Welcome to FrockTalk, the web’s only costume-based movie review site. The goal of Frocktalk is to shed light on the magnificent artistry of costume design in motion pictures. Reviews on this site are written by working costume designers in the entertainment industry – people who know, better than anyone, what it takes to make it all happen. The focus of FrockTalk is not to comment on the big flashy costume dramas, but to call attention to the seemingly ordinary costume design work in film that silently and persuasively moves the audience toward understanding the characters. Costume design for motion pictures is an art form that deserves more recognition than it usually gets. Fancy, pretty costumes do not always equal effective, appropriate costumes. The art of the costume is in letting the audience know who the character is, before the actor even has a chance to open his mouth. Read on, and enjoy. ** CAUTION: ALL REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS! **

Spotlight On: Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutte!

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Phillip Boutte is one of the hottest costume illustrators in town.  With a resume that includes box-office behemoths like Inception, Man of Steel, Twilight/Breaking Dawn, and Star Trek, his rise has been meteoric. We sat down to breakfast and ended up talking about everything from new rendering programs to racism in the media.  I really adore Phillip and am so excited to share this interview with you.  Grab a cup of coffee and join us, won’t you?

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Costume Designer: Arianne Phillips, Illustrator: Phillip Boutte

So here’s the deal, right?  Six years ago, I met you at ComicCon. 

Mmm-Hmm!

Six years ago, you hadn’t worked in this business.

Not at all.

Six years later, you’re sketching for Madonna, you’re sketching for Star Trek, for Catching Fire, You’re sketching for the biggest movies that are happening.  What are you doing?

(laughing)  I fell into costume.  I didn’t think that I would be in costume, at all.  It just kind of happened.  I went to Cal State Long Beach with and studied with Robin Richesson, who’s in our Guild, a great costume illustrator.  I knew that she did costume illustration, but I also knew that she did story boarding and other things.  So (costume) wasn’t ever really anything I thought about doing.  When we went to ComicCon, the Guild was there, and we met the designers who were there at the time, and I just kind of fell into it.  From that point forward, I just tried to give it my best effort.

So you were a student when I met you at ComicCon…

I had just graduated from college.  It was interesting – in college, we had a costume figure drawing class.  It was the one class we had where the figures weren’t nude.  Robin Richesson teaches that class.  I really enjoyed drawing the figure with clothes on; I enjoyed drawing characters.  At the time, since the curriculum at Cal State Long Beach didn’t have a character design class, I focused on costume.  Robin encouraged me to talk to her about it, but then I graduated and I didn’t think anything of it.  When I went to ComicCon, the Guild was there, and so it was me, and (fellow students) Brian Valenzuela and Oksana Nedavniaya, and we said, “Oh, that’s what Robin does –“  And we thought that maybe we should go and show our portfolios, but we were showing them to video game companies and animation companies, just trying to figure it out.  We showed our portfolios to some of the bigger designers, like Judianna Makovsky (Harry Potter), Isis Mussenden (Narnia).  Cut to:  a week later, Oksana is hired by Isis to go to Prague for eight months to do the second Narnia movie.  We were like, “Wow, that’s amazing.”  I joined the Guild and I got hired in January of that following year to do The Mummy III with Sanja Hayes.  That was my first job.

Let’s just consider that for a second.  That’s your FIRST job. 

(laughing) That was my first job!  It was probably one of the longer ones I’ve had; it was like six months.

Oh my gosh!  How many sketches do you think you did?

I don’t know; a LOT.  It was also Christian Cordella’s first job – it was our first job together.  I mean, I got lucky.  I ended up being stationed – after The Mummy – at Western.  Everyone there, including Eddie (Marks) was really welcoming.  I was in-house and was kind of learning the ropes.

Wait a second.  In-house?  How do you mean, in-house?

I was working at Western so I was AT Western.  I was working on a show at Western.  I think it was Wolverine, with Louise Mingenbach.  I was there only for like a week or so with her, then I worked with Rita Ryack for like a week and then I went upstairs and worked with Michael Wilkinson on Terminator.  Then I worked with Bobbie Mannix, who was doing a lot of commercials.  I kept getting moved around between different designers within Western – there just weren’t that many illustrators there.  I met tons of different designers right out of the gate, just because they were all there at the same time.

