labricoleuse: (Default)
Here are the rest of my Masks and Armor class final presentations. Some amazing stuff in here, such a great group.

deep sea divers, Klingons, and warrior women )
labricoleuse: (frippery)
We're heading into finals in the academic end of things, and i have a couple of teaser photos to share before things really get cranking.

Judy Adamson's beginning draping class has a couple of super sweet half drapes out in the hallway that i just had to take a photo of. And, my masks and armor folks have had their final presentations pushed back to May 1st, but one student is completely done and her work is SO FAB (hi samurai helmet) that i can't keep it under wraps.

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
My Masks and Armor class presented simple armor projects today, and i have a few images to share.

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (me)
I may have said it before: the vacuform is one of the main reasons i became a member at TechShop RDU.

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (supershakespeare)
I've been photographing elements of the armor we've got in the building right now, to discuss the pros and cons of various construction choices made. As i said yesterday, sometimes it's great to see how other artisans have made things, to see how they've already stood up to theatrical performance, and to think about what works when and why.

So, today's post is a collection of those photos with some thoughts on each. Read more... )
labricoleuse: (supershakespeare)
I've mentioned the HUGE number of armor pieces we've rented for our repertory shows, Henry IV and V by Shakespeare. They're plays about war, and armor abounds--much of my job has been fitting and repair, and reversible alterations like the one i described in an earlier post.

Today's post though is about a case where it was actually quicker and easier for me to just make a new item than to try to make a rented one work: in this case, a pair of bracers (forearm guards) for the character of Nym. We had rented a huge lot of bracers, something like 17 pairs, sight unseen, and most of them were in fine condition to use. However, one pair was in, well, a truly sorry state. Read more... )
labricoleuse: (supershakespeare)
On deck at work, we are currently well into production on a pair of repertory shows, Shakespeare's Henry IV and V. The designs for this show are one of those non-era-eras that i like to describe as "postmodern collage"--a mixture of modern and historical styles all blended together to create intriguings looks not tied to any specific time, leather jerkins with jeans and workboots and that type of thing.

I like working on shows done in that way for contemporary audiences because it allows for all the super-cool craft stuff that Shakespeare histories pretty much need (like armor!), but it also makes those things accessible to the modern eye in an empathetic way that true period pieces from about the 17th century back don't. It is very hard, in the 21st century visual milieu, to look like an indomitable, ruthless soldier in, say, pumpkin hose and tights.

Our designer, Jen Caprio, is renting and purchasing the armor [1], because there is just SO much of it needed. If we were doing one of these plays, I could have built some, but both in repertory with the bulk of the rehearsal period happening over our winter vacation, that meant too little time and not enough staff to plan the making of any of the big pieces [2]. Instead, one of the biggest responsibilities i have is to make the armor we've rented fit the actors we've cast, without altering it in any permanent way, yet maintain the standard of quality that I expect.

One of the things i stress in my classes is that there is the best way to do something, and everything else is a concession you ought to choose to make. In a classroom context, i teach what i believe to be the best way of doing things, since it is easier to make informed concessions required by things like a lack of time/money/labor than it is to break bad habits of shoddy workmanship. It is exciting to see all these pieces of armor from all different sources and makers, and look at the choices they have made in construction (some of which are helpful and others leave me scratching my head). Today i am going to write about how we reversibly altered a piece of leather armor for our productions in such a way as to maintain its level of quality inside and out.

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (design)
Here's the second half of the pile of pictures from the hall of arms and armor at the Metropolitan.

The photo quality on some of these isn't the best--shooting with a hand-held camera through display glass with whatever light you've got in the room isn't ideal. A lot of these are meant as potential references for topics we discuss in armor class, though--photo examples of real suits of armor to illustrate various concepts like the padded leather fencing doublet you saw in the previous post, or examples of attachment methods in this one. This one is largely all partial or complete suits of various kinds of plate, for the most part.

Again, all photos are courtesy of Kaitlin Fara.

