The Digital Costume Illustrations of X-Men: Days of Future Past

By Joe Kucharski - June 20, 2014

Digital costume rendering has grown by leaps and bounds in the last five to ten years. In an effort to streamline the illustration process, create more photo-realistic renderings, and match the tone and intensity of other areas, such as concept and production design, costume designers have been dabbling in a variety of computer programs with various results. While this technology is still only sporadically used in theatre, it has become the norm in the performing arts fields with much larger capitol at stake, such as themed entertainment, celebrity music tours, and the movie industry. Film costume designers and illustrators have taken the lead and are setting an impressive standard for the field. One of the star illustrators at the center of this artistic movement is the incredibly talented Phillip Boutte Jr. His credits include almost every blockbuster hit of the last few years, including The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Ender’s Game, Man of Steel, Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, Inception, and so many more.  I recently had the chance to ask Phil about his work with this dynamic medium.

X-Men: Days of Future Past. Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutte Jr. Costume Designer Louise Mingenbach.

 

Tyranny of Style: A lot of up and coming designers are starting to dabble in or consider the possible benefits of digital rendering. As someone who has been a real leader in this digital revolution over the last several years in the film industry, can you tell us a little bit about what the benefits are of creating digital costume renderings, and what are some of the possible trade-offs?

 

Phillip Boutte Jr.: The field of Costume Illustration has changed so much over the last 7 years. When I first started with fellow illustrator Christian Cordella, we were the first illustrators in costume to start really using digital techniques. We were still hand drawing but painting our illustrations in Photoshop.  The other technique that was new at that time was the ability to be able to scan in fabrics that the Designers gave us to make the illustration that much closer to the final product.  That technique has become dated so quickly! With the demand to raise the bar with new programs and to match the quality of work that concept artist display in other departments, we as costume illustrators have had to change with the times and learn new ways of presenting our work to help our designers stand out and excel.  As of late, I have been using silhouette painting techniques with a mixture of photo collage in order to get the desired look of photo-real illustration.  I have also started to learn how to use a program called ZBrush in order to digitally sculpt various elements of work to make my illustrations more accurate and precise. The benefits of using digital rendering in costume really comes down to productivity. I can change the color of garments with ease as opposed to having to paint them over again.  I can apply techniques to my illustrations that would never work practically. For example, in Corel Painter, I can use water color on top of oil if I choose to do so.  Working digitally also allows for many happy accidents. When doing silhouette drawings for costume, you can often overlay various iterations of your costume on top of each other and get variations that you would have never even thought of.

X-Men: Days of Future Past. Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutte Jr. Costume Designer Louise Mingenbach.

X-Men: Days of Future Past. Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutte Jr. Costume Designer Louise Mingenbach.

 

 

 

T/S: You are formally educated as an illustrator; can you tell us about how you built the skills that have made you one of the go to illustrators in the business?

PB: I studied traditional illustration at Cal State Long Beach. They have a wonderful well rounded program that teaches illustrators a little bit of everything. I learned how to draw in charcoal, conte crayon, pencil and ink.  I learned to paint with water color, gouache, colored pencil, acrylic, oil, etc.  I had classes in rendering, life drawing, which were met with storyboarding, costume figure, nude figure life drawing and sequential imagery. The program really forced students to learn how to paint traditionally before even remotely touching digital means. I did not even have a Photoshop class until my last 2 semesters before graduating.   It really helped me learn how to "see" and more importantly, how I draw.  My mentor Robin Richesson, really encouraged me to learn how I draw and to have fun with that and not be pressured to develop any particular style or fold under the pressure of trying to draw like others.

 The programs I learned first were Photoshop and Illustrator. Illustrator's pen tool drove me CRAZY!!!! (laughs) But I eventually got it, and used it mainly for inking my illustrations and adding text to them.  Now I use it occasionally to do flat drawings of garments and for symbols/logos. I took to Photoshop easier, but I really struggled at first to get the program to work for me and not against me.  I hated it at first because I felt like the painting aspect of Photoshop killed my pencil drawings' line quality.  I eventually learned the balance of using both and now I often draw directly in Photoshop to save myself a little time.  Although I had classes in Photoshop, the only way I got really good at it was to use it every day.  Also, I learned a lot by seeking the advice of my peers and fellow illustrators. There are always a couple different ways of approaching a problem; it helps to know multiple ways and the only way to know is to ask.

 I am now learning to use the almighty ZBrush! It is a hard program to get the hang of but I am taking it day by day.

For newcomers, I would definitely say that Photoshop is a must to know in order to do the job and ZBrush is coming up right behind, especially if you want to work on big sci-fi films. It is becoming a part of the norm.

 

X-Men: Days of Future Past. Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutte Jr. Costume Designer Louise Mingenbach.

T/S: For someone new to digital rendering, can you walk my readers through a typical rendering- start to finish?

