Big Damn Well-Dressed Heroes: An Interview with Costume Designer Shawna Trpcic

Joss Whedon is a big deal these days.  ...OK, he was always a big deal, but The Avengers brought him to a whole new level.  For my part, I've dressed up as his characters, lead a (short-lived) Doctor Horrible shadowcast, and will be emceeing Can't Stop the Serenity.  Yea, I'm a fan.  However, there's someone on Team Joss that I admire even more: Costume Designer Shawna Trpcic.

Ms. Trpcic is one of Whedon's go-to people.  She designed the clothing on Firefly, Angel, Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Dollhouse, and Cabin in the Woods.  Geeky seems to be her forte, as she's also credited on Torchwood: Miracle Day and Dragon Age: Redemption. 

I reached out to Shawna for help with my YoSaffBridge costumes.  I expected nothing from such a busy, admired woman.  ...I got my answer same-day.*   WHOA, happiness!

I'm a pushy annoyance of a human being, so I asked for a full interview.  Here is the result, including questions from GGC readers.

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Geek Girl Chicago (from Jess):  What is your development process like when coming up with a costume design?  
Shawna Trpcic:  First, I read the script.  Then, I gather research.  For the mud mining episode folks of Jaynestown, I made a board of images of miners, mud hut builders,  sewage workers from all corners of the world, and notes on how they use protective clothing, etc.  Then, I come up with a design from that inspiration.

GGC (from Eric):  How did your designs change as actors were cast and scripts altered?  For example, Kaylee was originally imagined as Asian.
ST:  Only I imagined her as an Asian - the name screamed anime to me. :)  When pilot designer Jill Ohanisian and I met Jewel, we refashioned the character but kept some of the anime details.

Image Credit Fanporium Auctions
GGC:  During Firefly, did you get information about the planets- weather, geography, etc.- that influenced costuming?
ST:  No, that was not written in the script.  Often, the season we were shooting in determined the layers of the costume.   Take Patience - it was chilly in the desert that day, so we felt free to add the layers of a traveler.

GGC (from Troy) Did any of the actors on Firefly and Doctor Horrible get input on their costumes?
ST:  I usually gather the looks in the actors' sizes before our first fitting.  I do ask if they are allergic to anything, and some actors won't wear animal products, but on Firefly and Dr. H there were no restrictions.  During the fitting, I get input from the actors on everything from comfort and movability to how they finially understand the character because of the costume they are wearing.  :)

GGC (from Stephen): Have costumes from other films/media inspired your work?  How?
ST: Absolutely.  I am a great fan of many costume designers and artists.  A quilt artist inspired me to create my own fabric.  A Bollywood film helped me fall in love with East Indian textures and details.  Degas's ballerinas inspired my design for the ballerina in Cabin in the Woods.

GGC (from Eric and Tom):  We love Jayne!  Where did the idea for Jayne's very unique hat come from?  Who designed the imagery on his t-shirts, and how was it inspired?
ST: I designed the hat, and I co-designed all the graphics on his t-shirts with a Production Assistant.  He was great in Photoshop.  I would gather images from all walks of life and all cultures, and we'd sit in front of the computer for a few minutes and work out the image.  Then, I'd go to the librarian downstairs to get the Chinese character(s) I wanted on the tee.
The hat was based on a slipper my grandma would make me every Christmas with a giant pom pom on it.  It screamed homemade, pure comfort and love.  I sketched the hat with the pom pom and Joss loved it.  I painted it with watercolor, giving it the ombre look which we recreated with different color yarns... a lady named Elese knitted for me :)

GGC:  Very rarely, we see Kaylee out of her overalls and into something more modern and girly.  How did you pick Kaylee's girly-girl clothes, and what messages are they meant to deliver?  
ST:  The dress in the flashback was designed from a vintage, 1970 hippie dress that I used as a pattern, but cut and sewed in a vintage kimono silk... it was to convey her innocent, pure heart.

Image Credit Fanporium Auctions
GGC:  How about Inara's jewelry?  Where did it come from, and what inspired it?
ST:  A lot of her jewlery was from Little India - an East Indian area of Costa Mesa, California.  I loved that it looked like nothing on TV or film.   Its layers and intricate details were amazing!  I also had a few pieces made.

GGC:  I am SUPER curious about the Evil League of Evil from Doctor Horrible.  The costumes are so random!  Were the characters based around costume finds, or the other way around?
ST:  ...Totally random - mostly what Joss's friends had in their closets that we could put together - no budget, remember!  I did put together Drew's evil Thomas Jefferson costume, 'cause that is who he wanted to be, and Jed said he wanted to be an evil David Bowie. :)

GGC:  Will there be any more auctions of your work soon?
ST:  I'll have to see what I can find.  I'm starting to paint again, so I am cleaning out my art studio; never know what is filed away there!

GGC:  Finally, why are pink flamingos your signature?
ST:  'Cause they are considered brash and tasteless- an outsider in lawn decor if you may- and so are most sci-fi, fantasy, and comic fans.  ROCK ON!

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A sincere "thank you" to Shawna Trpcic for her time and insight, as well as all of the folks who submitted questions.  You're a bunch of big damn heroes!  FYI, I avoided questions that have already been answered in Firefly: The Official Companion, and other interviews.  Check 'em out if your question was not addressed above.

Shawna Trpcic - Official Website * Twitter

 

 

*FYI, Bridget's Trash skirt was made from a tablecloth.  ;P


 

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