Focus On: How Costume Designers Are Embracing the Digital Age
By Valli Herman
It might not be exaggerating to say that Costume Designers would rather dig through a dusty basement of deadstock than learn a shiny new computer application. Even then, the digital age is slowly and surely adding tools that aid the costume design, research, approval and budgeting processes.
As productions move faster and farther, costume designers are challenged to communicate with producers and crew, while juggling appointments, scripts and costume illustrations. Thousands of apps, computer programs and devices combine to offer designers an endless array of tools to manage departments, gather research and share information. But it’s often overwhelming.
“I’m so busy, a lot of times, I don’t want to get swept up in it,” said costume designer Lou Eyrich of the many digital options. “I do big boards [for presentations]. I’m tactile. I also still prefer to talk on the phone instead of text.”
The designers, their colleagues and crew are adopting digital tools that improve efficiency and communications. Two increasingly popular wardrobe management suites, SyncOnSet and Wardy, offer designers digital continuity and collaboration tools that can manage script breakdowns, photos and inventory. SyncOnSet’s mobile app is designed to replace a physical binder, so internet access isn’t required to take notes or photos. Designers such as Carey Bennett and Jill Ohanneson have used SyncOnSet to track their productions.
Costume Designer Lyn Paolo and Costume Supervisor Barbara Inglehart rely on SyncOnSet to run the department at ABC’s hit show, “Scandal.”
“It has helped shorten the amount of time it takes to disseminate information to the crew. Once the data has been inputted, it is available to everyone who has been invited to join our group,” Paolo said in an email. “It is especially helpful when we need to check to see how a garment was worn in a given scene, rather than tracking down a continuity book, we can just look online. Also, when characters are added to a scene, a location changes, a character is deleted, or a new scene is added, with a few simple keystrokes, the information can be updated.
“We can reprint tags from our office or on the trailer, depending on the type of change and when it occurs in the production schedule. We typically text that the Sync information has been updated so that everyone is aware and we don’t miss a beat.”
Fittings, staff and production meetings are organized through a shared iCloud calendar. The team uses group texts to share sizes and images from shoppers, news of scene changes or even actors’ sizes.
“Our set costumers keep us apprised on changes as they occur on set, and we also text information back and forth with the AD staff. Our trailer costumer sends a group text when the actors are rehearsing a scene, and when they begin to film a scene. That way we know when to head to the set to check on how an actor looks in a given scene or to establish a new costume,” Paolo said.
Wardy is a new wardrobe management system. Launched in early 2015, the free software suite coordinates script breakdown, budget and receipt management, fitting photos, continuity photos and inspiration boards. It also will print clothing tags, cast size charts and many types of reports.
The Wardy mobile app’s offline mode operates without cell phone or internet access, but when connections return, it downloads notes and photos to devices that can sync to the web application. Based in a Kansas City, Mo., the firm connected with fellow native Jenny Eagan, who has become a fan of the suite.
“Wardy is simple to use and I don’t have to rely on five different apps to get the job done. I have everything I need in one secure place,” she said. “The fact that it’s free and that my team can automatically break down shooting scripts in seconds instead of days, then manage continuity photos and our budget in one place is awesome,” Eagan wrote in an email. “I can create digital mood board features to show various looks for characters and then share those boards with their director, producers, studio, et cetera.”
Eagan often provides feedback to the Wardy team, which is developing a proprietary platform to connect Costume Designers to fashion designers and wardrobe suppliers and enhance exposure for all involved.
“I like the fact that there is new technology aspiring to help me and other designers, while at the same time creating new opportunities and enhanced exposure for Costume Designers,” Eagan said.
Other Costume Designers and Illustrators shared their favorite apps.
Costume Designer Alix Friedberg Maurer:
Maurer’s resume includes 103 episodes of “Modern Family” and eight of “True Detective.” She uses Apple’s Keynote to create collages and photo journals that keep her on track.
Keynote creates slideshows that can include text, images, charts and tables. The program uses iCloud to keep presentations up to date across all devices. Presentations are sharable with a link.
Costume Designer Mandi Line:
Line has become a star of social media for her work on “Pretty Little Liars” and “Shameless.”
“I’m so, so not techy,” she said. “I’m a social media gal. That doesn’t involve anything fancy.” As dedicated fan of Instagram, Line uses the program for her social media outreach. For presentations, she sticks to Apple’s Pages.
Line uses the SmugMug mobile app and program for approvals. It organizes photos and can upload them from mobile devices and other apps. The app allows users to upload unlimited photos and videos to their accounts. Galleries can be saved to devices for offline viewing.
Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutté Jr.:
Boutté spends most of his time at a computer and harnesses many programs to communicate with designers and crew members. The programs he uses frequently are:
Dropbox: “It’s a great way to share information quickly and efficiently. Also great for storage and being able to recall projects quickly.”
Joinme: “The screen-sharing programs allows me to work with designers remotely. It allows me to share my screen with designers no matter where they are. I love it.
“When I first met Ruth Carter, I met her digitally. We talked on the phone and used Joinme so she could see what I was doing. We eventually would Skype and use Joinme at the same time so we could see each other. I did an entire job with her without ever meeting her in person. I also used it with Arianne Phillips. She was in London designing “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and also had to design “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” on Broadway. I would Skype and use Joinme to work with her between fittings and before she went to sleep.
Scanner Pro: “This is a scan program that allows you to use your phone like a scanner. This helps when I am sending paperwork that needs to be scanned. It also helps when I am photographing fabric to put in my illustrations.”
Zbrush: “This is digital sculpting. It’s basically becoming an industry standard for concept art.”
Marvelous Designer: “This is digital pattern making. I am learning this program but it is hands down best for creating garments to place on the digital figure.”
Photoshop: “I draw exclusively in the computer while at work. Photoshop is just the norm at this point.”
Costume Designer Cynthia Summers:
Summers most recently designed “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce.” Her favorite programs are:
Keynote: I’m a really big collager. A lot of what I do is contemporary, so when I get a season together to present to production, I like to collage a lot. Keynote allows me to put together verbal descriptions, any image off the Internet, your own photos and illustrations. And there are different formats within it, so I can create an overview of the tone for the season or stories for a character. It allows you to be super interpretive–and you can email it to anyone.
Skype: I do a lot of interviews via Skype, so I can send my ideas off and it gives us something to talk about.
iPhoto: I don’t even use a camera anymore, just my iPhone. And I get the most amazing photos.
Costume Designer Catharine “Cate” Adair:
The veteran of 142 episodes of “Desperate Housewives” and Costume Designer for the Amazon series “Bosch” is a fan of the iPad, its camera and its programs to manage photos.
“With ‘Bosch’ we had over 160 speaking roles, so it’s a lot to track. I do all the fittings on iPad, edit and crop, and then I email them with notes and numbers to my producer in his office. Then he gives me the answer back almost immediately,” she said.
She has also used SyncOnSet, but when she’s working out of a trailer that moves locations frequently, she and her crew prefer her reliable color-coding system to track wardrobe pieces.
Other crew favorites:
Waze: Community-based traffic and navigation app with real-time traffic.
Wunderlist: A sharable ask manager, appointment reminder and to-do list that syncs between phone, tablet and computer.
TurboScan: Turns an iPhone into a scanner for documents, receipts, photos, whiteboards and other text and turns them into PDFs or JPEGs.