|Creating Costume - words or pictures?
||[Oct. 6th, 2011|06:09 am]
I saw a sketch of Lady Sybil Ramkin-Vimes on Diane's Tumbler account last night, and for once it wasn't (much) influenced by a Paul Kidby drawing. That resurrected a thought I've often had: to what extent do costumers, cosplayers and fan-artists feel constrained by professional visualisations of written characters and regard them as the "official" version, no deviations allowed?
D's Star Trek Next Generation novel Dark Mirror originated from a discussion in Dublin's Gotham Cafe pizzeria (back in 1991 when it was still Independent Pizza South) over, as the book's acknowledgement puts it,
a large with extra cheese, extra sauce, pepperoni and hot chilies, and a medium with extra cheese, double garlic, hot chilies, and onions, along with two bottles of Orvieto Secco and a whole lot of Ballygowan water... The discussion had nothing to do with pizza, or (originally) a novel, or even STNG; I was speculating over what the Mirror Universe version of the Wrath of Khan-period uniform (the maroon wrapover tunic one) would look like, since no such thing had ever been made "canonical" by appearance on-screen (the ONLY acceptable ST canon is TV and film; novels, comics, games etc. don't count, and as far as we knew, no Mirror uniform of the WoK style had appeared in any of those, either.)
I was holding out for all-black with silver insignia, prompting an inevitable "Black and silver; it's always black and silver with you, isn't it?" response. A couple of sketches on the back of a napkin showed that black WoK Starfleet uniforms would look more than a bit like German WW2 Panzer-crew kit, and it was later clear that I wasn't the only one thinking that way: the flight-crew uniforms in Starship Troopers were deliberately based on German WW2 self-propelled gun crew tunics; same design, grey instead of black.
Once D suggested piratical thigh-high boots instead of the "official" calf-high ones, we had started down the road that led to the Next Generation novel (my English Literature Honours Degree helped write the bit of very nasty Mirror Merchant of Venice, giving Shakespeare the lavish love for gore seen in Jacobean revenge tragedy. Diane re-wrote it, though I think mine was best.) :-) And we still haven't seen my take on the Mirror uniform, because late Classic Trek never went there…
Star Trek, Star Wars, StarGate and many other Star things, as well as Aliens, Pirates of the Caribbean etc. and lots and lots of anime are all visual inspiration came first, so costumers, cosplayers and the rest are in large part restricted, if that's the right word, to representing what's been shown on-screen with painstaking exactitude.
Sometimes it's so painstaking that the fan-made costumes are of infinitely higher quality than "the real thing" (by which I don't mean the imaginative stuff, that's not real at all, but what you'll find hanging up in the studio Wardrobe Department.) Anime and cartoon costumes seem to stretch a bit further: there are few things quite as dopey-looking as the "Clodbuster sword" (it's apparently a metal plank with a handle) taken from its cartoon and made (ahem) real. But there was also a bunch of very fetching young ladies dressed as the humanized (thankfully non-furry) form of the new-version My Little Pony. D, having written for the original series, was Much Amused by my never-seen-before interest. in this aspect of the show.. :-P
However, too often when it comes to costuming or drawing characters which were originally words on paper, there seems to be a lot of the same default-to-professional-visual-source. Discworld characters are based on Paul Kidby art - I can't recall any based on Josh Kirby's chaotic (my opinion) and inaccurate (Word of God aka Terry) covers - though there’s increasing influence from the Sky TV adaptations, even more steampunky and neo-Victorian. German fan "Otto Chriek" has built an incredible, fully-operational iconograph – wood and brass exterior, digicam and mini-printer interior; the only thing that doesn’t work is the imp! But even this looks based at least in part on one of the elaborate Kidby drawings. (Wenn ich falsch bin, Robert, entschuldigen Sie mich!)
The clothing and accessories of Harry Potter characters originate exclusively from the movie series (at least so it seems, because I haven't read any of the books, so must default here myself;) and of course the standard Lord of the Rings image isn't Tolkien but Jackson, despite years of art from other sources, some high-quality, others…not so much. Were there ever costumes based on the ridiculous Bakshi toon? If there were, and I saw them, my memory has purged itself and thankfully so. I'm fairly sure that needles and thread have already been busy on Game of Thrones costumes derived from the recent TV show, even though George R. R. Martin's own descriptions are more than adequate.
