Yellow ballgowns and scarlet trench coats captivated the Academy Awards jury this year.
The costumes created by designers Jacqueline Durran of "Beauty and the Beast" and Luis Sequeira of "The Shape of Water" will be some of the main topics of the School of Theater, Film and Television's annual Sketch to Screen Costume Design Panel and Celebration. The event, which is Saturday at the James Bridges Theater, will feature costume designers in a conversation led by professor Deborah Landis, the chair of UCLA's David C. Copley Center for the Study of Costume Design. Additional panelists will include designers from other Oscar-nominated films, as well as UCLA's 2018 Designer-in-Residence, Mark Bridges, who is nominated for his designs featured in the film "Phantom Thread."
Landis said the panelists will discuss the inspirations and processes behind the costumes they designed while also reflecting on the films they worked on. By providing designers with a platform to discuss their craft, Landis said she hopes attendees will learn to appreciate costume design as an integral aspect of filmmaking.
"Putting on a costume is like putting on a second skin," Landis said. "Every actor wants to become the people in the story, and costume designers help them do that."
Sequeira said he aimed to create costumes that would symbolize each actor's character arc in "The Shape of Water." For the protagonist Elisa Esposito, played by Sally Hawkins, Sequeira said he used clothes with subdued colors at the beginning of the film to reflect her lower-class status and her inability to speak. Beginning with a pair of red heels to symbolize the character's hidden strength, Sequeira said he gradually incorporated the color red more and more throughout the film as Elisa began to transform from a powerless, mute janitor into a courageous woman who fights for love. By the end of the film, Ann Steel, Sequeira's assistant costume designer, said Elisa wears a bright red coat, a stark difference from the muted color palette she begins the movie in.
"The outfits are an actual extension of who they are and their personalities and character," Steel said.
Sequeira said men’s costumes were more of a challenge, because he had to add subtle details to create meaningful looks. The antagonist Richard Strickland, played by Michael Shannon, wears slick suits with crisp white shirts at the beginning of the film to reflect his cold and stern character. However, as Strickland’s mental and physical state deteriorate in his attempt to hunt down and kill the amphibian man, Sequeira said he gave him a grimier look comprising of shabby suits that were literally unraveling.
“These are all very subtle things, but I think they very quietly guide you through the project," Sequeira said.
Sequeira's pursuit of subtle details also carried through in the aging of each costume. The designer had to make newly created outfits look as if they had been worn for several years, an effect that helps the designs look more like clothes than costumes. The costuming team washed, pressed, re-laundered and burned some of the costumes several times to achieve the desired effect.
“That aspect of the work is so important in turning those costumes back into clothes so they feel real,” Sequeira said. "That’s when the actor feels complete and whole with their costume."
Durran also said realism was an important factor in designing costumes for "Beauty and the Beast" and "Darkest Hour." Durran had to design outfits that reflected both 18th century France and 20th century England for her respective films.
Durran said Belle’s blue outfit in the beginning of the film fuses historical French features and the features of the dress in the animated classic. Added elements such as checkered and striped patterns, bloomers and pockets made the outfit look realistic. However, the dress maintains its blue hue to bear resemblance to the original.
“(The outfits) were perfect for the animation, but they wouldn’t have translated literally,” Durran said. "It was about reacting to the original material and reinterpreting."
Durran said she made multiple versions of Belle's yellow ballroom dress – one accurate to 18th century regional fashion, one adventurous rendition with modern cuts and multiple versions that combined the two approaches. In the end, Durran said her team focused on translating the dress from the animation into real life as closely as possible, although the live action dress does feature more detailed golden embellishments and straps that are higher up on Belle's shoulders.
“We found that because it was such an iconic dress, what people wanted was something that was quite similar to the original in the animation,” Durran said.
When working on the yellow dress, Durran said she followed Emma Watson’s interpretation of the character as an active heroine instead of a damsel in distress. To do this, she omitted uncomfortable corsets and fashioned the dress so Watson could easily pick up the skirts and run during action scenes. Durran said she also had to make it believable that Watson could ride a horse while wearing the dress, and ensure it was light enough for her to dance in.
Though she didn't have an animated film for inspiration while designing for "Darkest Hour," Durran did have original photographs to recreate the looks of historical figures such as the protagonist Winston Churchill, played by Gary Oldman. Everything from the size of his bow tie to the style of the lapels was historically accurate and aided Oldman in becoming the character, she said. Durran said she also made small changes to the the costume following requests from Oldman, such as adding a pocket watch, to make him feel more comfortable in his role.
Landis said the seemingly insignificant details, like the fabric of Churchill's bow tie, can drastically impact a film. It is important for designers to share with others that their work is more than surface decoration – they aspire to create real people in every story, she said.
"No matter what the film is, if you love a movie you are loving the costumes as well," Landis said. "Costumes help movies work, and work beautifully."