for taking the time for this interview and for more of her insights make sure to read Dressing Abe where she talks about working on Lincoln.
Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.