Certainly "representing the screen/cover/supplementary portfolio material" properly means that the costumer isn't relying on a masquerade audience (and judging panel) having read the appropriate paragraph from a big novel or long series before deciding if their work is accurate or not. But when it's a hall costume worn for fun rather than formal masquerade (which are often amazingly elaborate and complex) then I wonder why people don’t swing out more.
Is it (a) reticence: no matter how carefully the writer describes characters and clothing, is a costume or drawing that lacks "professional visual imprimatur" somehow incorrect?
Or is it (treading carefully here, masqueraders are my friends) (b) a subtle sort of laziness, skilfully recycling a pre-packaged image to avoid the work of visualising a writer’s words in your own way? (with a sizeable unadmitted dash of (a) lurking at the back as well?)
I have a feeling this will be discussed more thoroughly at the next convention I go to – and if the subject hasn't already been done to death somewhere, it strikes me as a good topic for a panel. Any con organiser who wants to use it can be my guest. I’d be curious to hear the result!
Caveat: I'm not a costumer (nor do I play one on TV). I also have a quirky visual memory. I also treat text as overriding (the first -- and so far only -- time I saw The Matrix was original soundtrack with German subtitles and I spent the whole movie reading the latter in spite of my limited knowledge of the language).
However, one thing I find is that text descriptions (and my imagination of them) tend to be replaced by visual versions when there is a conflict. There will be an amount of trauma in this ("No, that's wrong!") but it settles down to being predominently the visual version. So my memory of what the LotR characters looked like is now the Jackson one, even though I have seen that only once (treating the trilogy as a whole) rather than the JRRT ones which I read many times before that.
My preference now is to see the film first and then read the book, because that way I don't have a conflict, at most it's "Oh, she was blonde originally, that's interesting", and I then 'see' the screen version of the characters as I read the book. I did that with the first Harry Potter, and although for later books I did read them before the films the main characters were at least right and about most of the others I wasn't particularly bothered.
Since most people are much more visually oriented than I am I suspect that for them seeing the costumes is even more influencing than for me. The realisation means more than the description in words, partly because the description doesn't have the details (or not usually, many readers would get very bored by a decription detailed enough for a costumer).
 'Realisation' in the musical sense, "making real", so playing the piece rather than the dots on the page, and in particular things like playing guitar from only chords and adding the runs and picking patterns. Indeed, that's an apt comparison, many (especially amateur) musicians do try to slavishly follow the 'canonical' videos of a song or band and it can often be hard to get them to branch out and make their own version.
My visualisation of book characters isn't set in stone, which is why I'm a bit cautious about accepting screen, drawn or painted images as Ultimate And Inflexible.
I wrote (and drew) stuff about armour, weapons and all sorts of other details thirty years ago that I'm happy for the chance to correct. Characters behave, sound, even think differently; there's more action and reaction, less studied posturing. They speak dialogue, not declaim prepared speeches. And so on.
What I see with movie interpretations of books - leaving aside what's done to the plot because of the changed requirements of a different medium - is One Person's View. This One Person is a hive-mind of the costume designer who came up with the idea, the casting director who put a given actor inside it, and the Director who okayed the finished product. However, when that View is presented to a vast audience, then (thanks to shows where, as I said, the visual came first) the widely-disseminated screen image becomes, consciously or otherwise, "canon" and any variation becomes, in some vague, ill-defined way, "wrong."
And that's where a stifling of independent imagination happens.
the description doesn't have the details (or not usually, many readers would get very bored by a decription detailed enough for a costumer).
On occasion, Robert Jordan and Janny Wurts have both come close. It always struck me as one of the ailments of USAnian MegaTome Fantasy(tm) - excessive description that serves no narrative purpose. And then I recall Tolkien's landscapes.
Personal opinion is that excessive description that serves no narrative purpose
can be one of several things:
(1) Showing off how much research was done on weapons, language, architecture, clothing, fighting styles, even food.* ("I've done all this work and I'm going to show you the lot, so help me!"