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (Default)
While in NYC a couple weeks ago, one of our grad students and i hit up the Metropolitan Museum for their Costume Collection exhibit, American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity.

It was a pretty good exhibit, though a bit less immersive than i'm used to seeing at the Met--the rooms weren't decorated with any of the usual striking set-dressing that past exhibits like Anglo-Mania had, and the bizarre conceptual hair-don'ts on the mannquins were a jarring visual element that didn't work for me juxtaposed with how traditional the clothing and background design elements were. There were definitely highlights (an 18th-century shoe trunk, wonderful period fans), and it's worth seeing, but we couldn't photograph inside so if you want to see some examples, hit the gallery and the database on the exhibit link up there.

But, photography was allowed inside the permanent exhibits (no flash), so my student took a pile of photos in the armor hall! First up, helmets and sabatons and other pieces...

All photos are courtesy of Kaitlin Fara.

photos behind cut )
labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
My masks and armor class presented their first round of armor projects today and i have some photos to share.

I'd hoped to finish writing up my USITT notes, but then i got sucked into doing some guest lectures at work that took up a LOT more time to prep than i'd expected. Hopefully i'll get around to posting about that soon, but in the meantime, please enjoy these three armor project images!

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (macropuppets!)
Now that Shrek: the Musical has opened on Broadway and images of many of the costumes are out there in stage shots in the press, i think--and especially since Threadbanger trucked through there with cameras recently--i can now share some of the "behind the scenes" photographs i took while working on it at Parsons-Meares, Ltd., in NYC this past summer! The costumes for Shrek were designed by Tim Hatley.

First, to get a look at several of the costumes onstage, check out this NY Times slide show, paying particular notice to Farquaad's soldiers, Humpty Dumpty, and the pigs!

lots of photos... )

Parsons-Meares also made Pinocchio, the gnome couple, Farquaad from the waist up, and a first round of all the "Dragonettes" (the dragon design i worked on, which was scrapped after the premiere run in Seattle and remade entirely differently after i left). I haven't seen the show, but it's still running, which is something to say in this economy. I'm excited to see whether it gets a Tony nomination for these costumes. Well, that answers that! Now that we've been nominated, i've got more of a reason than usual to watch the awards live...though my loyalties are split, since i have a lot of former colleagues who worked on the revival of Hair, too. :D

And, speaking of Tony Awards, congrats to the "early winners," including regional theatre winner Signature Theatre of Arlington, VA!
labricoleuse: (macropuppets!)
First, some context which may seem self-centered, but is also relevant:

I've got a couple of really exciting gigs starting up in the next few days! I'll be working Saturdays doing millinery assistance at the Brooklyn studio of Cha-Cha's House of Ill Repute, helping produce their fall line of hats. I'll also be working at Parsons-Meares, one of the big Broadway shops, on costumes for DreamWorks' Shrek: The Musical, which will premiere in Seattle before moving to Broadway in the fall.

I'm predicting that i won't be allowed to post anything about the Shrek costumes because of confidentiality clauses relating to an as-yet-unpremiered show, but I might be able to do a post or two on what we're doing at Cha-Cha's, maybe an interview with the lead designer or a preview of the line or something.

Today's post though is about The Lion King, which i saw last Saturday at the Minskoff Theatre in Times Square.

Not only is it a tour de force of innovative, fantastic costume and production design, but The Lion King is also commendable for how "open source" a lot of its costuming actually is. Julie Taymor's book, The Lion King: Pride Rock on Broadway contains a wealth of information on how the costumes and macropuppet elements were constructed--not only her design renderings, but drafts and diagrams created by the artisans who built them, materials and technique descriptions, photos of mockups, you name it. After poring over the pages on the construction of the articulated mask mechanism for Scar while developing our Fox in The Little Prince, it was exciting to see the real thing in action. Even more exciting was the lobby display of Scar's costume (among others), which patrons were allowed to photograph!

pictures and discussion )
labricoleuse: (Default)
Teresa Dietzinger, aka "Amethyst Angel," is the author of a comprehensive text on costume armor-making which i reviewed some months back and wound up using as a textbook in my masks and armor course.

