Costumes and Makeup: Activity 1

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Costumes: Telling the Story

Every garment worn in a movie is considered a costume. Costumes are a storytelling tool, communicating subtle details of each character’s personality and history quickly and economically to the audience. They help actors leave their own personalities behind and become new and believable people on screen.

Although people often confuse costume design with fashion design, the two are very different. Fashion designers sell clothes; costume designers help characters come alive. Costume designers can make beautiful gowns and extravagant clothes when the script requires a glamorous entrance, but they also must design everyday clothes when those are needed for a scene. Costumes are created to be worn by one specific actor, as one specific character, in one specific scene, according to costume designer Deborah Nadoolman.

The costume design process begins with a careful study of the screenplay. Scripts describe the action (what happens in the scene), time period (when the action takes place), the location (where the action takes place), and the number and identity of the characters in each scene. After reading the script, the costume designer meets with the director to discuss the overall vision for the film and to consider the personal histories of each character, possible casting choices, the overall color palette, and the mood of the film.

The costume designer then starts the research portion of the design process. As part of that process, designers visit libraries, look at paintings, and study newspapers, catalogs and magazines from the present or the past, depending on when the movie is set.

If a scene takes place in a modern high school, the costume designer may visit a local high school and take pictures of staff, teachers, and individual students. The designer would study the latest trends in jeans, handbags, and accessories and consider the socio-economic background of the school population, including how much the students spend on their clothes. Modern films are more difficult to costume than historical films because the audience is immediately aware if the costumes are unrealistic for the situation, too expensive or wrong. The designer’s goal is for members of the audience to recognize themselves on screen.

Costumes and Makeup: Character By Design

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Costumes and Makeup Activities Guide (PDF)

Activity 1: Costumes: Telling the Story

Activity 2: Costumes: Creating Characters

Activity 3: Costumes: Painting the Frame

Activity 4: Makeup: The Beginnings

Activity 5: Makeup: Creating the Character

Activity 5: Creating the Character

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