*I've done the food thing, in Firebird
, and Diane still says it's one of the sexiest things I've ever written... :-D That's because I made sure that all the deliberately-lascivious food description was in the dialogue of a loving couple who hadn't seen each other for ages and could barely wait for dinner to be over... I wanted to send the plain message that without servants present, dessert would be something not on the menu. ("Same procedure as last year...?")
(2) Writing for size instead of content, while avoiding obvious padding like repetition, reiteration or the awful single-line paragraph that's not part of snappy dialogue. John Norman is the classic over-user of this. If you can risk being seen picking one up, leaf through any of the fatter Gor books. Reformat in your head and watch the thing shrink. Now put it down and go wash your hands. ("I signed a contract for 200,000 words on a 150,000 word story, so instead of "He donned his armour" let's describe every bit, buckle and rivet of a Milanese white harness as it's put on. Oh, and how they articulate together. Oh, and what happens if one bit's put on wrong. Oh, and how it's taken off and corrected. Oh, and..."
(3) Getting carried away, which is the most excusable because it's done out of sheer delight in transcribing what's on the internal 70mm widescreen. This is the Tolkien school, so I don't need to give examples, except to point out that it's often also a crafty way to sneak one past the reader. ("Three chapters on, they'll realise that's why they spent so much time reading about a barely-seen fold in the mist-shrouded landscape that might possibly be an overgrown path to that high waterfall on yonder distant mountain..."
(4) Protection From Editors
The TV Tropes article says it very well -
Due to editors not being willing or able to fight back against a brand-name star, the resulting new material from an old creator can end up being lower-quality. Sometimes very much lower, as the author's bad habits, Mary Sues, and Author Appeals come to the fore (sometimes to the horrified shock of the creator's fanbase), where before, such excesses would be quickly and ruthlessly excised. The creators get away with it because it'll sell anyway, and we don't want to risk pissing him off and having him bolt for another company.
- but fails to mention that an excess no longer excised can be as simple as their old tendency to use twenty words where five would do, previously kept under control but now let off the leash because after all, the fans want more of this writer's words - even the unnecessary ones...
Yes, I can see where it can come from, and why it might get to the page, and I tend to forgive a lot if I can see it had a purpose like establishing personality (of people or environs), laying down hints, or, as in your food example, carrying story.
But once it's been established that a character is vain and rich and likes flamboyant and expensive clothes, there's not much need for describing his every costume in great detail (including colours, materials and textures of trims and buttons). At least after the third book.
Quite often it's simply porn, I think. It might be for its own sake, to show off research, a writer indulgence, or padding. And that's fine, I guess, if it's done well. There are readers who are actively looking for books with long and detailed descriptions of guns, clothes, foods, cars, mountains or bodies. I'm not one of them, though. :-)
Clothes, personal habits, fondness for a particular food or drink etc. need to have some significance. Ian Fleming once commented that he originally gave James Bond his own fondness for scrambled eggs to such an extent, that an enemy agent tracking him just needed to ask any restaurant if there'd been a tall, dark-haired man who ordered scrambled eggs...
Guns in particular need to be "done correctly."
A constant low-level complaint from me is that if you get something right, you might get 1 compliment from every 1000 readers.
If you get something wrong (especially with guns) you'll get 995 virtual corrections, with the remaining 5 waiting to collar you personally at a con.
But surely "getting it right" is always to be expected, since you should only write what you know! ;-)
I used to enjoy Robert Shea until he talked about 10-pound swords in "The Saracen". After that I found it hard to trust he'd done any serious research, or knew what he was talking about.
While pretty much everything has its geeks, I imagine that the cold, hard things have geeks who are similarly unforgiving when mistakes are made. Mind you, I've met some rather scary historical costuming geeks...
Always to be expected, perhaps - but always done, oh dear no.
Poul Anderson's essay On Thud and Blunder has long been considered a good example of how to add realism to fantasy, and most of that still holds true. Horses are not Harley-Davidsons (or BMWs, or Nortons); "assemble the army" involved much more than some lord's desire to kick another's arse; diseases didn't stop just because the plague pandemic was interfering with the hero's love-life (and that love-life should have more consequences than just a chick hanging onto your leg.)