And this is within like, six months of you joining the union?

Probably within the first year.  I joined in December of 2006.  I wasn’t officially active until January of 2007, and then I got called in January to do The Mummy.  My last name is Boutte, starts with a B, so it’s like one of the first names people see when they look at the illustrators list, so I just lucked out!

High-five for Bs, right?

(laughing) That’s what happened; I lucked out.  I went to the interview, I dressed up – I was all like, had a suit on, and I had my portfolio.  I knew that I was interviewing for The Mummy, and that it took place in China, but that was all I knew.  I brought books – I had books on China, and I had ideas.  I told Sanja that I watched those movies and I know the characters.  I thought it was really interesting that they were switching the focus from the Egyptian thing to having mummies from different places.  I was really excited about it.  Sanja said she hired me because I brought in ideas.  She knew I was going to be really green, and she was trying to explain to me how much drawing was involved.  It was just not something I could have been prepared for, especially right out of school.  It was really intense.  Ten-hour days minimum, it was difficult at first.  But Sanja really was nice and like another mom to me.  She helped both Christian and me through the process. I mean, I was REALLY green at it.  Sanja was really patient and kind.  After that job, she invited me to come to Montreal with her and her family, so I took a trip there to go to set.  That was the first time I’d been to set, too.  I got to watch stunts and all kinds of things.  I got to see the costumes in action.

Did that inform your work, on some level?

It did, because it let me see that it’s not just a drawing.  It let me understand why things have to be a certain way – actors have to move, and there is such a difference between how some actors look in person and how they look on camera.  It was a really good experience to actually go spend some time on set.

Catching Fire - Costume Designer: Trish Summerville; Illustrator: Phillip Boutte

Catching Fire – Costume Designer: Trish Summerville; Illustrator: Phillip Boutte

What I find really interesting about meeting you in 2006 was that your style was like nothing we had seen before. 

I was doing more like a digital medium hybrid of the old style.  I was doing it the traditional way by drawing in pencil, and doing it by hand.  Then I would scan that illustration into the computer and paint it digitally, which, at the time, was a new thing for costume illustration.  Up to that point, everything was done by hand, in watercolor, colored pencils and gouache – traditional mediums.  I was painting by hand, but what I was also able to do was to scan in fabrics from the designer, and then put those fabrics in to my illustrations, instead of having to paint them or suggest them.  I could actually show them what it would be.  That was the first step in the process that was different from a traditional costume illustration.  From there, it’s now taken an even bigger turn toward digital where we’re using photo references or pictures, collaging them together.

I can take a fitting photo of something and make it look the way it’s supposed to look.  Through photo manipulation and painting, I’ll do my sketch in the computer – I’ll directly sketch into the computer instead of using a pencil – and then I’ll start to fill in actors’ faces, block in big shapes, block in a basic silhouette and start to draw, based on the specifications of what the designer has given me.  From that point, you can make things look a lot more real.  That’s a double-edged sword.

Sometimes I like the more traditional method, because it’s less literal.  When people look at it, they can see that it has the potential to be something, but they’re not judging it based on the fact that it has to be this real thing that looks exactly the way it looks on the computer screen, photo-real. What I’ve learned now, in general, producers need to see it photo-real in order to kind of sign off on it.  Depending on who you’re working with, some people can see what it’s going to be and they trust the designer to know what’s going to work out.  Other times, you really have to render something out in order for it to get approved.  But then we end up having to go back and do a pencil sketch anyway for it to be made, for people to see what those seam lines are, or…

So, concept sketch versus a working sketch…

Right.  What I’m starting to see is that costume illustration is shifting to concept art.  The art department has concept artists who design environments.  That’s what people are used to seeing now – it’s what they want to see.  They want to see costume illustration come up to that same level of detail.  In some instances, it’s awesome.  And it’s been really helpful to have realistic costume images that you can plug into the art department paintings, because they can see what the costume is going to look like in the art department environment, and they can get a good sense of the movie.  It really helps sell your ideas.