PB: What happens on my first day of work is I usually read the script. From there, the Costume Designer walks me through their vision of what the characters should feel like. This often includes research images that they have pulled and put onto boards. It also may include inspiration images from fashion and history. Anything that they find useful in relaying what it is that they have in mind for each character.  I am also sometimes given quick sketches from Designers of what they have in mind for the look of a garment.  From there, I start with a nude figure/pose to nail the attitude of the character.  Once I have that, I may do a few thumbnail illustrations to give my designer some silhouettes to choose from.  It helps me warm up and it helps them narrow in on what they think will look best on the body of the actor.  Once we narrow down a general look, I take my thumbnail, blow it up and start working on detailing it to completion.  At this stage, I am working very closely with the Costume Designer to make sure that I am going in the direction that they want.  Once I reach a point that I know that they are happy with the look, I add in all my details and start photo collaging to make the garment look more real. This includes adding a likeness, textures to the garment whether they be reference from Google or scanned fabrics, and also distressing the garment digitally with a mix of painting and playing with color.  The last thing I do is light my character and make sure that they have a background that gives them a mood but does not overpower the ultimate goal of my illustration which is showcasing the costume.

X-Men: Days of Future Past. Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutte Jr. Costume Designer Louise Mingenbach.

X-Men: Days of Future Past. Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutte Jr. Costume Designer Louise Mingenbach.

 

T/S: Believable textures, fabrics and details at the right scale can be tricky; can you walk us through how you tackle this aspect of digital rendering, and what some of your favorite resources are for these images?

PB: This is a great question.  I try to grab as many physical examples as I can from the designer and when they are not readily available, I use Google and photo reference.  Sometimes, the swatches that the designer gives are very small and cannot be replicated easily. In these instances, I often find that it is much easier to create the pattern myself by painting my own swatch and then creating a brush out of it. Not only is it faster, but you have more control as an artist and it usually makes your finished piece look more like a painting and less like a Photoshopped mess! (laughs)  It helps to really study how things are made as well. The more knowledgeable you are and observant of how things work, the better your work will be.  For example, at one point, I was asked to paint a jacket that looked like it was made out of Taffeta.  I was not familiar with the fabric so I pulled up some images of it. What I found was that if you look at it closely, it has reflective rings in it that greatly resemble the rings you find in a tree when it is cut in half.  I quickly pulled up pictures in google of tree stump rings and then overlay those into my illustration. Worked like magic!

X-Men: Days of Future Past. Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutte Jr. Costume Designer Louise Mingenbach.

X-Men: Days of Future Past. Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutte Jr. Costume Designer Louise Mingenbach.

T/S: One of the hardest aspects of digital rendering can be accurately capturing the physical body- how do you tackle this aspect of digital rendering and what are some of your favorite resources?

PB: This is definitely hard! Having knowledge of anatomy helps a great deal. It is necessary.  You have to understand the form underneath the costume in order to render and draw it properly.  If you are not the best at drawing the figure, pull references so that you can constantly look at a body while drawing. I often use nude figures that I have acquired from various websites and model books.  I also pull pictures from Google of figures that I can find that are close to nude. Look for people in swimsuits, speed suits, wetsuits, catsuits, and underwear- really whatever you can find.  I then use these to paint on top of and anything I don't like about the pose, I change by painting it or adding other pieces that I like.  Don’t like the arms, change them. Don’t like the hands, paint new ones.  Whatever keeps you moving.  A great website that I use often for pose reference is www.posespace.com.  It has a lot of great model references for purchase and it also has a great search engine called the pose tool which allows you to get to the meat of what you are searching for. For example you can change your settings to specify that you want a nude female figure that is standing and holding a weapon! Random? Yes! Helpful? Yes!

X-Men: Days of Future Past. Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutte Jr. Costume Designer Louise Mingenbach.

X-Men: Days of Future Past. Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutte Jr. Costume Designer Louise Mingenbach.

X-Men: Days of Future Past. Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutte Jr. Costume Designer Louise Mingenbach.

X-Men: Days of Future Past. Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutte Jr. Costume Designer Louise Mingenbach.

X-Men: Days of Future Past. Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutte Jr. Costume Designer Louise Mingenbach.

X-Men: Days of Future Past. Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutte Jr. Costume Designer Louise Mingenbach.

X-Men: Days of Future Past. Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutte Jr. Costume Designer Louise Mingenbach.

X-Men: Days of Future Past. Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutte Jr. Costume Designer Louise Mingenbach.

X-Men: Days of Future Past. Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutte Jr. Costume Designer Louise Mingenbach.

X-Men: Days of Future Past. Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutte Jr. Costume Designer Louise Mingenbach.

X-Men: Days of Future Past. Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutte Jr. Costume Designer Louise Mingenbach.

X-Men: Days of Future Past. Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutte Jr. Costume Designer Louise Mingenbach.

X-Men: Days of Future Past. Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutte Jr. Costume Designer Louise Mingenbach.

X-Men: Days of Future Past. Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutte Jr. Costume Designer Louise Mingenbach.

A huge thanks to Phil for his wonderful insight and images. Check out more of his incredible work at http://www.modusmaleficium.blogspot.com/ and http://phillipbouttejr.carbonmade.com/!