But some of it is now as wrong as the "bad" material it intends to correct -in particular the sword-fighting info, which was based on SCA fight rules, and is far, far removed from the swift, brutal pragmatism of Talhoffer, dei Liberi and all the others for whom "calling shots" with rattan was not an option.
I met Poul Anderson at a con in San Jose and we had a long, thoroughly entertaining natter about the essay, which he told me should only be considered a work in progress, subject to revision every time new information came to light. Since at that time "new information" on medieval swordplay was popping up all over what had once been the Eastern Bloc, revising Thud... would have been a regular weekend task. I'm just sorry he didn't live to do it.
With me, the text comes first and stays first. When I saw the LOTR films, I was pretty much checking off a mental list all the time...
"...no, that's not Aragorn. Totally not Aragorn. He's too pretty."
"...that's meant to be Legolas? And he's blond?! He's an Elf of Mirkwood, not one of the Vanyar! The clothes aren't too bad, though, except he should be wearing light shoes, not boots."
"Elrond? Um, 'Elves are wondrous fair to look upon, or so I am told'. I realise he's only half an Elf, but even so..."
"OK, Mr Jackson. Full marks on the entrance to Moria. You didn't half get that one right."
"...good acting, but he's still not Aragorn."
There's been a small amount of influence, but in my head Legolas still has dark hair and little soft shoes, and Aragorn has grey eyes filled with the wisdom of long experience, not bright blue eyes that knock 'em dead at twenty paces. Elrond I cannot picture properly and never could, but I will say this: in my head he does not look like Hugo Weaving.
Aragorn in his Strider persona should also seem much more enigmatically villainous: "I look foul and feel fair," as he describes himself, needing more than just designer stubble and hair that itches (probably literally) for a good shampoo.
Ed Harris has played both heroes (The Abyss) and villains Enemy at the Gate) convincingly; indeed, Major Koenig's nasty-Nazi behaviour comes too much out of the blue for me. The older Clint Eastwood as Bill Munny in Unforgiven has the look of a man who has seen a lot, though may not be handsome enough for Aragorn Revealed. He also displays a good nasty streak; perhaps it's too much for Aragorn, but Bill Munny would also have decapitated the Mouth of Sauron without a second thought, and never mind the proper treatment due to heralds. "Dost thou feel lucky, punk? T'would seem not."
To be "wondrous fair" in Hollywood too often means "young and cookie-cutter pretty" and while Orlando Bloom's features are distinctive enough to avoid the cookie-cutter, he's definitely not old enough. His Kingdom of Heaven look would be more appropriate, and it's also dark.
Oddly enough, when Legolas is first introduced at The Council of Elrond, his clothes are noted (green and brown Robin Hood woodland camo, while Frodo notices the shoes-not-boots during The Ring Goes South) but not his hair; Boromir gets that, two lines on. But (is it actually mentioned somewhere?) he would have been dark-haired. Unless they were High, the elves of my imagining know nothing of peroxide, and even then Glorfindel is "gold", Galadriel "deep gold" and Celeborn is silver: no platinum or ash-blond anywhere. If he'd meant something unusually light, I'm sure Tolkien would have mentioned it, probable as a "seeming" - "and it seemed to Frodo that his hair was fine as silk, and pale as the dawn" or something like that.
Elrond is not Agent Smith, and never was. However Paul Bettany, darkened from his natural blond, is another image entirely...
One thing I always reckon about Aragorn is that, however scary the rest of his face looks, his eyes give away the fact that he's a good egg. When he first speaks to Frodo, his eyes are almost hidden under his hood. So I picture him with a prominent, ill-shaven, probably scarred chin. By the time we do get to see his eyes, Frodo is already so scared and shaken up that they don't start to make an impression till he calms down a bit. For me, Clint Eastwood doesn't do it. I don't think his eyes are right, though I'll give him that they're better than Viggo Mortensen's.
