Deborah Cook has a job that most people probably don’t know exist — or at least don’t think about when they’re watching one of her films: stop-motion animation costume designer.
Cook has crafted costumes for all five of LAIKA’s films so far, most recently “Missing Link,” which was released in April. A sculpture student in college, working with installations and armatures, Cook soon found herself fielding requests in London to do props on films and in theater. Eventually, LAIKA came calling.
“I didn’t really know at that time that [stop-motion animation] was even a medium I could work in. It was a very happy accident,” Cook told Gold Derby at our Meet the Experts: Costume Design panel, moderated by this writer (watch above). “I really enjoy the scale, I enjoy that level of detail and being able to invest my time and space, and then seeing it very big blown up on the theater screen. It gave me a forum to utilize all my tools.”
Stop-motion animated films take years to make, and costumes for the lead characters can take up to six months. It’s a collaborative effort between all the departments to create the puppets, which typically stand around 12 inches tall, and design the clothes. For “Missing Link,” which follows Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman), a mythical creatures investigator, as he helps a Sasquatch, Susan Link (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), find his family, director Chris Butler wanted elongated figures for the characters. Cook, who brought one of the puppets, Sir Lionel’s ex Adelina (voiced by Zoe Saldana), pointed out how exaggerated the puppet’s body proportions are.
SEE ‘Missing Link’ director Chris Butler: Stop-motion limitations made me a better filmmaker [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]
“You can see with her waist how tiny she is. If I was dressing a full-size human, we would never, ever be able to do that to a human being. We can create her body underneath to support her shape,” she explained. “We wanted her in a swan bill corset … and she’s very fashion-forward. This is a morning dress, but it’s fuchsia. It’s turn of the century and the dyes are changing. We could actually create her body shape exactly how we wanted, as we were able to do with Link’s and Lionel’s, who’s extremely elongated and has really wide-set hips and really long legs.”
In the past, Cook would buy materials off the shelf, but as LAIKA has grown, the company has become self-sufficient. Cook and her team now make the fabrics themselves, tailored (no pun intended) to their very specific needs, like creating movement and flow in the clothing as the puppet moves. Under Adelina’s dress is a lining to weigh it down to give it gravity, while her hip is on a swivel to joint to generate the swish and bounce in the dress.
“We just started to look at the properties and techniques that we learned that worked with us on this scale and started to produce our own fabric that had animate-able qualities built into them,” Cook shared. “That movement, that follow-through in a costume that you get for free in a human being, we could start building them in. So incrementally we built different things into them.”
The puppets don’t support themselves and are tied down for each frame — they film at 24 frames a second — on the sets, which have screw holes in them. “Their seams are open and there are rigs poking out of them. … They look shocking. It upsets me when I see them like that,” Cook laughed. “I like to see them like this [on display].”
Video by Andrew Merrill.
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