Well, lo and behold, Ms. Dietzinger has a blog at [ profile] proplady, found my review, and commented letting me know some wonderful news: she has revamped her book, split it into two parts and written a third, & retitled the trio with much more academically-acceptable titles. The new books are all available from, and Ms. Dietzinger has put up a comprehensive site about what they contain here:

Pretty cool! I'll definitely be checking them out as potential texts once armor class rolls back around again in 2009. My favorite thing about the advent of Print on Demand publishing is its invaluable resource to niche-market writers.

And two more armor project images from one of my students! )
labricoleuse: (macropuppets!)
My class turned in some of their final armor projects today, and i thought i'd share images here!

Also, since we are starting to get a lot of prospective graduate students applying, visiting, showing their portfolios, i created some new quick-linked categories in the tags section there in the left sidebar especially for those wanting a speedy overview of posts pertaining to specific crafts artisanship courses we offer. So, for the curious, if you want to see, say, everything i've posted pertaining to the millinery class (offered in Fall 2008), you can click the tag called class: millinery and see info on textbooks and examples of past projects from previous students, etc.!

But i digress--on to the armor!

Behind the cut: "Futura" breastplate from Metropolis, scale armor for a woman, Jacobean-influence breastplate for a child, and a samurai helmet.

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (macropuppets!)
The focus of my graduate seminar has shifted now from masks to armor, and today I gave the first lecture on the subject. I pulled some pieces of armor from our stock to show the students examples of what sorts of things they should be considering for potential projects. They are required to do one simple piece and one more complex piece. "Simple" projects might be a plain medieval helmet or set of greves, whereas "complex" might be an ornamented breastplate or set of articulated gauntlets.

I took some pictures of the stock armor and images i gave them to share with y'all.

Stage armor and one profanity. )
labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
A couple weeks ago, i posted an initial batch of reviews on mask books, a sampling of some of the works i've been reviewing as potential textbooks for my upcoming class on maskmaking and costume armor. I've made my way through another batch of them, so here's a "part two" installment, including a couple of armor books i'm definitely using. There may or may not be a "part three."

First up is...

Masks and Masking: Faces of Tradition and Belief Worldwide, by Gary Edson

Dense academic prose, ahoy! This book, published in 2005, takes a look at the role of masks largely in indigenous non-European cultures, and is written with the sort of circuitous scholarly vocabulary i find obfuscative (look, it's rubbed off on me). If you are interested in cerebral analysis of meaning, symbology, and iconography in masking, tempered with a whole lot of philosophical musings on human nature, this is the book for you. It is full of a lot of extremely detailed pen-and-ink drawings of masks from cultures all over the world, some of which are apparently previously undocumented. I think it will be useful to have on the bookshelf in my workspace as a reference for students to get inspiration and research images from, but i'm not going to require anyone to read it.

The Mask Handbook: A Practical Guide, by Toby Wilsher

This is a brand-new 2007 textbook, so new they had to glue a register into the back of it for me to check it out of the university library. Wilsher co-founded the Trestle Theatre Company, a performance group well-known for its innovative maskwork. This is a short little book (188pp) full of an enormous amount of useful, fascinating, succinct information on masking. Wilsher covers mask origins and history, techniques for making and using masks, info on writing theatre pieces for maskwork, and even some exercise suggestions for actors working with masks. I'm evaluating it from the perspective of someone teaching production technique, and i like that it includes lots of info on working with masks--to build a good mask, an artisan needs to know what working with a mask is like, needs to consider how it will be used and worn, or how it might potentially be freeing or limiting to its wearer, etc. I'm seriously considering adding this one to my syllabus as a required text.

On the subject of armor...

