Researching Sources for Movie Costumes
A wonder image-rich movie often inspires us to recreate costumes. We want to capture a piece of the film's art... or sometimes, just to relive the fun of the movie. Regardless of your reason, the techniques are the same. Costumes from the movies can be researched in many ways. Here I'm going to list some of the standard resources.
Beginners: do not worry if you cannot recreate every detail. Do the research and then make the decision of which parts you are going to recreate based on your sewing skills, time and budget.
We are lucky that Lord of the Rings has numerous books out. Many movies will not even have a single book . The movie books have only a limited number of pictures but they're gems. It can be a great research tool because the pictures are such high resolution. If you use a magnifying glass or jewelers loop you can pick up details that you would not see any other way.
One problem can happen when you are looking for costume details is that the main photos are optimized for the actor's face... not the costume. The lighting may push the costume into the background. Sometimes the area around the face has actually been touched up to get rid of distracting objects such as buttons and jewelry (or to tone them down) so nothing pulls attention from the actor's face. This sometimes also includes seam lines and finishes if they draw the eye. (Example Aragorn's leather jerkin is completely edged in a fold over strip of leather that is sewn down. In a prominent picture or Aragorn from the end of FOTR, this edge is brushed out all the way or partially depending on where it is in the jerkin.)
There are five LOTR books out so far... and another, an art book, due this summer. For a review of which of these are best for the costume you are researching, go <here>.
Related to the large color photographs in the books is the concept of the 8x10 glossies. However, they are normally only head and shoulder shots. If you get the official studio ones you've got high contrast details. Watch out for the touch-ups though. On the other hand, if you buy some of the "convention" glossies, these have been copied from everything, including a VCR tape... so resolution is gone. Just remember, watch your sources!
The DVD is always a great source for costuming detail, especially if your computer can print still pictures from it. Watch for resolution loss both when you save and when you print. Added features like the extra commentary or making-of sections will have more costume bits. The sad part... you have to wait months for it to come out. So, start your research else where.
In February, Nation Geographic released "Beyond the Movie: The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring". This DVD is a mix of travel log and cultures. However, it has a number of segments on both the hobbits and the elves. Some of the footage is video showing extra of the hobbits. The elven background people were cut from the movie, but bits are show here.
The August DVD release will be the same movie as released in the theatres at the end of 2001. It will have the extras that were aired on TV before the release of LOTR: FOTH. The November release will have an extended version that add extra hobbit and elf scenes as well as extends many of the character relationships. This version will have more in-depth making-of specials.
An exhibit of the costumes can be absolute pay dirt -- especially if you are allowed to photograph the clothing. This varies by exhibit. When all else fails, bring a sketch book. You can see the true color of the fabric because film stock does affect what color you see on the screen. You can see details that the camera never picked up... like what's under Gandalf's beard or the bottom half on an outfit that was never shown in the film. Also, this is a perfect place to figure out the true fabrics.
They may choose to display props separately. There you get a chance to see the fastenings and again do a color check. With all the cloaks worn in LOTR this gives you a chance to pickup the extra items that make up the character's entire outfit.
The Media - TV and Magazines
TV specials about the-making-of a movie will show you how the costumes move... so have your VCRs ready. Even if the special gives no information beyond what has been handed out in press releases, you get many more views of the costumes. Seeing the costumes move is a gem. It gives you a better idea about the fabric and construction when someone rides, jumps, swirls, dances or fights. You may see the character with and without their cloak or coat.
Now-a-days movies are heavily promoted in everything from fashion magazines to fan magazines to industry specials. These will often give you the first peak of the costumes, sometimes six months out. These images will be very controlled. However, you may find behind-the-scene pictures here that are invaluable later for figuring out construction details. Don't expect these pictures to come out on the web. What is happening with the LOTR pictures is unusual. The studio has been incredibly tolerant about the pics that have shown up all over the web. You need to go out and pick up the magazines. You will find the magazines pictures have good resolution. However, shots shown will be very limited.
Looking up pictures on the web can be very appealing. It's fairly quick, costs nothing but time and you don't even leave your keyboard. However, the web is an always evolving thing. What is here today may not be there tomorrow. You are at the mercy of a web master's whim. Also, the quality of the images can very greatly. Legitimate press sites will have very high quality images because their pictures come from the studio itself. However, the number of photo's will probably be limited.
Many pictures found out on fan sites have been resized and resaved a few times. Since most of these images are jpg's to begin with, each save looses more information and you loose the fine low-contrast details of seams, trim, fabric and embroidery. Still other images, in total disregard of copyright laws, have been scanned in from books, magazines, newspapers or even captured off a video taped TV special. So, their resolution was never good to begin with. However, these home grown sites will have a lot more spy and fan photos out there than official sites. They are also organized very differently. This gives you much more of a chance of finding what you need to show costume details of hems, sleeves and boots.
Different types of pictures to look for:
If you are bookmarking links there are a few things to consider when you find the same picture on different sites. Find the "official" images off of press sites first. These will be the clearest and have the most resolution. If you find the image multiple places, get the one that is not in a database, since database links are much more likely to change. (That's easy to tell. The links with the question marks come from databases and are also longer.) When using fan sites, the ones run by groups are normally more stable than the individual sites. Also, pick the English language sites over the foreign language sites, to make searching easier... and often faster.
Finding web information about the costumes is an entirely different kind of search. The official site is always a good place to start. Searching though all the press archives of the papers can be an entirely different thing. Quickly, you will find most of the stories are the same. Information often came from the press releases or a herd of reporters on junkets that ask the same questions (and get the same answers). Don't get too frustrated, there are some gems of information, but you have to go though a lot of similar articles to find these. Book mark them right away because all the different paper's names blend after a while.
These searches can pay off for finding out about fabrics, yardage and odd details. You can find out where the designers got their inspiration sometimes. This helps you pick a historical pattern to modify. If you find out the designer had the outfits made in a city, then you can search the garment districts for some of the same finds. (In the case of LOTR, fabrics are from India and other sources far away from the normal Hollywood design houses, so this suggestion will not work in this instance... but it often does.)
Do not stop at just the current movie. If you can look at other design projects the costume designer has worked on. You may see variations or get an idea on how she/he likes to pattern and construct.
Remember, never use just one source if you are really trying to get the details right.
This page was last updated 04/22/08