In her teenage years, China’s Mozhi (Leila) Li was obsessed with Broadway shows and historical films. She was transfixed by what she saw on screen, with characters in elaborate costumes reflecting their personalities. Li instantly was fascinated by how fashion could be presented through the screen and on stage, and she knew she was meant to pursue a career in costume design.
“I use my gift and knowledge to help my clients pull their characters from the script to reality. Through communications and understanding of the story, I also use my aesthetic gift along with design principles to work as a team member with other visual departments, together to create a perfect frame in film. It’s more of a team job than individual success but that’s what makes me so determined with my job,” she said.
Throughout her career, Li has proven time and time again why she is such an in-demand costume designer and wardrobe stylist. Millions have seen her work in music videos for Jason Zhang and Yitai Wang and the films Zero, Under Heart, and Where Dreams Rest. The last of which is one of the highlights of Li’s esteemed career.
Where Dreams Restfollows a young Chinese woman who crosses the US-Mexico border to chase after her American dream. It was an Official Selection at the Lady Filmmakers Festival, where many connected with the timely and dramatic story.
“The film talks about a strong feminine figure, who has this devoted love to her partner, which is touching. There are other immigrants with different races and characters in this film. Even though some of them are non-speaking roles, I love the details of the story given for each character, it gave some vulnerable feelings when I went through these supporting roles,” said Li.
Li was touched by the script and knew instantly she wanted to be a part of the film. The story is based on a working-class background. This created a unique challenge with choosing and aging costumes for the main character, while still ensuring her presentation would work well on cameras with all the colors balanced with the scene.
“Costumes can reflect large amount of details and stories behind each character. Especially for this project, the background is very realistic. It’s important to deliver the real-life texture to each costume by distressing and aging them professionally,” Li described.
The best part of the experience for the costume designer was the team she worked with. She thought the director was thoughtful and gifted, and the actors were passionate. She enjoyed her interactions with the art department, discussing ideas of color and fabrications.
“The story was touching, and all the characters have colorful personalities. I really enjoyed exchanging ideas and thoughts when I first met the director and production designer, they are talented and passionate young filmmakers. Everybody is devoted and played a great part in a team, that’s always the project you look forward to working with. All these factors made me feel it would be a project worth my time,” Li concluded.
Originally from Hanover, Germany, costumer Lisa Sass is one of the key figures who works tirelessly behind the scenes on film and television productions to ensure that all the actors on screen visually represent their characters down to the most minute detail.
Over the past five years Sass’s vast skill set as a costumer have landed her leading roles on a huge range of high profile productions including the Oscar Award nominated films Star Trek Beyond and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Golden Globe nominated film Furious 7 starring Vin Diesel (xXx) and the feature film War Machine starring Oscar Award winner Brad Pitt (World War Z), which was released last month.
While it hasn’t taken her long to establish a reputation that is strong enough to be sought out by some of the biggest film productions in the world, she definitely paid her dues along the way. The path to becoming a costumer for film and TV was something that actually began for Sass during childhood.
She explains, “I’ve always been a big fan of movies and TV series. I started drawing when I was about 4 years old, started copying cartoon and comic characters at some point and went to more realistic drawings from there. I made up stories and started creating my own characters and their clothes. Going into costume design combined my passion for film and creating characters.”
Sass’ role as a costumer is one that starts long before the cameras begin rolling and finishes long after the director says ‘that’s a wrap.’ While the costume designer ultimately decides what costume each character wears on screen, it’s the costumer’s job to breakdown the script scene by scene and create a look-book for every single character documenting the multitude of costumes they wear over the course of a production. Sass then goes to work compiling a massive wardrobe collection to fit the main characters, as well as everything worn by the background talent. But her job definitely doesn’t end there, if it did, things would be far too easy.
In addition to altering the costumes to fit each cast member perfectly, she is the person who makes sure her department has everything they need to keep the cast comfortable, which can be include everything from a wet suit to be worn under the clothing if the character falls into a cold lake during a scene to heat tech clothing to keep the cast member warm when shooting in frigid temperatures. She is also responsible for aging the costumes and adding desired effects depending what happens to the character in a specific scene and how that carries over into their wardrobe, and much more.
Sass first immersed herself in the industry in 2010 when she joined the the wardrobe department of the hit series Tatort, which has won over 100 awards since it first began in the 1970s and is still airing today! After learning the ropes from seasoned costume designer and German Television Academy Award winner Monika Hinz on the series Tatort, Sass was ready to begin working on her own as a lead costumer.
