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DVD Talk Interviews Star Wars and Marvel costumer Kelly Cercone

Kelly Cercone is name you're likely unfamiliar with, but you have most assuredly admired her work. She's made her mark doing costume materials work on productions such as Westworld, American Horror Story, and Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame.

Most recently, she's been bringing to life the Joseph Porro-designed costumes of The Manadalorian (filming a scant two miles from the DVD Talk offices). We sat down and spoke to her about her art, world-building, and a certain adorable alien.

DVD Talk: What is a Table Person? Can you explain your job to someone unfamiliar with costuming?

Kelly Cercone: A Tableperson is essentially the assistant to the Patternmaker/Fitter. A big show will often have more than one team of a single Cutter and single Tabeperson and several Stitchers. As the assistant, I help my boss finish a variety of tasks: patterns, cutting fabric, prepping things for the Stitchers, sewing, inventory and communication with shoppers for supplies, et cetera. “Tableperson” is a term somewhat specific to my union and often the same position is called “First Hand”.

DVD Talk: How do you tell a story with clothing and design?

Cercone: A million ways! Color is huge, as humans tend to consciously and subconsciously associate different traits with certain colors. Each character can have a color palette to themselves (Such as the Fall) or the whole movie. A good way to communicate character is to think about how that person would prefer their clothes. Are they causal/loose fitting, or uptight/preppy? The fit really works with the actors’ performance to effect posture and mannerisms; which in turn convey character and story. Evolution of a costume can also tell story. Was the person promoted/upgraded? Have they been running around in dangerous situations? That can cause aging and distressing.

DVD Talk: What's your favorite project you’ve worked on and why?

Cercone: That's really hard, as I’ve been lucky to work on so many costumes/projects I've really loved. Co-workers on a project can make a huge difference, so for that reason working on "fandom" type projects has been stand-out. These projects tend to attract very creative, talented, and fun people who are personally excited by their love of fandom to make the best film they can. I’ve made some really great friends.

Cercone in an intricately designed dress she created.

Some characters in big budget films are now partly digital and partly practical. Does that effect how you do your job? Does part of your job involve materials-working simply for digital reference?

Yes, definitely. Sometimes it will be we make one version that is 1/2 of their usual costume so the other 1/2 can be done digitally to make a certain effect/stunt. Some characters are only digital, so making samples of the whole thing or just fabrics/trims that can be scanned and used digitally goes a long way to making them feel more real (also you have a nice display costume after). I've also made stand-in costume pieces for the actors to use on set, so any movements or actions they make are more organic.

DVD Talk: You've worked a lot on Marvel films, now Star Wars, and a couple Avatar sequels. Obviously, those are major franchises beloved by millions. Is there however a type of project or genre you'd like to work on that you haven't yet?

Cercone: I’d love to do more period films. I originally got into costumes through reenactment and classes offered by the Bay Area Costumers Guild. In Los Angeles, it’s rare to do period earlier than 1940's unless it’s a western. Most of the really big period films are made in Europe.

DVD Talk: What’s the aesthetic you strive for in the Star Wars Universe and how does that differ from something else you've worked on, like Thor: Ragnarok, which could on the surface seem to be a similar space-operatic adventure?

Cercone: The aesthetic for current/new Star Wars is largely set by the Design Team, and Lucasfilm Concept artists (I am not part of either of these teams). George Lucas has spoken about being heavily influenced by mythology (The Hero’s Journey), Spaghetti Westerns, Kurosawa films, and obviously early sci-fi. When looking at the costumes, we can to see how these storytelling influences also helped shape the aesthetics. For our "good guys", Westerns and Samurai clothing styles were blended to make a base, then specific planets, species, and social groups get their own additional influences. For our "bad guys" the aesthetic was heavily inspired by WWII Nazi Totalitarianism and their propaganda. Natural fibers and distressing help ground the aesthetic in realism. while little things (like no visible zippers) and touches of weird plastic and metal details help remind the viewer it’s not quite the same as our world. The later and most recent films build on all of that; and personally, in the sequel trilogy I see additional fairlytale influences. Like, Kylo Ren's costume in The Rise of Skywalker costume screams dark fairlytale prince and anyone who disagrees can fight me.