The colour of Legolas' hair is never specifically mentioned, but the Silmarillion goes into Elf genetics as they apply to hair colour in some detail. Galadriel was the daughter of Finarfin, whose mother was Indis, a Vanyarin Elf; I can't find anything on the Glorfindel we meet in LOTR (there was another Glorfindel in the Silmarillion), but it is reasonable to assume that he also has Vanyarin ancestry. Thranduil was clearly a Sindarin Elf, so the only way Legolas could have been blond would have been if Mrs Thranduil was Vanyarin or of Vanyarin ancestry... which is possible, of course, but we know nothing at all about Mrs Thranduil.
Interesting about the scarred chin: I flashed on Charlton Heston made up as the older, bearded El Cid, with a scar down his face that left a white streak in his dark beard. Tough, but not menacing (unless he was actively menacing you, which is another matter entirely.)
As for all that stuff from The Silmarillion...
Um. I have a first edition (Allen & Unwin 1977) but I don't think I've read all of it yet. I enjoy LotR, The Hobbit, Farmer Giles of Ham (which has potential for a great TV movie that for some reason I see aimed at Christmas viewing), even Smith of Wootton Major - but despite son Christopher's best efforts I can't get into material that was really just the writer's background- and work-notes.
Non-sequitur based on illustrations: despite everything I've said about text versus art versus reader imagination, Pauline Baynes's illustrations for Farmer Giles
are irrevocably associated with the story. Tolkien thought so too: her Wikipedia entry
(obituary) quotes his reaction.
Another non-sequitur: I keep getting these two confused:
"He was Farmer Giles of Ham, and he had a red beard."
"Henry VIII was a strong King with a very strong sense of humour and VIII wives... His beard was, however, red."
speaking as someone who dresses as a character who's definitely described as *not* wearing this outfit but still had people look me up and down and go '....Conina, right?', it might be interesting to see what happens if Kidby ever draws it. or it makes it on screen.
And I've seen a lot of glee from people when they study someone and put the details together in their head and say '...you're dressed as so-and-so, right?'. Had a Duke (Wyrd Sisters) last year who looked at the character, then thought about it and then took inspiration from an entirely differently influenced role and it worked so well. He did the Ian Mckellen Richard III costume.
Mind you, one of the most successful Anguas I saw was last convention - slip, dog collar with badge and muddy up to the calf. And considering how many pics there are of Angua in uniform...
Since Conina is a sensible female barbarian warrior who takes after Daddy for pragmatism and practicality, she'll wear leather and mail and have no unnecessary exposed bits. I've never been convinced by the "my boobs/legs/tummy are a distraction" argument because where my focus of attention is concerned, three feet of naked steel trumps any amount of naked skin be it ever so attractive.
And along with that sword, the dagger and the small spiked buckler hanging from her belt, she also has a teeny dainty holster containing comb, styling-brush and scissors. Perhaps, because she's described as open to her feminine side, not just the hairdressing kit but the whole ensemble is embroidered with flowers and could even be in pink or pastels. It might be going a bit too far, but YMMV and a capably-handled sword, dagger etc. trumps incautious laughter! :-)
That take on the Duke is interesting; however, since the McKellan Richard III uniform is modified SS-Oberstgruppenführer, here the long-ago model-maker geek stands up. The rank was post-1939, so was never "available" as a black uniform, which had been discontinued "for the duration." It should instead have been a very elegant dove-grey which was IMO even more creepy, maybe because the SS rep was well-established by then and they didn't have to look sinister any more?
It would be more suitable, if a bit unsubtle, for Wolf von Uberwald. The alternative needs a build like an Olympic gymnast, and since underpants are specifically excluded, I don’t think that "costume" would be allowed in any case. Although it's black in the book (last line of p.203, hardback) I personally would move away from that too-obvious SS look, add the correct wolf-head biting a lightning-bolt insignia, and make it in a red so dark it’s almost black; appropriately enough, that’s the colour of well-dried blood. It took a while to mix it, but I now have just that shade as an ink for my fountain-pens, and it looks...splendidly ominous.
Thanks for the reminder about the "I've just changed" Angua from last year; it had slipped my mind even though I commented favourably to Diane at the time. It was clearly a lot less trouble than trying to recreate any of those uniformed pics, but was all the more striking and original because it was a result of thinking outside the box - or in this case, outside the picture-frame!