Basic Armouring: A Practical Introduction to Armour Making by Paul Blackwell

This is essentially a primer for fighters in the Society for Creative Anachronism who are considering making their own armor. Blackwell is not messing around with kostoomy crap here, he's talking about how to make metal plate armor meant to be worn by real people who are really going to hit each other with sticks and clubs and rattan canes and other non-sharp-stabby swordlike things. He includes a lot of great info on armor padding and a whole host of actual pattern shapes for various pieces of armor. Even if you aren't going to be making steel armor, the patterns and instructions are valuable for adaptation to thermoplastic or foam or fiberglass or other costume-material construction methods. Highly useful, and what's more, my students will probably be overjoyed to learn that Blackwell's book is available as a free downloadble PDF at the above link. I printed mine out and put it in a 1/2" binder for tabletop reference.

Amethyst Angel's Guide to Making Really Kickass Costume Armor, by Teresa Dietzinger

I really wish this book had a different title. I dunno, i'm not a prude about cussing by any stretch of the imagination, but i feel like in the case of this excellent, thorough, well-put-together book, the jokey-foul title really undermines the credibility of the author initially. Everyone that has seen it on my desk has made a disparaging remark, and i'm put in the position of having to defend its usefulness as a text in a graduate program. But trust me, believe me when i say to you, this is an excellent book for an introductory look at costume armor that doesn't utilize potentially dangerous and difficult materials like fiberglass!

Dietzinger is a cosplay enthusiast (folks who make elaborate costumes, usually of characters in Japanese animation, video games, etc., usually for the purpose of wearing them to conventions) who makes highly-detailed lightweight armor from foam and plastic. The book is written for the absolute beginner--early chapters introduce common hand tools and sewing equipment, discuss how to take accurate measurements of the body, and suggest methods for making your own dress form to work from. What i think is so exciting as how well Dietzinger illustrates her method with step-by-step photographs. The book really covers all aspects from start to finish, too--patterning tips, painting techniques, how to do relief details, even tips on shipping and storing and materials sourcing.

The link above goes to the page for the black-and-white version of the text, which is the one i'm going to recommend to my students. However, i think it's great that Dietzinger also offers her text in a full-color option and in a CD format as well, for different price-points. When i put out my own stuff later this year, i'm going to go that route as well. It's cool that the dedicated costumer who wants to shell out for the full-color printed work can do so, whereas someone who might be unsure whether they really wanted to try armor-making could go for the less-expensive CD or B&W text.

And, i've got a few cool links to share as well:

Theater Helper is a blog after my own heart! Written by theatre professional Laura Salvaggio, Theater Helper is chock-full of tutorials and advice on a range of tech topics: propbuilding, lighting, scenic painting, carpentry, etc. I created a syndicated feed for it for LiveJournal users, so you can add it to your friends lists if you wish: [ profile] theater_helper

The Utah Shakespeare Festival has put up a 2-minute video clip (QuickTime required) of the world premiere i worked on this past summer, Lend Me a Tenor: The Musical. See if you can spot the millinery-malfunction, much to my chagrin, which occurred during first dress...

Brian Dickie's blog is a wonderfully chatty, snapshot-filled blog written by the general director of the Chicago Opera Theatre. Even if you aren't an opera fan, it's a fascinating look into the daily anything-but-routine of an opera company's director, and occasionally has fun graphics like this entry's inclusion of a David Hockney costume design rendering.
labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
Vocabulary word of the day:

vizard - No, it's not what Durmstrang students call Harry Potter. A vizard is the term for a mask on a stick! You know, the sort that ostentatiously-dressed lords and ladies carry and hold up like a freaky lorgnette at a masquerade ball.

(Bonus word: lorgnette - Glasses on a stick! Usually foldable.)

My graduate course this fall covers the engineering and production of masks and armor. As such, i've been reviewing various texts in the interest of determining what i'm going to require my students to own, and what's just going to be suggested or supplemental reading. As I've done in the past with my millinery course and my shoemaking course, i thought i'd post a quick run-down of some of the titles.

The Monster Makers Mask Makers Handbook, by Arnold Goldman.