Costume Design and Illustration by Phillip Boutte

Costume Design and Illustration by Phillip Boutte

So let me ask you something… because, what’s tricky is to get a sketch that everybody loves, and everybody signs off on, and then get into a fitting and the actor is like, “Yeah, this is not working”…

Yeah.  That’s something that happens often. We will do tweaks on the illustration.  For the most part, the thing that I found that is difficult is that when you do something digitally, it’s not the actual actors themselves, so you can make them look ways that they would never look in real life.  To combat that, you really have to have a sense of what the actor is already like, and try not to draw anything that you can’t execute.  I find that sometimes if you get these conceptual artists on, especially when they do things before the designer gets there, it really causes a problem.  By the time the designer gets there, they have to figure out what it’s actually going to be on the body –

Not to mention late casting –

Yeah, late casting is a HUGE one, where you’re drawing these things – if you’re drawing the concept of a character that’s not cast at all, and they cast someone who is twenty pounds heavier than what you drew, or they’re way thinner that what you drew, it’s just never going to look the way it looks in the sketch.  That’s the part that we fight against so often.

Star Trek - Costume Designer: Michael Kaplan; Illustrator: Phillip Boutte

Star Trek – Costume Designer: Michael Kaplan; Illustrator: Phillip Boutte

How much of your work is done at the last minute? Because of late casting, because of late changes from the studio? How much of your work comes down to THAT, versus all of this beautiful prep time that you have to create these images? On a practical level…

On a practical level, not too much.  I‘ve been lucky to work on Sci-Fi projects and things where the casting is done well in advance, but you do still run into the same problems.  I think that’s where the magic of the costume designer comes in.  We had Leonard Nimoy, who plays Spock (on Star Trek).  He is now getting older, so he slouches a bit.  What they did in his costume, they built back the seam lines on the shoulders to make it look like he was standing up straight.  In the illustration, he looks like he’s standing up straight, but someone in costume has to backtrack with their technical wizardry and make the notations so it makes sense.  That’s where we really work in conjunction with each other.  Nowadays, people need to see things in a little more detail to sign off on it.  Once we get the sign-off, we will go back and do a pencil sketch to figure out what it actually is.

A working sketch.

A working drawing – or you just have good tailors who are able to translate those things.  The sketching itself serves to sell the idea.  What you fight against in the very beginning is that even though the initial image is signed off on, they do realize that it’s just a sketch, and the actual thing that’s being made is the finished product.  As long as you can win those battles ahead of time, then you won’t have people expecting something that they’re not going to get. If it doesn’t gel right away, it can get tricky.

When you sketch for other people on their shows, do you ever change your style of sketching, based on the material that they’re working with?

I do.  Lately I’ve been doing a more 3D, rendered style.  I try to set the mood by lighting things differently or by putting in different backgrounds, changing the environment based on what I know the project to be. Sometimes I am allowed to just do pencil sketches, or something that feels like more of a wash.  It just depends.  But the 3D technology that we have, including a program called ZBrush, which is like sculpting in the computer, is making a lot of headway – opening up doors for designers to do a lot of things they couldn’t do before.

So what programs do you primarily use?

I primarily use Adobe Photoshop.  I use Corel Painter a little bit, every once in a while to get a background. A lot of us are learning to use ZBrush because it allows us to do things much more quickly.  For example – for Tron – to design a helmet.  It’s much easier to design those things digitally and sculpt them, as opposed to painting it.  You take it to the meeting, and they don’t like it, and then you have to paint it again… ZBrush allows for much more variation, it’s already 3D, and you can light it, turn it.  Once you get the right design, you can take that helmet, turn it the way it is in your illustration, and plop it right in (using Photoshop).  It’s been really useful.

Inception - Costume Designer: Jeffrey Kurland; Illustrator: Phillip Boutte

Inception – Costume Designer: Jeffrey Kurland; Illustrator: Phillip Boutte

Are you learning a bit as you go with these new programs?

I am.  I’m also encouraging our Guild to get more designers involved in learning it.  Designers need to keep up just as much as we do. It’s almost impossible to run a crew of people who are doing things you don’t understand yourself. It’s something that, as illustrators, we’ve been wanting – we want more involvement with our designers.

How often do you find Luddite designers?

