I always have a fascination with costumes in movies. Growing up I wanted to be an actress just so I could wear fancy dresses all the time. Then I found out I was too shy to get on a stage, and yet suddenly I find that I’ve found a career that still blasts me out in front of large audiences. Hmmm.
Last month when I was visiting Pixar I had an amazing opportunity to go behind the scenes of Pixar’s new movie Brave. We talked with Claudia Chung who was the simulation supervisor in Brave.
You see Elinor here in her fine, green, silken dress and Claudia had a lot of fun making the embellishments on her dress. She actually attached tiny jewels on the cloth she used as her sample and gave that to the animators to replicate. The end result is amazing and I’m sure I’m leaving most of the process out.
Here is a bit of the process as Claudia talks about Merida.
Merida has over twenty-two costume changes. She has about five dresses that she does wear throughout the film, she has her cloak and she has lots of accessories like her bow quiver arrows. All those things combine together in different ways making over twenty-two changes. That’s a lot of time for Merida in the dressing room. So when we start the tailoring process we get something like this from the art department.
……the length of her dress, I have to hit that. The fullness of the skirt and the tightness of the bodice and other key features that we want to make sure we address.
So in this case, for this reference, what we notice is what’s happening on her elbows and shoulders, right? There’s these breaks there. And what you realize is that doesn’t look like the typical, fine dresses of that era where they’re like these poufy material. It’s actually something Merida cut into the dress herself. Merida cut it up in order to do the archery she’s so fond of. The reason why we know this is because the back of the elbows are a lot looser than the front. As a tailor we want to make sure we get that look right. For those of you who know sewing, you know that to do gathers or to get frills you take a really long piece of fabric and you sew it onto a much tighter, smaller piece and that’s why you see this strange halo up here. It’s sewn onto her collar. And then the last step is actually to put it on the character, right? So it’s not like in real life where I can go, "Merida, let’s go into the dressing room. Let’s put your dress on, your costume, you’re all set to go." No. There’s no way. She’s animated. So instead we actually built the dress on the character. So you don’t see her there, but she is.
Then they pull and push on the computer and get it just right. Making sure that it moves with the characters. Now what about the boys? The men wear kilts and it’s a similar process.
……the other process that we use is draping. With the kilts, because of the complexity of the fold and stuff, we do actually more draping techniques of putting the pieces of fabric around the character and then relaxing it on. So here we have Fergus. He’s actually the most complicated costume we had to build on Brave because he has eight layers of fabric. On top of that, on his drape, that’s folded six, six to eight times. So it’s actually sixteen layers of cloth. The skirt really is a long piece of tartan, it really is just a flat piece of cloth like this. There’s no magic going on there. So we gather that all up and then we get to see how everything comes together. ….. we can say, "Action," and he starts being animated and we make the cloth follow him.
What’s training like for tailoring clothes in a computer?
my training is in computer science. I went to Berkeley and computer science. I was very technical when I came to Pixar. When I started on Ratatouille that’s when I went over to the tailoring side of things and it was actually a really hard process, a leap for me. It looked terrible when I started. And I got to the point, …..I was like, "Claudia, it’s time for you to take a sewing class.".
The combination of actual sewing and her expertise on computers made for beautiful costumes in Brave!
Brave comes to theaters June 22 2012.
Disney Pixar covered travel and expenses.