Immediately after completing her bachelor’s degree in costume design she landed a spot as a costumer on the set of the 26-episode comedy series In Your Dreams, an Australian/German co-production. One of Sass’s major roles once a production begins shooting is monitoring the continuity of each character’s costume throughout every scene, a skill she quickly acquired thanks to the grueling attention to detail required by In Your Dreams.
She recalls, “We were shooting all episodes out of order so it was essential, that you were fit in keeping the continuity of the costumes. A TV series usually shoots a lot more scenes in a day than you would on a film because of time pressure so we sometimes shot 10 scenes out of 10 different episodes a day which means you have to change the casts costumes after every scene and have to make sure it is worn exactly like the scene before or after one that you might have shot a month ago or longer.”
Sass’s early work on the series In Your Dreams, although demanding, served as excellent preparation for the many jobs that flowed in subsequently after, such as the German crimes series Monaco 110 starring Bavarian TV Award winner Monika Baumgartner (The Nasty Girl), the Jupiter Award nominated romcom film Vaterfreuden, the crime film Die reichen Leichen. Ein Starnbergkrimi directed by 10-time Adolf Grimme Award winner Dominik Graf (The Invincibles) and the crime series SOKO 5113 starring Gerd Silberbauer.
In Your Dreams director Ralph Strasser says, “We had quite a large cast on the series, and it was imperative that they always looked immaculate on camera, so the demands on Lisa and her colleagues were often quite intense. The ﬁlm set is a place where tensions frequently run high, but Lisa was always a friendly and good natured presence, doing what was required calmly and eﬃciently. Making ‘In Your Dreams’ was a very special experience in my career, largely due to the pleasure of sharing it with people like Lisa.”
After making a name for herself in the German film and television industry, Lisa Sass moved to Dubai where she began costuming for even bigger projects. There she was tapped as a lead costumer on the hit films Furious 7, Star Trek Beyond, Star Wars; The Force Awakens and War Machine.
Besides her unrivaled creativity, attention to detail and extensive wardrobe knowledge, one thing that has made Sass such a sought after costumer in the film industry internationally is the fact that costume designers can trust her to be prepared for any situation, and oftentimes that means having items on hand (that aren’t in the script) to keep the cast comfortable.
“It is not only important to dress the cast, it is also important to maintain comfort for the cast. There’s a lot of empathy and psychology at play but also simple things like providing warming jackets, heating insoles, warm blankets in between takes, umbrellas for rain or sun or fans on shoots in the desert. If the actors are happy, every shoot runs more smoothly and that can even mean a change of shoes in between takes or for a close up where you don’t see the difference,” explains Sass.
“This is all part of the job as a costumer behind the scenes for the things that you will not see on screen but is very important for the progress of the shoot.”
Aside from her key contributions to countless film and television productions, Sass has also been tapped to apply her skill as costumer on a plethora of major commercials for companies such as Nike, Nissan, Ultra Tech Cement, Lamborghini and others.
Earlier this year she was the costumer on the“What will they say about you?” commercial for Nike Middle East, which was geared towards women in the Middle East and created quite a buzz. The powerful and controversial commercial featured women athletes running through the streets, playing sports and being the epitome of strength, all the while wearing traditional Hijabs.
As someone who has made it to the top of the industry as an internationally sought after costumer, Sass is one person aspiring costumers should look to for advice if they are seriously considering making this a career.
Sass says, “The job needs a lot of empathy to work at your best in a team, adapt to the costume designer’s visions and be able to work with different people and personalities constantly. You have to be able to work well under pressure and think quickly on your feet and have a keen eye for details.”
Growing up in Bogotá, Colombia, Angela Trivino was surrounded by yards of fabric in her mother’s studio; it was an upbringing that would lead to her destiny. The steadfast sound of a sewing machine was as familiar as a friendly voice, and slowly, clothing and fashion became a way of seeing the world. There was never a question as to what she would become later in life: she would follow her passion. However, becoming one of Colombia’s best costume designers needed more than passion, it required hard work and innate talent.
Trivino’s world continues to be filled with fabric and design. She is a true artist, lending her vision to countless films, stage productions, commercials, and music videos. She helps directors realize their goals in a completely visual way. Without her, time travel through the lens of a camera would not be possible, as clothing is vital to transporting an audience member to a different era. Her work was key to the success of the award-winning film Tragiometry, a dark comedy set in the 19th century.
“Tragiometry was my first time designing a period film, and I loved the challenge of exploring concepts like femininity, elegance, comedy, and darkness in an era in which these words had a completely different connotation from the one they have today. It always feels great to escape from our world and travel back in time,” said Trivino.