Not often.  A lot of the younger designers are coming in and learning.  I’ve talked with a few designers who are learning ZBrush – not so much so that they can DO those jobs, they just want a better understanding of the crew they’re running.  I also production design music videos – I have to run that crew, and I’ve done every job in the art department as well.  I’ve driven the truck.  When I go to tell the guy who’s driving the truck to go pick up all my stuff, I’m not going to have him go all over town randomly because I know those routes myself and how long it takes. These are basic management things that, in correlation to costume, if a designer knows how long it takes to render something, and if they understand the programs, it speeds efficiency.

Some designers know the programs really well.  Isis (Mussenden) knows Photoshop well – she’s not going to ask me to paint things in a way that is not efficient if we have a meeting coming up and time is a factor. Christine Bieselin Clark is another designer that I really enjoy working with because she’s very savvy with digital technology.  She sets up everything ahead of time so it’s very easy for an illustrator to know what she wants, what her process is, and how we can best help her.

Does she give you a croqui?

She gives us a basic body form, a pose.  If it’s a tough character, she’ll want his arms crossed and his head down.  From that point, she lets you as the artist translate that as best you can – she wants the attitude.  She also gives reference points, and she’s very specific in telling you what she wants.  From that point, she lets you play with it.  She knows that you’re going to figure it out, manipulate it, and she’s very gracious about those things.

Do you find that you do a fair amount of sketches for people who are trying to GET a job?

I do when I have time.  Especially with designers I’ve worked with whom I’ve enjoyed.  If they ask me, I will always help them.  It helps for a designer to come in to an interview with something.  Coming in with ideas, even if the ideas are completely wrong, shows that they did the work.  With technology being the way that it is, the industry has been opened up.  The strength of your idea is the most important thing.  Lots of people have basic, mediocre ideas, and are able to show them in a way that is really professional.  What separates people now is the strength of the idea.

On average, how long does each sketch take you?

For a nice, rendered sketch, I’d say at least two to three hours.  It’s nice to take longer, but it can be done quickly.  It depends on what technology you’re using and how much of the idea is already present.  If a designer knows what h/she wants, and can be specific, it’s really easy to give it to them.  It’s also much easier to then give them variations.  I think sometimes designers get scared about showing a bunch of things but the way people are used to looking at things now, they’re used to seeing in-process work.  A director can pick a variation on the character or mix different variations.  It’s very conceptual.  It’s concept art.

What do you like best about the job?

Research… and working with creative people.  When I was working with Sanja, I have never seen so many books on one subject except in a library.  It was so cool to learn about the different Chinese Dynasties and the building of the Great Wall, the terra cotta warriors and Chinese folklore.  Usually the research team is my best friend.  I love the thinking part of the job.

Phillip Boutte on set, as an art director

Phillip Boutte on set, as an art director

Tell me more about your work on music videos – art directing and production designing. Where does that fall, in the scheme of priorities in your life?

I’d still like to be an art director.  Having worked as an illustrator with music acts like Madonna with (designer) Arianne Phillips, and I just finished working with Chris Brown with (designer) Stacy Caballero.  I’ve been exposed to a lot of different things.  I love translating music into real life, artistically. I hear a song, and it inspires me to think of something visual that I can translate with the director.  It’s a really fun experience for me.  I think I’d like to be an artistic director on tours.  Something where I can combine my thought processes on production and costume together.

Who would be your dream artist?

Well, Michael Jackson, but… he’s gone.  Beyonce?  Any pop artist who is really good at performing and thinks outside the box.  Or country music – they are usually pretty specific about a mood, so they lend themselves well to different visuals that you might not get with other genres of music.  I studied art direction in school; I minored in film, and I majored in illustration.  The short version of the backstory with that is that I was a child actor…

Nah, nah, nah – I want the long version.

The long version is that I was a child actor from the time I was three until I was like sixteen or seventeen.

And what did you do?!  I didn’t know this about you!

I did lots of commercials.  I did Family Ties, Highway to Heaven, a lot of 1980s shows.  I was always working.  I grew up in film, but I wasn’t on this side of it.  I was always in front of the camera.

Phillip Boutte, Child Actor

Phillip Boutte, Child Actor

I had no idea that that was part of your background.  That’s crazy! How did that color your view of life and its potential, and what you could do with your world?