This is a wonderful resource for a very specific kind of mask technique: full-head latex masks cast in a negative gypsum mold (think "Halloweeny rubber monsters"). It's a large-format 42-page booklet, like a full-sized magazine with a stapled binding, full color cover, and black and white interior. It is written in an easy-to-read, conversational tone, and is full of step-by-step illustrative photographs. It's got a nice troubleshooting section for problems you might encounter, and a glossary at the back of technical terminology.

My only criticism of the book is that once you get to the section on airbrush painting of the cast latex mask, it's a bit hard to envision what's going on colorwise with only black and white photography to look at. It would have been perhaps a better choice to insert a page of color photos for that section alone--the other sections on sculpting, mold-making, and casting are fine. All in all though, this is a great reference for negative casting in latex--it specifically deals with full-head masks, but the technique could be easily modified to do partial shapes as well (backless full-face or half-face masks). If you plan on making masks of this kind, this publication is well worth the money.

Masks: Faces of Culture, by John W. Nunley, Cara McCarty, et al.

Originally published as a companion volume to a vast exhibit of masks--first assembled in St. Louis, MO in the year 2000--both modern and historical works from cultures and traditions all over the world, this huge coffee-table-sized book is an amazing resource. It's filled with a wealth of information and an enormous number of full-color detailed photographs of all sorts of masks.

It's loosely divided into six chapters: prehistory and the origins of masks, rites of passage masks, festivals of renewal masks, theatrical masks, transvestitism masks, and masks worn for offense/defense purposes (including full-face armor helmets and sports masks). Each chapter reads like a thoroughly-researched academic treatise on its given subject. This volume is a great source of inspiration, historical and cultural research, and information on authentic materials--each mask photo's caption lists what the original is made from. It touches very little on how particular masks were constructed or on culturally-specific mask-making techniques, but has fascinating information on how and why the masks were worn in their original context. It carries a fairly spendy price-tag, so unless you do a lot of maskwork, costume design, or cultural anthropology research, you might rather look for it in libraries than purchase a copy.

The Prop Builder's Mask Making Handbook, by Thurston James.

This "industry bible" on the subject of mask-making, originally published in 1990, is now out of print. It is a useful text in many ways, but not ideal or up-to-date. Over half the 200+ pages are devoted to the masks of the Commedia dell'Arte and Italian leather mask-making techniques, which are certainly fascinating subjects but perhaps not of common use for the modern theatrical crafts artisan. (It would, however, be a great help if you found yourself doing a production along the lines of Julie Taymor's reknowned King Stag, in which every character wears a variation on a Commedia mask archetype.) The book presumes a free hand with the design of a mask on the part of the artisan, which in my experience is hardly ever the case with practical mask-making for theatre, of the sort practiced by folks like me.

There is a chapter on life-casting, which is a good basic grounding in the subject, but due to the age of the book does not address technological developments and process improvements that have occurred in the past 17 years. (For example, no mention is made of different grades of alginate and their varying set times.) There is now much more useful current information on life-casting to be found on the internet and through SFX industry resources, if that is where your interest or professional needs lie. Check sites like FX Supply and for info on modern prosthetics and FX casting.

The book is also a minefield of health and safety pitfalls--there's a chapter on celastic, a material now not commonly used due to chemical hazards associated with its manipulation, and my favorite: a photograph of a bare-faced man airbrushing with leather dye while smoking a cigarette. Hi, Hazard County! Makes me want to pencil in a caption in my copy: "Right about now, them Duke boys was sprayin' leather dye without no respirator..." It was published in an era before OSHA took serious notice of the theatre industry, before there were widely available resources such as the publications of the Arts, Crafts, & Theatre Safety watchdog organization. As such, the onus is on the reader to check for up-to-date health and safety precautions for the processes outlined therein.