Tragiometry revolves around an undertaker Mr. Vizor, who in the process of treating a dead Mr. Moore’s body, discovers that he’s very much alive, simply awakening from a lethargic sleep. To his outmost surprise, Mr. Vizor finds out that the man is utterly unhappy about being alive and he desperately wishes to go down The Gates of Hades, this time in reality. Two men, two different stories, yet the same questions — does death become a punishment for wasting every second? Or maybe life itself is a greater punishment for someone who has a meaningless existence.
“I enjoyed this project so much. The energy on set was great, and the artistic conversations with every head of department were incredibly inspiring. On the other hand, the nature of the project gave me a lot of space to explore creatively, which is always amazing,” she said.
Trivino’s role of costume designer for the film required her to stay loyal to the time period and research the history, costumes, and cultural mannerisms extensively to ensure accuracy. The film is a comedy, and her costume design had to still portray that side of the film while being historically correct. After approval of her sketches from Tatyana Kim, the director of the film, and after taking the pertinent measurements to the actors, she built the period garments.
“Tatyana was such an inspiration during the whole process. We have very similar aesthetics and ways of approaching narratives. She also understands costumes really well, you don’t always get to have conversations with directors that understand concepts like silhouette and fabric textures in camera,” said Trivino.
Leading two seamstresses and a costume assistant in the making of some of the garments used in the film, Trivino made sure her vision was met. During filming, she was on set to dress the actors, and make sure that every single garment was worn according to the period.
For Trivino, the biggest challenge for the film to be successful was to make interesting creative choices without risking justice to the period. In order to achieve this, she extensively researched not only the period, but also the characters and the comedy they carried within. She worked close to the cinematographer, which was key to achieving a well-controlled palette and beautiful, well-composed frames.
“Angela is a joy to work with from beginning to end. As a writer and director, I work with each character from its conception, and Angela has this incredible ability to come up with the perfect visual interpretation of this person that I created through words. Her character–based approach to costume design really digs into each personality and story to figure out what the costume needs are to help the actor inhabit that person. For Tragiometry we were working with a story set in the 19th Century, and Angela focused in not just designing a period accurate film, but in finding the character that lived in that period,” said Tatyana Kim.
This commitment and vision that Trivino carried with her on the project led to Tragiometry having immense success at several international film festivals. It was an Official Selection at Ciné Women Europe 2015, Los Angeles CineFest 2015, China Women’s Film Festival, Pasadena International Film Festival 2017, and the prestigious Cannes Short Film Corner. It won Best Director and Best Actor at the TMFF Glasgow 2015, and was part of the Golden Drama Awards Austria 2015.
“I hate to say it, but I was not surprised that the film was so successful. From the moment I read the script, I knew only great things could happen to such a brilliant story,” Trivino concluded. “The real surprise was finding about Cannes, we knew it was going to do great but not that great.”
In any film or television production, the wardrobe department is responsible for designing and selecting costumes and attire for the cast. Regardless of setting or genre – whether it’s a Victorian or space age period piece, tragic drama, spy thriller or college comedy – costume design is an immense task that requires countless hours of planning, research, budgeting and acquisition.
The job of actually designing the costumes, dressing the cast and then watching over the wardrobe and preventing malfunctions when it comes to the shoot is too big for any one person, so the costume designer is usually unable to be on location during filming. In their stead, at least in Canadian productions, they appoint a costume set supervisor who they rely on to ensure that everything goes off without a hitch.
That’s where Dawn Climie comes in. Climie grew up in the industry; her father worked at a TV station in her native Alberta, Canada, and as a child she would sit in the sound stages and watch him work. She was fascinated by the hustle and bustle of the sets, by the lights and cameras and most of all, by the glamorous costumes and the cast’s ornate hairstyles.
“For a kid this is beyond imagination. This is magic, and it still is for me,” Climie recalled. “Costumes became my favorite expression of that magic. The transformation that occurs in a performer when they don a costume designed to be the outward expression of their character is truly a gift to behold. I wanted to be a part of that.”
That childhood dream has been Climie’s reality for 25 years now. Climie received a 2006 Primetime Emmy nomination for her work on Once Upon a Mattress, and has been key to the success of such films as 50 Shades of Grey, Horns, The Bourne Legacy, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, The Thing, The A-Team, Tron Legacy, The Fog, Fantastic Four (2005), Blade 3 and The Chronicles of Riddick, among countless others.