Acting leaves you very open to trying new things, especially as a child.  One week, I was learning to ride horses, and another week I was learning to play tennis, or basketball, or whatever it was.  I had a very open, freeform way of thinking.  My parents were very supportive, but they were also present.  I didn’t fall into the trap of hanging out with adults all day.  My mom was always there, and my dad would always come after work.

I started drawing in the times when I was sitting around, waiting on set.  I would draw in my trailer with old computer paper that my dad would bring me from work.  I’d draw superheroes, different characters, creatures; it was like a hobby. It was never something I thought I would end up doing full-time.

I stopped acting when I went to college.  I wanted to do something with a social responsibility angle.  I found that the roles I was auditioning for, and that I was getting – I didn’t like the way they represented young black males on television.  It was a big deal at the time, because every role that I was out for was like a drug dealer or a “troubled youth” kid that was being saved, or something.  I was really aggravated by it because I wanted to play a role that was more like ME: a normal kid who goes to school, gets good grades.  It just wasn’t out there.  It frustrated me to the point that I said, “Maybe I’ll take a step back and learn some behind the camera stuff or maybe I can tell my own story somehow.”  So I stopped, and I went to college and I majored in illustration, and from that point on, I was like, “I really like this,” Costume and set design came into play from me knowing I like drawing but also that I like film.  I had to find a way to fuse those things back together.  That led me to explore all the different illustration jobs that you can do within film.

When you were a kid, was there anybody who saw your drawings and encouraged you?

There were a few people, directors and actors who encouraged me.  It kept me going with it.  I mean, everyone draws when they’re little, and at some point, they stop.  I didn’t pursue it in earnest until I went to college, and learned oil painting and things like that.  Cal State Long Beach was really good for art.  Everything was old-school.  We didn’t learn to use the computer until our last year, which is really great.

How was it, leaving acting?  Was it a sad farewell?  I’m just really curious about this because this is something that potentially informs your work – 

I miss it sometimes.  It was less about the attention; for me it was just a fun part of my childhood.  It was fun to go to school, and then for three or four days, I’m magically at Disneyland filming something.  Which, as a kid, is pretty amazing.  For a few years, I was on Lambchop’s Play-Along, with Shari Lewis.  That was fun, too.  I have fond memories of growing up and doing fun things, and that’s how my parents kept it. I was bitten by the magic of film.

Did you feel, after you for better or worse “retired” from that aspect of the business, did you feel still drawn to it, moth-to-a-flame style, or did you think you’d make a break from it?

I definitely wanted to make a break from it, because as I grew older, I became a bit more private.  I’m very outgoing, and I talk a lot, but I never wanted to feel like other people’s thoughts of me validated myself.

Good for you – that’s very, very interesting. Particularly for a boy, to get that at a young age, that’s – not to disparage boys – but that’s huge.

No, not at all. I never wanted to get that feeling that actors base their feelings about themselves on what other people think of them.   That also extends to the things you own, the clothes you wear; I just didn’t want to go down that road.  My parents aren’t that way.  I started to get tired of it.  I started to get tired of the stories that were being told, and it led me to want to learn about something else. I still loved the industry very much.

Catching Fire - Costume Designer: Trish Summerville; Illustrator: Phillip Boutte

Catching Fire – Costume Designer: Trish Summerville; Illustrator: Phillip Boutte

In your perspective, where did television take a left turn into non-diversity?  When I was growing up, we had The Cosby Show, The Jeffersons, 227, and everybody watched those shows! I can tell you almost word-for-word some of George Jefferson’s speeches because I loved that show so much.  Where are those people in TV now?

I don’t know where they are.  Things are changing.  There are shows that are starting to promote diversity in general, but as a whole, I feel that the way that minorities are viewed is limited to certain groups within that minority, seen as the majority.  I don’t know exactly where that went wrong. My biggest thing has always been the fact that I’d like to see characters that are just characters FIRST, so it doesn’t matter what their race is. I don’t want to be the “cool black guy”.  I just want to be “the cool guy”.  I don’t want to be the “nerdy black guy”; I want to be “the nerdy guy”.  Certain stereotypes of different races will overshadow what that character is to a certain point so that they can’t ever naturally fit into their environment.

But how did we do it before?  With the popularity of The Cosby Show and The Jeffersons, just as an example – people watched those shows, and it wasn’t geared toward a predominantly black audience.  We have plenty of TV shows now that are predominantly black cast but they’re geared toward and shown on networks –

For black people.  Exactly.

