The Agency of Materiality in the Definition of Digital Characters Costumes
Costume materials operate on several levels, enabling the actor to embody the character, visually revealing secrets of the wearer, or connecting the character with a larger concept of the performance. In computer-animated feature films, in which the character is created in a digital form, material representation has similar functions as in live performance. In this paper, I bring to light the ways in which real-world references (namely tangible materials, especially their texture qualities) work as a visual agency and tool in the reproduction of the digital form. I draw ideas from Ingold’s (2017) remarks of the tangible material substance, and Harris’s (2013) thoughts about the creation of digital materials. These both concepts connect to my interviews with costume designers Isis Mussenden, Israel Segal and Danny Flynn, who have worked with computer-animated film productions. Ingold (2017: 102) argues that all surfaces have distinctive texture and the composition of an object is conveyed through its textural form. Texture defines the object. Harris (2013: 244-245) adds that the creation of digital material surfaces relies on their physical versions in the real world and digital material properties are informed initially by their surface. Therefore, texture plays a key role in the definition of the material agency in digital character costume design. In this paper, I demonstrate this through the work of costume designers Mussenden (Shrek 2), Segal (Shrek the Third, 2006), and Flynn (Big Hero 6, 2014). I provide new insights into digital material representation of costumes on virtual characters as a current, and yet previously underrepresented topic in the field of costume design. The results are part of my doctoral research at Aalto University, investigating the notions of digital character costume design in computer-animated feature films.
Maarit Kalmakurki, MA, is a Doctoral candidate at Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Finland. Her diverse research interests range between stage and film costume history & design process, dress history and the use of technological tools in design and research processes. Maarit is a scenographer and, in addition to her design practise, she regularly lectures and presents at conferences worldwide.
Israel Segal’s costume drawing of the character Queen in Shrek the Third (DreamWorks, 2006)