Sorry, went on a tangent.

DVD Talk: That’s totally alright! It’s an insight to the creative process.

Cercone: To me the aesthetics are different because ultimately the stories they are telling aren’t quite the same. Marvel is trying to tell stories "of our time" were as Star Wars is more "Timeless". Star Wars is space opera, it's dramatic/epic mythology-driven storytelling, always trying to be somewhat grounded in realism. Marvel in comparison is pure high fantasy adventure. Marvel has much more freedom to be wild and daring with its aesthetic. They don't have to explain the how or the why of anything because to a certain extent anything goes as long as its entertaining and drives character motivation and plot.

Like, can you imagine someone in the Star Wars Universe discovering their father was a planet? That would be huge, unbelievable prophecy level news. In the Marvel Universe everyone is just like, "Yeah... OK, that's super weird. Next?"

Cercone's work has ranged from 19th Century dresses to futuristic super suits.

DVD Talk: How do you balance influence from other properties or stories with original creativity? For instance, there's a female Mandalorian whose helmet seems more Greco-Spartan influenced.

Cercone: For my own projects, it usually just happens organically through the design process (A mix of the original property, outside influences I want to include, practical concerns, and available time/materials). There's a lot of, “Oh I like this thing! What exactly do I like about it?” Breaking influences down into elements can help you better incorporate them into a design naturally.

For example, after The Force Awakens, me and several friends wanted to make Knights of Ren costumes. Since we were all female, we decided to make our own designs in the same aesthetic. Starting with research into the knights, I got several key elements of their costumes to carry over (black, textured/distressed, medieval/tech mash-up inspired weaponry), combining those with my gender, height, and personal preferences (fencing, archery, no restriction of movement) I started to create a mental picture of a character who could still fit within those elements to make initial designs. Next through sourcing materials, I tweaked the design as needed until everything came together as cohesively as possible.

Cercone's Knight of Ren personal work

DVD Talk: Perhaps not surprisingly, you're also a cosplayer. What do you bring to your cosplay that you can't do with onscreen productions?

Cercone: Usually time is the biggest factor. If I want to sit and spent a million years hand embroidering something I can, there is no cost to the time/labor involved. But say a TV show has a 10-day turn around on an episode, it probably won’t work to make the embroidery the same way vs doing it by machine unless you got the budget approved to hire more embroiderers. The [equation] for cosplay is usually time plus quality, minus money, versus TV/Film is usually quality plus money, minus time.

DVD Talk: Can you talk about your work with Hot Topic's Her Universe?

Cercone: I entered I believe the second year that the Her Universe Fashion Show was at San Diego Comic Con. It was actually my first time at SDCC, so I remember being excited but kinda overwhelmed. The show itself was very fun, I'm still in touch with many of the other contestants. The love and excitement of geek fashion is infectious! When Leetal and myself won the competition, we became designers for one Her Universe collection to be sold at Hot Topic (The Force Awakens collection) We submitted our design then worked with the Her Universe design team to source original fabrics/trims, fit samples, and ultimately produce the finished collection at a factory. Over all it was a wonderful experience and I encourage more people to enter. I still try and make it to the show every year.

Cercone's designs have been featured in Hot Topic's Her Universe line

DVD Talk: And lastly... did you make "Baby Yoda's" clothes?

Cercone: No, but one of my good friends did. She loved him so much she put up a concept art sketch over her work station. In the workroom we ended up jokingly calling it her baby whenever they came up in conversation.

You can currently see Kelly Cercone's work on Disney+, HBO Go, and in a variety of films and television. You can see more of and commission her work through her Instagram, @AnachronismInAction

Cercone did, however, work on Kuiil the Ugnaught, portrayed by Nick Nolte on The Mandalorian

Joel Morris is the Editor of DVD Talk.

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