I don’t understand.  That was like twenty-five or thirty years ago.  What happened?!

I was watching something on TV, an interview with a big studio exec.  He said something along the lines of, “Oh, black people don’t see themselves that way.”  It was a telling statement, like we’re only viewed a certain way.  That’s what’s put out there.  I don’t why it keeps happening.  It’s fear.  It’s also fear of marketability.  It’s a risk, and that’s the thing that I think is sad.  It’s a risk to have a big blockbuster interracial relationship.

It’s 2013!!

And that’s what’s so difficult.  I would love to see a movie like James Bond or a Bourne Identity or an action film where you have a black lead actor cast, and they just ARE that person.

Have you heard about Idris Elba being talked about for Bond?

Yes.  Which I think would be amazing.  What I want, is when he does it, I want him to add his own feel to it, but I don’t want them to overdo it.  Something I was really disappointed in – when Will Smith did Wild Wild West, I was really proud that they were placing a black actor in a role that was traditionally played by a white actor…

And it wasn’t like “A black sheriff?!”

Exactly.  But then they ended up still calling attention to it, and that was disappointing to me.  They kept making “boy” references to explain why he was able to black in that time period instead of just letting him be and not saying anything about it.

Do you think they were afraid of revisionist history?

They were.  But at the same time, it’s a movie, and it’s fantasy.  I mean, there’s a big, giant robot spider.  So if I can believe that there’s a big giant robot spider, why can’t I believe that this guy just is who he is and you’re telling a story based NOT on the trappings that we’ve actually dealt with.  That’s my only quibble.  People will accept things because that’s the world we live in.  We all are mixed up together.  If you just write those characters in a way that they are real, people will follow them, regardless of what they look like.

The only contemporary example I can think of is That’s So Raven.  Full disclosure – I designed the pilot and first five episodes of That’s So Raven, and I was very proud of that show for reaching out to a general audience, irrespective of color.

Well, you also have Raven, who comes from The Cosby Show, so you have that kind of support.  It is getting better.  There are shows like A.N.T. Farm – China McClain – she’s got her own show, and Disney really promotes her, just as they promote any of the other Disney kids.  There’s a show called Doc McStuffins, which is a little CG black girl who fixes her toys.  Now that I have a daughter, I look for these things, and these are things that I’m very excited about because I didn’t have anything but The Cosby Show.

The biggest dream that I have is art directing, designing, or maybe even directing something that takes a little minority kid on an adventure like Harry Potter, or The Neverending Story, Willow, Labyrinth, Dark Crystal, that kind of thing.  Those are all movies that I watched when I was little, and I always had to imagine myself in that role.  I couldn’t identify with it because the person didn’t look like me.  That’s something that I would like to provide for a new generation for all minority kids – to have the experience.  It’s okay for you to go on this magical wizard adventure and you’re the lead character!  You don’t have to imagine what you would look like in a role that’s not for you.

Comic books are starting to do it, too. In the new Spiderman that was just released, Spiderman is a mixed kid; he’s black and Latino.  I think it’s awesome because some kid growing up somewhere reading comic books like I did will be able to directly identify with that character and say, “Hey – I could be Spiderman!” instead of wishing but not having a direct correlation.  I feel like it’s opening up.  Take a character – if you’re going to reimagine Batman – if you start it over again, make him something else.  He doesn’t have to continue to be that same guy.

Because isn’t Batman or Spiderman  – isn’t that about the spirit or heart of the character? I mean, is it really about the color of their skin?

It’s not.  You can have the same scenario – give them the same background – he could be a rich, affluent guy, who’s a minority…

Russell Simmons for Batman!!

Russell (laughing) He could definitely be that!  Any of it, as long as it stays true to the character.

I just think that it’s really interesting, and I’m glad that you talk about it because I was thinking about it the other day, and I wondered where it had all gone –

It’s difficult.  In certain instances, it’s getting better and in lots of other instances, it’s getting worse.  Also, to be fair, reality TV has killed a lot of sitcoms.  Sitcoms in themselves will always push boundaries in different ways.

But even a drama? 

