Anna und Elsa

Costume Design in Animation – Disney’s Frozen

When you think of a Disney animated film, spectacular costume design might not be the first thought that crosses your mind, but all that has changed with the recent release of Frozen. The costumes of the main characters capture a true sense of depth and believability that is absolutely remarkable for the genre. Frozen Art Director Mike Giaimo describes the film as “the most elaborate costume-animated CG film to date.”

Giaimo brought on designer Jean Gillmore to help him create the look he was after, which he describes as both “sumptuous” and “iconic.” I recently had the wonderful opportunity to find out more about the process of designing costumes for Frozen from designer Jean Gillmore.

Tyranny of Style: Can you tell us a little bit about the difference between character and costume design for animation, how it has evolved over the years, and how you found yourself in this niche?

Jean Gillmore: “‘Traditional’ animation did indeed handle the character costume design as an integral part of the cartoon graphic, and no distinction was made. In hand-drawn animation (2-D, or traditional), all sorts of cheats, morphing and distortions happen accidentally and are excused as part of the charm of the original moving art. But with CG (computer-generated) animation, because all of it is built /manipulated in the computer, the costume has to have more logic to it – seem more real, or it becomes a distraction to the acting of the virtual character.

Anna und Elsa

Anna und Elsa

Anna und Elsa

Anna und Elsa

Anna und Elsa

Anna und Elsa

Anna und Elsa

Anna und Elsa

Anna und Elsa

If not properly designed, textured, rigged and animated, the garments have a plastic quality, like everything is made of rubber or plastic, and sometimes even of the same material as the character themself! This is not acceptable to the human eye/brain, and a disconnect happens. This is the quality that has SO improved over the years to create a much more believable result on screen, regardless of the studio producing.

I never set out to be a costume designer for animation (I was known as a character designer for my first 10 years), but I always had a love and interest in historical/ethnic costume, so animation was just another arena in which to play. Over time, and not with my pushing for it, studio colleagues began to think of me as the costume person, so I was often handed the task of researching the period/place for details. Hey, my pleasure!! Fascinating for me to discover all the obscure (to animation) details about garment construction, shapes, details and particulars. It was paid detective work for me, and I still love it. And of course, then you have that knowledge forever. On top of my animation career, I used to like to design and sew event costumes to wear on the side, so that too had taught me a lot about construction and materials. Guess it was fate.”

T/S: Can you speak specifically to your role on Frozen as it relates to costume design and a snapshot of the design process?

JG: “I was brought onto the project early (after the story had been kicked around for a year or two), by special request of the Art Director, Mike Giaimo, who was both a previous Art Director (on Disney’s animated 2D picture, “Pocahontas”) and a personal friend. He knew for years of my interest in historic costume (we ran into each other at a vintage clothing show, reigniting our friendship after years), and thought I’d be the perfect person to collaborate with on this, his ultimate Disney fairytale vision. This was his first CG picture; interpreting his strong graphic sense and mastery of the 2D realm would take someone able to keep the integrity of his vision, while evolving it to work in the practical physicality of the 3D (virtual) world. This is where my costuming experience and brief background in consumer products paid off. No, this was not a titled position for me on this picture— you’ll find me lumped in with the other Visual Development artist credits— but I was brought on to do this very specific thing with Mike, to help make his vision reality, through costuming.”

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Anna und Elsa

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