The 3D Printed Costumes of Disney's Festival of Fantasy Parade

By Joe Kucharski - June 15, 2014

Disney's Festival of Fantasy Parade, the latest parade to open at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, features some of the most vividly imaginative costumes to date, complete with exciting use of new and emerging costume technology. Truly a spectacular showcase of Disney creativity and innovation, Disney's Festival of Fantasy Parade represents a collaboration between Disney Creative Entertainment and costume designer Mirena Rada. Rada’s credits, in addition to her list of Disney show and parade costumes at their parks around the world include Big Apple Circus, DreamWorks stage productions, film and Broadway. I recently had the chance to ask her about her designs, and her inspiring use of 3D printed elements.

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada. (photo: Ricky Brigante)

 

Tyranny of Style: Your body of work contains a ton of wildly creative, over the top designs. Can you tell us about how you ended up in costume design- your early passions, training, and how that path led you to this type of work?

Mirena Rada: As a teenager, I had my first design epiphany when I discovered the work of the brilliant Russian illustrator ERTE in a small gallery in San Francisco. His intricate and sculptural designs became my first costume inspiration bible and still thrill me to this day.  I had just moved to the US from Romania, where I left behind my serious childhood piano/music career with no prospect of being able to pick it up again in the US.  With no money for a piano or music school, I had been flailing until I found my passion for design.  Armed with my new purpose, I set off on every museum internship, theatrical job and artistic educational experience I could find;  my formal training included a Fashion Design degree as well as an MFA in Costume Design at NYU.  However, the best education in the field came from my early mentors who shaped my view of the art of design and its place in the world --  the legendary production designer Tony Walton, the amazing Sally Parsons of the costume shop Parsons-Meares, the costume designers Miruna Boruzescoux and Gabriel Berry, and the imaginative large scale event producer and visionary Karin Bacon, amongst others. These incredibly talented and generous people, along with their associates and collaborators, taught me priceless lessons about honing and trusting my own design point of view, and about inspiring all of the various artistic partners-in-crime to go on the journey with me.

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada. (photo: John Frost)

 

 

T/S: In all of your designs for Disney, you've made incredibly inventive use of technology- from graphic digital renderings, to work with LED elements and fabric sublimation. Can you tell us about how you see the intersection of costume design and new technology, and how you have used these different elements in your work?

MR: I love a flawlessly researched museum quality costume as much as the next person, but as a designer I am turned on by the prospect of utilizing new technology and unusual elements/materials to every new project, especially sculptural and kinetic components.  In the spirit of "it's not the destination, it's the journey", my favorite part of any project is the discovery process itself, and there is nothing more delicious than crossbreeding costume design with new or non-traditional technologies.  

I first started working with programmable LED technology twelve years ago when I designed Avenue Q, the long-running Broadway musical with puppet and human characters.  Xmas Eve's zany wedding dress was designed to light up like a Christmas tree (of course), and back then we engaged a local robotic company to integrate the lights in the obi, skirt, and tiara, which were then activated by a small printed circuit board with several programming modes and a handheld switch (hidden in her wedding bouquet).  It was quite a learning experience.  The battery pack used to be enormous in those days.  That dress, though revised, still lights up every night Off-Broadway, and serves as a reminder of my first electrified costume.  Cut to 12 years later and designing the new Hong Kong Disneyland Electric Parade, I am making full use of every type of light source and conductor imaginable -- smart LEDs, video panels, fiber optics, printable EL, lasers, all activated by DMX and Infrared signals. These costumes will be fully programmable and interactive, and able to be "painted" by the audience.  We've come a long way. 

It was serendipitous when Disneyland purchased its first sublimation machine while I was designing one of my first parades for  California Adventure - the Pixar Play Parade.  My design concept was to go boldly graphic and trompe l’oeil — working side by side with a talented in-house graphic artist and armed with the Pixar style guide, we had a blast creating countless custom patterns and engineered designs which were then printed on various woven and stretch fabrics.  This technique has allowed the resorts to replenish as needed and maintain quality control for all the years the parade has been running, without  the fear of running out of fabrics only found in the marketplace.  We were the guinea pigs for the sublimation department all those years ago, but it paid in spades and has resulted in a top-of-the-line fabric printing department that supplies all the global Disney parks.  The range of fabrics and techniques have also grown tremendously, and now the ease of material customization has forever changed my design process.

