Cloth, Module 02

Costume Design Overview

A character’s costume design should directly reflect their back story, fit within the stories world logic, and be identifiable within its specific design universe. The image below, features Luke Skywalker in x-wing pilot costume and the skydiving costumes from the first JJ Abram’s Star Trek film. Both designs are successful because they fit within the rules of their respective design universe. Star Wars uses real world military, form follows function, design cues for inspiration. Some examples of this are the loose fitting cloth of Luke’s x-wing pilot costume and the configuration of the gray straps that wrap around his legs. Both elements were directly influenced by World War II military pilot costumes. This is right in line with the Nazi influenced costumes of the Empire officers and is a consistent theme through the film’s design. The straps on the Star Trek costumes work because they are derived from the simple design language that grew from the original TV show. Many of those costumes and their accessories were created from found objects that were glued or sewn on to cloth in simple ways. The straps that form an “X” across their chests are a great example of this. Also worth noting is the thicker, shiny material used for their costumes. This design cue is directly influenced by the original show. In the sixties, on American TV, nothing said “space-age” like shiny cloth. In this case that nod to the original is well executed and adds an extra level of fun and history to the design.


In the image “Medee” by Alphonse Mucha, the main character’s costume is amazingly well designed in color and form. Notice how the dagger in the character’s hand becomes a focal point through the use of the white color outlined against the brown of the robes. Another point worth noting is how the shape of the dagger is echoed in the long pointed shapes emanating out and breaking the silhouette around the face. This repetition of shape is a great way to lead the eye to these to areas of interest in the design.

Also notice how the long broad shapes of the main rope allow the eye to rest and set up the more complex areas, like the head dress and cloth that covers the mouth and neck. This design choice creates a nice balance throughout the image and is another way to let the eye naturally come to rest at the intended focal points.

The costume in “Jeanne d’Ar”c by Jules Bastien-Lepage is a great example of weight and age in cloth.

The folds in the skirt really help to inform the viewer of the material’s thickness, while the subtle mud stains at the bottom offer insights into the daily ware and usage by the character. When adding “age” to clothing and accessories, be sure you don’t overdue it! Think of how the costume would actually be used by the character and only apply wear to the surfaces that is founded in logic.

Lets take a look at how the costume does a great job of creating an area of interest in the painting. The light white value in the undershirt pulls the eye up to the character’s face. The openness of the outer shirt and thin rope ties in the front also add to this effect. Also worth noting is the choice to color the rope ties a muted brown which helps avoid calling too much attention to that area.

Video: Blocking in your Design Sculpt Mesh

  • Represent all the global elements
  • Keep cloth single sided
  • Add accessories
  • Have your reference available
  • Evaluate how all the elements are working together
  • Develop form evenly across different costume elements


Video: Thickness

  • Capturing the illusion of thickness
  • Adding actual thickness, after the fact


Video: The importance of Tension

  • Tension in cloth
  • Cloth compression
  • Choosing where and how to define the underlying forms


Video: Cloth- Straights and Curves

  • Straights and Curves


Avoid ambiguity
Simply stated, when you don’t know why you are making design decisions, you don’t know when you are making the wrong design decisions. Ambiguous decisions lead to ambiguous designs. In our field there is nothing more forgettable than an ambiguous design………. or portfolio.

Over-Designed Characters, “Did someone say video games?”
A very common problem in character design is not knowing when to balance areas of high detail with areas of less detail. Areas of less detail allow your eye to rest and actually gives more importance to your high detail areas. Tools like ZBrush make adding detail incredibly easy and fun, you just need to make sure you don’t overdo it.

Video: Areas of Interest

  • Transformers
  • Princess Amidala
  • Video Games
  • Edward Scissor Hands

Assignment: Begin by blocking in your design sculpt mesh. Our production mesh, one that is ready for simulation, will come later. All the pieces of your costume should be represented in some form. Using the design principles presented in this module, evaluate your design decisions and identify the areas of your character that don’t take advantage of these principles. Look for opportunities to change out material choices for options that create more contrast. You will also want to gather photo reference that will help you define your cloth folds and refine your design choices. After all, if Iain McCaig still needs to use reference, you and I probably should too!! Good luck!