They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?

Exclusive Interview with Kubo Costume Designer

By J. Don Birnam

January 13, 2017

I'm sure she's a lovely person.

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Deborah Cook, the costume designer for the hit film Kubo and the Two Strings, just made history by becoming the first person nominated for the Costumer Designers Guild Award for work on an animated film. Having received the plaudit in the Fantasy category, where crowd favorites like Rogue One and Doctor Strange are also being recognized, the question is whether the successful Laika picture can leverage this recognition into even bigger history making moments, with a nod for the film in that category at the Academy Awards.

In the meantime, we sat down for a conversation with Ms. Cook herself, who was positively radiant at the honor her fellow costume designers had bestowed upon her.

Box Office Prophets: Ms. Cook, first of all, congratulations on this historic honor. How did you find out and how are you feeling?

Deborah Cook:Thank you, thank you very much. It’s very exciting, it’s very amazing. I can’t believe it’s happening, and I could not be more happy. It’s really super cool, and I could not be more honored to be in that category with such talented and amazing people. I don’t know if you know but we are buried in snow in Portland and I got a call from Arianne [Suter, the producer of Kubo] very early morning with the news, with congratulations, and I could not believe it, it’s very surreal.


BOP:That’s awesome, congrats again. Tell us a bit more of what the process is like. For the uninitiated, how does one go about designing costumes for an animated film? And, also, do the animals, the beetle and the monkey also have costumes, or is it just the other characters?

Deborah Cook: No, the animals do not have costumes, but they have the same color palettes and textures as all the other characters, so their color and textures of the costumes are designed taking the animals into account and the animals are drawn and animated keeping those in mind as well.

What is important to understand is that the animators are in charge of moving the drawings or pictures throughout the reel, and to do this they have to take twenty-four shots per second of the characters. So the characters have to be dressed up in real costumes and we design real life costumes for them. But unlike live action where you have a body or a form that they fit into, here you don’t have that so you have to construct or engineer something to hold the costumes, and you have to design them and construct them so that they don’t move while the pictures are being taken. It’s a challenging but very cool process.

The actual costumes end up being nine, 11, and 15 inches in real size. They are very real and full of detail because you’re going to see them in very large screens.

BOP:Tell us a bit about your background and how you go about preparing for this kind of project. We also are familiar with your work in Fantastic Mr. Fox and Corpse Bride , which is great too.

Deborah Cook: Oh, thank you. Well, I went to Art School in Saint Martins [in London] and I had experience there with 3D stuff. I studied sculpting there, so I had experience with different scales and different materials. It also made me have a fascination with detail. That helped because when you are constructing these costumes, you have to get creative and understand the different properties of the many fabrics you may use. We design the costumes from scratch, they come from my imagination and we have to get creative with the materials we may use. Sculpting made me very aware that there are other materials that can be used for costumes.

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