My introduction to the 3D printing and rapid prototyping techniques for costume design came last year when I partnered with the Disney Central Shops, and it has revolutionized my design process yet again.  It has given me the ability to pre-visualize and then construct complex 3D shapes in lightweight materials that can be painted, plated and adorned.  I have only scratched the surface of this technology’s potential, and am already looking forward to the next time I get to use it.

 

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

 

T/S: Your most recent design for Disney's Festival of Fantasy Parade features 3D printed headpieces. Can you talk to us about the initial design process for these pieces? For instance, did a knowledge of this technology inform the design? Or did you design them independent of the technology and then discover it was the best way to create them?

MR: In this case, the design came before and independent of the 3D printing conversation.  Having learned a great deal from this initial experience, I will absolutely approach any future design with the 3D process in mind.  One of the costumers on the Magic Kingdom team arranged a fortuitous introduction between myself and the Materials and Process Engineer Lisa Hanusiak early in the costume build to discuss making a couple of items in house.  Lisa is the engineering genius who distills the designer's idea, and then orchestrates her team of digital and traditional sculptors, engineers, mold makers, painters, puppet-builders, and artisans to take the idea and turn it into reality.   

In the case of the raven mask, we began by constructing a paper origami 3D mask utilizing a program that creates paper craft models from 3D data.  It allowed us to test the scale of the mask and the range of motion on a human head.  Once we landed on the ideal general shape/size, Lisa brought in a wonderful digital sculptor (who normally works with the WDI animators) to create the filigree mask design in a 3D program.  We spent a couple of hours together working out the layout in person, then followed up by email to finalize the filigree details.  The 3D rendering of the mask was then 3D printed and tried on the performer for final feedback, as well as to establish placement of additional inner brackets used for helmet attachment points. Once the bracket artwork was added to the 3D file, the final prototype was printed, smoothed, primed, painted with a brassy metallic paint and patina, then rhinestoned.  The benefits are outstanding: each subsequent Raven mask is easily and consistently produced, while being incredibly lightweight and durable compared to a metal version, and can be easily adjusted in 3D for different shaped heads (if needed).   

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

 

 

T/S: Can you expand a bit on the process of having these headpieces created and made fully functional for a live production?

MR: The initial sculpting was done by Disney digital sculptors utilizing the costume renderings, then several revisions where the digital sculptor sent renderings for mark-up, and then a final interactive design session to incorporate any final changes or finishing touches.  The sculpt is then taken into an engineering software package and a mechanical engineer will receive guidance on features that are required to incorporate costume attachments or features such as parting lines, trim lines or feature locations to be used in fabricating the pieces.   Once the part is fabricated, there is a process of fittings and fine tuning of the costuming adaptation to the performer.

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

T/S: Can you tell us more about the finished materials utilized in the 3D printed pieces in the parade?  

MR: A number of different rapid prototyping materials were used for various pieces in the Festival of Fantasy parade, but in general the material selection process is as follows.  The Objet Vero White material is typically used for very high resolution parts such as the models to create the silicone molds for the Highland Dancer male pin and female headband and belt disks.  If molding a soft material that requires fine detail, then the SLA materials such as the 3D Systems Accura 25 can be used to directly print the mold, as in the case of the Tangled Mime inflatable.  In other cases, pieces such as the raven mask would have required a complicated molding process, so the decision was made to digitally manufacture the mask itself out of a carbon fiber/nylon SLS material.

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

T/S: Can you expand on the decision for some 3D printed costume pieces to be the final product while others may have been molded and cast in another material?

MR: The characteristics of each piece can dictate a different technology path for a given costume element.  The surface detail, the desired finish, the quantity being fabricated, how the piece is going to be used and whether the application requires strength, stiffness, heat resistance or lightweight properties can influence the technology and material choices.  The Stereolithography (SLA) materials are less durable and less heat resistant, but have higher resolution, so if there is a piece that has a lot of fine detail to it, then a high resolution SLA print is typically used as a model to create a silicone mold and the part is then molded.  Or, as in the case of the sea shell, the need to have the clear material be UV color stable was the deciding factor on rapid prototyping versus molding the shell.  The Selectively Laser Sintered (SLS) materials are stronger, more durable and heat resistant, so for pieces such as the raven masks the framework requiring high stiffness and the desire to keep them light influenced the use of the carbon fiber reinforced nylon material.