Mr. James also doesn't address the mask design development process (which IME is best approached by way of maquettes--miniature 3D sculptures or "clay sketches"--as a basis for discussions with the costume designer and sometimes the director as well), probably because he is writing from a position of presumption that the artisan is also the designer, and at times he even implies that the artisan will also be the performer wearing the mask being created. I am certain there are several troupes in existence where the performers are also the mask-makers (local masque/mummery group Paperhand is one example that comes to mind), but by and large, it will be someone like me making another person's mask design for an actor to wear. It's important to understand all the R&D that leads up to the making of a mask--though it only addresses one specific method of mask-making, the Monster Makers guide reviewed above is a bit better on this front. Goldman at least addresses maquettes, though he does so in the context of haunted house/rubber-monster horror-film production rather than theatre.

I don't mean to sound like i'm completely denigrating this book and all copies should be chucked in the dumpster--it's got a lot of great process information, many illustrative black and white photos of steps in various techniques, and it's the only book that really addresses specifically a range of construction techniques within the context of masks for professional theatrical performance. It's simply written from a prop-builder's perspective instead of a craft artisan's, and is nearly 20 years old.

Costumes and Chemistry by Sylvia Moss

This is the best reference book out there, hands-down, bar-none, for those in the field of crafts artisanship. It is an indispensable bible of fantastic resources and, despite its high price tag, i highly recommend that anyone interested in costume construction buy it ASAP, PDQ! It was published in 2004, after years of grant-sponsored research and development, and thus may be the most up-to-date resource of its kind in the field of costume production.

It's divided into two halves, the first half comprised of materials and safety information, and the second half devoted to process explanation and documentation.

The first half covers an enormous range of products, divided by purpose (paint, adhesive, dye, etc.), type (cold process dye, acid dye, disperse dye, etc.), brand name, and so forth, and then goes on to test the efficacy of the product in a variety of situations (washfastness, lightfastness, dry-cleanability, etc.). As an aside, now would be a good time to reiterate the value of the website This-To-That, where you can plug two different surfaces into a form and get a list of recommended adhesives that will glue them together. But i digress.

Moss lists proper protective equipment for all potentially dangerous materials, clean up information, and warnings if applicable (i.e. "Do not clean up with bleach!") She worked with industrial health and safety advocate Monona Rossol to make absolutely sure that the information in the book was vetted for safe process instruction. The book would be worth its weight in gold as a reference volume just on the strength of the first half alone. The second half, however, is the gravy on the biscuit.

The second half is a compendium of an enormous number of specific costumes--walkaround mascots, monsters, masks, wings, crowns, body padding, armor--with precise information on how they were built, often with process shots, original design renderings, construction methodology, and tips from the artisans who made them. Some you will recognize from film and television, theatre, dance, advertising, all kinds of sources. There is no better insight into the costume engineering process than reading about how someone has done something and seeing steps along the way. Many incredible-looking costumes are demystified--once you read the process outlay, you may frequently find yourself thinking, "Hey, I could do that!" or "Wow, so THAT'S what they used!"

Seriously, i cannot sing enough praise about the quality and scope of this textbook; don't be put off by the title--it's not full of equations and molecules! It's a wealth of amazing, helpful, illuminative information for costume engineers, both veteran and aspiring. (Can you tell this is one of my required textbooks?)

So, there's an overview of four of my prospective texts, all of which will play some part in my course this semester. Pick and choose--one or more of them may be just what you've been looking for.
labricoleuse: (Default)
The key to making vacuform armor look good onstage and not like "OMG plastik kostoom arm0r LOL" is covering it before painting it.

For less detailed pieces (plain breastplates, smooth greves, etc) you can use felt--industrial felt if you want it thick, or craft felt or oak-tanned leather if you need it thinner. With detailed pieces, such as our lion-head-relief shoulder-guards, we're using pigsuede--it's stretchier and easy to manipulate into curves and crevices.

Here's some photos of how that works. )
labricoleuse: (macropuppets!)
Our Costume Crafts Supervisor, Julia Powell, is an expert moldmaker and caster. During the regular season, she works in the Props shop of the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre (Milwaukee, WI), where she has been called upon to cast any number of bizarre things--including entire sets of "human" bones!

Recently she demonstrated how to create a flexible rubber mold to cast ornamental pieces for armor and jewelry, and i photographed the process to share here.

lots of images and process info )

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