That’s the other thing.  You do have some lead black actors who are on dramas now, and it’s great.  They just play characters – Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice – where they’re just people.  Hollywood just needs to promote more of that to me.  Even gay characters.  Don’t make them over the top.  Just make it like that’s what they happen to be.  Or for Asian characters – make them NOT sexless, where they’re comedic relief.  Make the lead actor a handsome Asian guy that happens to be good with getting ladies.  Take it out of the stereotype, because these other people exist, too.  More often than not, if you knew more of those people, you would recognize that THAT’s more the norm.  Most all of my black friends are college graduates, all very educated, very smart.  Not necessarily into hip-hop, or baggy clothes and cursing.

It seems so ridiculous –

It’s ridiculous, but it’s the truth.  I also saw recently this politician.  He said that he has sat down with a black family to have dinner.  The way he said it, it was innocent, but very racist, but not the type of racist where he was a bigot, he just wasn’t informed.  He said something along the lines of, “And I was so shocked that they sat down to have dinner… “ And I was like, “What do you think that we do?  Do you think that we run around like in our underwear, or, I don’t know what you think!” The inference of it was really telling.

I think that a lot of people, especially of that generation, weren’t raised in an integrated world.  They might not have black friends.  They might not have EVER been to a black person’s house for dinner, ever, in their life –

But it’s a problem to me when you’re not applying the same thought process that you have for yourself to someone else.  Just because you’ve not been raised around a group of people doesn’t mean that those people don’t do human things, like sit down to dinner, or have family relations.  I think it’s proliferated also by the news.  The news only shows the same types of people in the same types of settings.  It’s just ingrained in our culture.  Speaking for black people, it seems like black males are dangerous, or oversexed, or oversexualized, or gangsters, or rappers, or athletes.  The stereotype is hinged on a few people, not the whole.  In any race, anywhere, in any group, there’s tons of diversity within those groups.

You could say that twenty-year-old American white men are oversexed and rappers and all of that, too.

Exactly.  It can be anything like that.  It’s different context, but it’s all the same.  Hollywood needs to promote the diversity more.  Just throw someone in there. Throw them in there and be okay with it.

But it’s that risk-averse thing.  I was reading an article yesterday – it looked at all the movies that have made money over the past years.  1981, here are the movies that made money.  1991, 2001, 2011.  The biggest grossing movies of 2011 are sequels.  All of them, every one of them.  Why? Because Hollywood is risk-averse.  Putting a minority character in a familiar role, that has up to that point always been white, is a risk! I think that people need to get their balls in a group and just do it. 

I think they need to take the risk because everyone will be better for it.  At one point, there was talk of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson being Superman.  That would have been awesome.  It didn’t happen, but it would have been awesome.  Just switch it out.  If they do it once and it’s successful, they will jump on the bandwagon.  Then it’s open season.  Take any movie that’s come out within the last ten years, and think about if that character was just slightly different.  The strength of the story and the strength of the character does not change, it’s only just what they look like.  If people can just do that, I think it would be better.  That’s what I want to happen.  I’d love to inspire some little kid somewhere to grow up and know that they CAN be a wizard; they CAN go on an adventure in a storybook.

Costume Designer: Arianne Phillips; Illustrator: Phillip Boutte

Costume Designer: Arianne Phillips; Illustrator: Phillip Boutte

They CAN be an illustrator for Madonna, HELLO!!

Exactly.  It’s starting to get better.  When I was at Cal State Long Beach, I was one of maybe two black kids in the whole art department.  As I left school, there started to be many more.  Now when I go back, there are way more.  It’s something that needs to be promoted.  It’s not just outside; it’s inside our own culture, too. I want to open up the doors so people know that this is a career path! Most people don’t know that my job even exists –

But they will now!! (laughing)

(laughing) Thank you very much.

I’m just so thrilled to be able to sit down and talk with you.  This is a part of our world that so often people don’t get to see. 

It’s something that’s gaining a bit more visibility, and it’s something that I want to push for the Guild to promote.  It makes the whole body of membership stronger, makes the designers stronger as well.

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Big thanks to Phillip Boutte for the awesome breakfast chat.  If you’d like to see more of his work, check him out at http://phillipbouttejr.carbonmade.com/ – Have a great week, Frocktalkers!

– KMB

 

 

 

 

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