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

 

T/S: Can you expand on some of the finishing techniques that were utilized?

MR: In some cases, a fiberglass or carbon fiber laminate is applied to the inside surface of an end use piece or to the outside surface of a printed mold to strengthen the material and increase durability.   The finishing process can vary widely depending on whether the rapid prototyped piece is your mold model, the mold itself, or the end product.  But, in all cases there is some amount of smoothing required because each rapid prototyping process leaves build lines that are aesthetically undesirable.  In general, the objet printing requires just a fine sanding, the SLA prints a little more sanding and the SLS materials can require sealing first since they are slightly porous and a fair amount of smoothing due to the grainy nature of their surface.  The newer machines being designed and currently coming to market have made great strides in the resolution of the printing though.  After sanding the piece smooth, an epoxy primer is typically applied prior to painting the part.  Or, if it's a model for mold casting a sealer is applied to the model that won't inhibit the cure of the silicone mold material.  

 Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

T/S: What was the comfort/fit/problem solving phase with performers like?

MR: Each of the head pieces were sculpted around digital scans of millinery head forms.  The size of the head form was chosen based on the data provided by Disney Costuming experts based on the specified height range of the performers.  So, the size of the final sculpted piece was pretty close.  With both of the raven mask and the sea shell head piece, there was some iteration around how the piece was going to be attached to the performer, which involved both costuming and millinery.

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

 

T/S: Do you have an idea on their durability/how well they have held up?

MR: The raven masks have been in use for several months now with no damage being sustained to the rapid prototyped part.  There have been several drops though that resulted in some of the Swarovski crystals on the outside surface needing to be replaced.  But other than that, the raven masks have proven to be very durable for a parade application, which can be a very harsh environment for costuming.

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada. 3D printed buckles. (photo: Ricky Brigante)

 

T/S: Have you utilized 3D printing in any of your other costume design projects?

MR: Once the 3D Printing Pandora's Box was opened, we enthusiastically used it everywhere we could - custom buckles, broaches and medallions, The Sea Shell Headdress, head piece molds, etc.  In some cases we used the 3D print to make the initial mold, which was then cast in other materials; in other cases we used the actual printed item.

 

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

T/S: And how do you see using this technology in the future and do you think the technology itself is currently well suited for costume design projects or are their problems in the technology you think needs further development?

MR: Oh, it's a dream to work with and incredibly useful on so many levels, from pre-visualization, to customization to a performer, to working out maquettes. Because this technology is rapidly evolving, improving and becoming more cost effective and because there is an ever increasing variety of new materials to choose from, this is a technology that is well suited to costuming applications.  Digital sculpting is being utilized more widely to create costuming elements and utilizing the rapid prototyping process is a natural evolution to bring those digital designs into the real world.  Also, select costume pieces, predominately hard pieces, can be brought from concept into production much more quickly using rapid prototyping.  Additionally, if one is only creating a few of a given piece, rapid prototyping can make the difference between an economically feasible production cost and the creation of molds that could be cost prohibitive for small quantities.  There is always the desire though to have better materials, higher resolution and a lower cost to the rapid prototyping and over time this is becoming a reality.

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

 

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

Festival of Fantasy Parade, Disney World. Costume Designer Mirena Rada.

 

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Thank you so much to Mirena for taking the time to let us in on her thrilling process and the behind the scenes use of 3D printing technology! Please visit Mirena Rada’s Costume Design Portfolio site to see more of her incredible work.

 

A huge thank you, also, to the wonderful people at Disney that were instrumental in providing images and approving Mirena’s responses. Below is just a list of some of the wonderfully talented artists and collaborators behind the work you have seen above:

Costumer – Jansen Dupuis, Walt Disney Creative Entertainment

Sr. Digital Sculptor – Robert King, WDI Character Programs & Development

Mechanical Engineers – Neometrix Engineering [Raven Mask]; Kimberly Lau, WDW Design & Engineering [Sea Shell Head Piece]

Materials & Process Engineer – Lisa Hanusiak, Walt Disney Creative Entertainment

Manufacturing – Zaw Mayat, WDW Central Shops

Finishing – Jill Judy, WDW Central Shops

Human Factors & Ergonomics – Dan Padilla, WDW Safety Services

Scanning Services – EMS

Rapid Prototyping Services – Advanced Laser Materials (ALM) [Raven Mask]; C.Ideas [Sea Shell Head Piece]