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Character Design, Costume Design – the Two Go Hand in Hand

Jun 17, 2016

Costume design goes hand in hand with character creation. What is one of the first things we notice about a character on film? How they look – and costume design plays an integral role in this. Our students were able to meet Bek Gould, costume designer for their film project, ‘Kill Off’, where she taught them the craft and processes of what costume designers do, explaining how elements like the clothing and accessories convey the character’s personality, circumstances and adds authenticity to the film.

So how exactly does it do this?



    Whether it’s conscious or not, what we wear can speak volumes and this becomes especially true when it comes to the big screen. Audiences must be able to quickly understand a character and this all starts with costume…What if your character was someone dressed in mousey-grey, pale-blue and powdery-pink attire? It’ll tell the audience that they’re more on the reserved side, preferring to blend into the walls than stick out with a vivid ensemble.

    In the recent drama, Brooklyn, costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux highlights details such as the contrast between clothing colours in Ireland and Brooklyn, as well as the number of costume changes for the main character. Even the number of costumes a character has conveys meaning!


    As we mature and change, so does our wardrobe – the same goes for our characters. How have the styles of clothing you’ve worn changed? Through the use of a costume plot (particularly in theatre productions), costume designers map out the characters’ costume evolution, and in turn, reflect the characters’ onscreen transformation. If a character starts from an uptight, black-and-white adorned appearance to warm, loose-fitted sweaters, the audience is able to see a marked change in personality.

    In an interview with Huffington Post, Michael Wilkinson, costume designer for ‘Joy’, reveals the 45 costume changes and how they reflect the leading lady’s evolution from a hesitant youth to a resolute businesswoman.


    Lastly, capturing the atmosphere and the time period of a story requires correct costuming that adds the important splash of realism to the screen, tying everything together. If we were making a film set in the present day, would the clothing your mum or dad wore back in their youths work? Or, would women of the 1950s be caught wearing skirts that stop well before the knees? A definite no – that doesn’t happen until the 1960s. A simple ten years can make a candid difference to the truthfulness of the story and characters.

    The importance of costume in adding authenticity is clear in period-pieces such as The Great Gatsby, a drama set in the swinging 1920s. However, authenticity isn’t exclusively for historical accuracy, it’s also needed for pieces dealing with specific settings such as a futuristic Mad Max, or military-film, American Sniper. In all these scenarios, the characters and extras are dressed accordingly, and in a sense, become a part of the world the movie creates.


Ending the day with some fun, our students were also set the task of choosing different costumes for the characters in their film project.

Photo 19-03-2016, 10 04 57 AM

Genevieve guiding the class through a brainstorm

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A class of keen beans, ready to offer up their opinions


Make sure to read our earlier posts to learn more about the filming process! Costumes are only half the picture, the other is whom you’ve chosen to embody the character, so check out our post on choosing the right actor.

Written by Belinda Tang
Edited by Dianna La Grassa