Well as regarding illustration versus character descriptions. Jim Butcher's Dresden files, the American editions always shows a shadowy figure in a long coat, staff and hat.
Jim Butcher has Harry hatless, in fact he now keeps commenting on the fact Harry doesn't wear a hat.
As for text versus illustration, movie or any is valid, so long as the source is acknowledged in my book. I wouldn't regard a particular illustrator as "canon", though I do prefer Kidby's illustrations to Josh Kirby.
I've already used "chaotic" to describe Kirby's art: I never liked it, especially when it started popping up all over the place as the unofficial label of "funny fantasy" but often wondered what his take on a straightforward sexy lady would have been like. Highly effective, I suspect: check out the voluptuous (but not excessive) curves on Conina and Ptracy, among others.
As for Jim Butcher, I'm a bit surprised he doesn't have more clout, enough at least to demand an accurate cover. (Continuous comments in the text are very amusing, but a sharp word with the publisher's art director is also required.)
I've been lucky: the Richard Hescox art for my US Book of Years
series is great, and Hescox himself has said how much he likes his painting for The Dragon Lord
(I agree!) The same compliments go to Mick Posen for the Prince Ivan
and Clan Wars
covers in the UK - in fact Posen saw I'd drawn my own illoes for the first three Horse Lord
books and got in touch with me to get the costumes right. That was seriously impressive, and he did the same for Diane's UK Feline Wizardry
books, even getting my little cat Kasha's expression of perpetual worry just right!
Cover versus content is a common writer's beef: Diane still holds up her first Door into Fire
- in TV Tropes under Contemptible Covers
as "horrid examples" of:
(1) Bad Art - the US version has humans with subtle, unsettling deformations of their hands and feet and a horse-shaped fire elemental that doesn't look remotely magical - it's just a pony drenched in napalm.
(2) Just Plain Wrong - the UK version used cover art originally intended for an Andrew Offutt Conan
novel: an oiled muscle-man with a big sword (ahem) and a naked chick clutching his leg. This is incorrect for the Middle Kingdoms in oh so many ways... Whether Offutt's book got Diane's intended cover, I don't know; if it did, the confusion must have been epic!
For most people a visual representation will always win out over a description. They more more embedded in the brain somehow.
In all the Oz books ( the magic shoes are sliver, and they are shoes not slippers. But someone in MGM made the decision to make them ruby red slippers as part of the movie was to be in techicolor. Ask just about anybody what colour shoes DG wore in Oz and it's extremely rare that anyone will say sliver.
Yes there has been a new book bring Oz into a more modern setting entitled Silver Shoes by Paul Miles Schnieder but
the ruby red slippers are just too embedded in the minds of several generations.
Movies and TV series will often reach a greater % of the population and the striking visuals stick with people and often if you have to explain your costume then it's just not working.
Absolutely: D has read the Oz books (I haven't) and commented about the silver v. ruby shoes bit - getting visual oomph for the Technicolor makes perfect sense - while to my eye the movie "slippers" are shoes, e.g. not fabric house and bedroom footwear.
That said, I've seen the word "slippers" used as an archaic term for formal shoes without pronounced heels - but then my Mum had bedroom slippers with heels (she was only 5 feet tall and went for all the help she could get :-) so duh!
I think what it boils down to is the old adage of 1 picture = 1000 words.
The 1995 Worldcon had a huge cast of costumers doing "The Return of the Hunt" from Julian May's Saga of the Exiles. There are no significant visual images of the Tanu that I'm aware of, certainly no video works (the covers of the versions I've got don't include characters, but evocative artefacts and scenery). I thought the representations were great apart from the golden torcs which were three inch thick collars at the back and swept up besides the ears into horns. Nice pieces. NOT torcs!
We were at the 1995 W-Con (heck, we were Toastmasters!) but what with one thing and another didn't see the Masquerade. Heard about it, though, and your comment about the odd torcs was echoed by many. Funny how people notice the "wrong" stuff rather than the "right" stuff. Oh well. Mega brownie points for the costume group, not only creating something from May's words and their collective imagination but agreeing on it, too. I know how the fannish mind works!