Dr Who Costume Designer Lecture

To be totally honest I am not a fan of Doctor Who but when I found out it was about the costume design point of view I got very interested. Even though it might not apparently be of my direct interest I try to attend as many lectures and seminars I can because there are always important elements to take for own practice, strategies or just knowledge.

Ray Holman after designing for other TV programs such as Silk, Law and Order and other BBC dramas, is now Head Costume designer for Dr Who. He started talking about the series of events that led him where he is now, an important approach for those that are at the beginning of choosing a potential career. He went to College for a foundation year in the Welsh College of Drama. He then went to work in insurance that he hated, being a creative. He then realised he wanted to continue studying acting but his participation in various projects brought him to understand his strength laying in the costume and set design. After graduation he went to Birmingham to start a training, and laughing he was remembering that he would spend days learning even how to professionally iron a shirt. First as Assistant Designer, he started building step by step his path to costume designer for the TV industry. In his late 20, the BBC production couldn’t find a Costume Designer for a 30 part series drama so they assigned him the role. Without feeling ready for the job, his job was a success and finally started the career he wanted. He also talked about some important considerations:

  • He was never a very confident person, this led him to do a lot of research every step of the way in all his projects or in what he was interested in. For example for the creatures he researches about existing ones, the environment  it lives in, the influences, the era etc. and all have to match to the script. The same applies for a costume, even though here you also have to make the actor like it. You never stop learning and researching for new effects and techniques;
  • He never thought he would be able to do creatures and now, together with his assistant Simon, they are leading it. Take opportunities that come, and with research and some skills, yours or the group you work with, it will lead you to the end result. Creativity is important but researching it is even more.

It is a hardly competitive sector, for example for 1 trainee position they have around 400 applications. But it is also important to consider, and not everybody knows, that there are many other positions to apply for. Many series such as Dr Who or Game of Thrones work with different roles and skills. Craft in TV:

  • Sawing/Pattern cutting – Ray and Simon have the knowledge and the language to it but they don’t have the time to do it, they have to delegate;
  • Fabric Sampling – They, or more often a designated person, has to go everywhere to find fabric samples to use for the garments or set. Sometimes they find the perfect one but maybe they don’t have enough meters or might rise some other problems. Therefore they need somebody that can be 100% solving the issues;
  • Tailoring – It is a big part of Dr Who, for example. They work with the Savile Row for a more traditional work and with Soho for a more Modern approach while keeping the Savile Row standards. In Savile Row you can find companies that have their own patterns and are not willing to change them, not even in details. There is also a lot of specialisation such as somebody that only does button holes etc.
  • Millinery – They often work with the same company but when they are overloaded with work and cannot deliver in time for them they go to other companies that have worked already in the TV industry;
  • Shoe Making – Very important for the actors and their commodity while being aesthetically right for the the set;
  • Jewellery – important accessory that in some occasions need to be made to measure because of some characteristics needed;
  • Embellishment – Embroidery etc. ;
  • Dye – They have a lab but not all do
  • Breaking Down – Ageing textiles or products, make them seem old or consumed. A very researched skill especially because there a not many people doing it;
  • Fabric painting/printing – For example they took samples of fabrics from India of late 40s and they digitalised and printed. Issues are: different tones and look depending on fabric;
  • Knitting and Crochet
  • Shopping – As strange it might sound, it is a role and not a particularly easy one. The shopper has to find the right things needed and sometimes they are difficult to find.
  • Belt Making – They outsource it because often there is a need for a laser cutter they don’t have;
  •  Photography
  • Psychology
  • Accounting
  • People Managing
  • Costume Hire
  • Digital Printing/ 3D printing
  • Others

For example for the nature based costumes they looked into the environment described in the script using the elements present such as rocks, shaved alpacas, leaves (fake), twisted leather etc.

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