The long list of Climie’s credits is so impressive not just because her projects are myriad and hugely varied, but because so many of them are high-profile big-budget productions which have been widely publicized and boasted casts packed with household names.
Working on Tron Legacy, Climie worked as the bridge between director Joseph Kosinski and designer Christine Clark, who was nominated for the 2011 Costume Designers Guild Award for her work on the film. The high-tech digital world at the center of the ambitious sequel was the result of hundreds of hours of careful planning and design. Much of what audiences saw in theaters was computer generated, and the eye-catching costumes worn by Tron Legacy’s stars Olivia Wilde (House M.D., Her, Cowboys & Aliens) and Academy Award winner Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart, The Big Lebowski, True Grit) were painstakingly designed to complement that fantastical and visually-stunning environment.
“The costumes were an amazing advancement that had never been tried in film costuming before,” Climie said. “Light in a costume was something that had never crossed my path before. So learning about a dressing a light grid suit, dealing with the replacing of broken lights, and re-patching broken wires was something that we all had to grasp on the fly.”
As a set costume set supervisor, she acts as the go-between for the costume designer and the director, makes sure there are no malfunctions in the wardrobe department and ensures that both the director’s and costume designer’s combined aesthetic vision is met and brought to life on camera.
In Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol the explosive action, breakneck speed and adrenaline-pumping stunts made the project one where every contingency had to be accounted for. Capturing the sophisticated spy-couture aesthetic was a huge challenge for Climie and the wardrobe department. The designer worked hard to balance the practical necessity of costumes which could handle the wear-and-tear of the film’s many crashes, jumps and rolls, but also didn’t restrict the actors’ mobility or cramp their style.
One of the most tense scenes of M:I – Ghost Protocol was filmed at (and on) the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in the world. The iconic scene features Ethan Hunt, played of course by three-time Academy Award-nominated superstar Tom Cruise (Top Gun, A Few Good Men, Born on the Fourth of July, Jerry Maguire), climbing the massive skyscraper with nothing but a pair of high-tech gloves. Climie was integral in the scene’s visual success, as well as its safe execution.
“Myself and a few other crew members had to spend our days in five-point harnesses attached to the cement ceiling of the building, while helping strap Tom into the different harnesses that would be needed to do each piece of the stunt,” Climie said. “I spent a lot of time with the stunt and rigging teams. We had to plan and prepare each harness, pad and costume piece that would be needed to get the shots safely and seamlessly for the sequence.”
That careful planning and preparation paid off, and the scene went off almost without a hitch. But Climie certainly felt the pressure of having the safety of an actor – one of the world’s best known and highest grossing actors, no less – reliant upon her and her team’s work. And when the inevitable glitch did rear its head, Climie leaped into action, so to speak.
“I can still remember the feeling of lying on my stomach leaning out of an open window on the 123rd floor as myself and the props person tried to repair a malfunctioning light on one of Tom’s climbing gloves,” Climie recalled. “The view was astounding but my prayers were, ‘Oh lord, don’t let me let go of the glove.’”
One of Climie’s latest projects is the Amazon Original Series The Man in the High Castle. A period piece set in an alternate timeline, the acclaimed series meets at the dark crossroads of science fiction dystopia and socio-political philosophy. Adapted from the novel by sci-fi legend Philip K. Dick, both the series and the book take place in 1962. However, in this timeline the Allies lost World War II and the United States has been under Japanese and German occupation for 14 years.
The costumes in The Man in the High Castle are not what you would expect from a period piece set in 1962. Because the series takes place in a timeline where the U.S. lost, the ‘50s and ‘60s styles we know today had be reimagined for a world where the Axis powers became the dominant superpowers. It fell on Climie to make sure that the show’s creative team and designer Audrey Fisher’s careful and deliberate wardrobe decisions were faithfully adhered to, and that no costume mishaps delayed shooting. Of course when those mishaps do happen, the director, designer and crew are always glad Climie is on hand – as they were when a hiking scene caused one cast member’s pants to tear under pressure.
“The result was an exploded inseam with some alarming exposure! Thankfully we had a wonderfully understanding cast member and my amazing crew ran out to the woods with a sewing machine and some fabric so we could repair the pants on site,” Climie said. “Rebuilding a pair of pants in the woods was not the original plan, but the show must go on.”
Every film and TV series she has been involved in has benefited from her invaluable expertise, quick thinking and creative problem solving. She has one of the most demanding jobs on any production, but because of her dedication and poise under pressure her talents are always in high demand. The first season of The Man in the High Castle will be available on Amazon Nov. 20, 2015. Many of her other projects can be seen on streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, and most are available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
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