Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dragon Con 2013: 13 Questions With Sean Patton

Sean Patton was the third piece of the puzzle at Heroes Con that made me want to cover costuming for my Dragon Con posts this year.
Whilst wandering around the bar in the Westin hotel I saw Sara from across the room, engaged in conversation with some dude. I am not normally one to horn in on a pre-existing talk, but I was in North Carolina at a comic convention and I needed some nerd time. I sat down and interjected myself and fortunately that dude was a very nice guy.
            His name was Sean and he was a costume designer who was happy to talk about what he does. I bombarded Sean and Sara with questions until she got sick of it and left. But Sean was nice enough to soldier on until DJ Spider showed up to bear a portion of my inquiries. I had the absolute best time talking to all of these folks and – as I have mentioned previously – was kicking myself the whole time for missing the opportunity to record it all. It would have made for a fantastic podcast. Then again, it still will for some point in the future.
For now, here’s one of the most gracious and informative people I have had the pleasure of talking to about the art of costuming. He enthusiastically answered every question I had. And while I’m happy with both of our interactions, I am still left with a desire to learn more from Mr. Patton. Like I said – future podcast. For now, enjoy this and learn a little something about one of Atlanta’s finest for yourself:
1) What are your top geek passions?
A) Top geek passion is probably movies (which, I suppose should go without saying – lol) and some TV shows. I also love my 360 when I can carve out time to play – especially the Arkham games, Tomb Raider, Assassin’s Creed and some Kinect games. I enjoy comics from time to time, but really like the art more than keeping up with the stories (though I do still read Buffy and am getting caught up on the 52 Titans after being a longtime Teen Titans reader).
2) What was your favorite toy when you were a kid?
A) 1st Gen Transformers. I had them all and played with them until they fell apart and then got some of them over again.
3) What is one album everybody should own?
A) Well, I’m a big classic rock fan, so I’m going to have to go with anything by Pink Floyd or Spirit of the Radio, the Rush greatest hits album. Don’t judge me! lol
4) Who is your favorite wrestler and why?
A) Hm. I don’t know much about wrestling, but I supposed I’d have to say Dwayne Johnson. I think his transition from wrestling to mainstream media was very smart and successful. I also like the fact that he’s very diverse in his projects doing everything from action to sci-fi/fantasy to family comedy.
5) When and how did you discover you had a talent for costuming?
A) I became involved in theatre with my family when I was about 12. That community was, and still is, a thriving one in Atlanta and, all through my middle and high school years, we were very active in the community working with several different theatres and on quite a large number of shows. Community and small theatre companies depend on people pitching in and wearing numerous hats depending on what needs to be done for a particular show. Through all of the different things I did for various shows, I discovered that I enjoyed the costume aspect the most.
6) What’s your costuming background?
A) After high school, I studied theatre in college where I worked in the costume department as an on-campus job. After that, I continued to work in small theatre productions and worked full time for a theatrical supply house where I ran the costume rental and design department. Through that, I continued to meet new people and expand my network. I branched out to work several seasons with a light opera company, design projects for numerous print ads, television commercials, television shows, short and industry films and independent features.
7) If you could pursue any project, what would it be?
A) Production-wise, I’d pretty much wet myself to be involved in Jose Fernandez’s organization or Weta Workshop. Otherwise, I think it would be awesome to get on with the marketing department for a video game producer and work to develop costumes for promotional events as well as game development itself.
8) What's a favorite con memory?
A) I don’t remember the name of the convention, but when I was about 9 years old my dad took me to a gaming and fantasy convention and I remember just flipping out. It was the most amazing thing my noobie-geek heart had ever encountered. I think the seed really got planted there. I fell out of it for a long time and got back into going to Dragon*Con in 1997. I’ve not missed a year since.
The greatest part for me is just being able to catch up with people that I know but don’t get to see very often. I know it has a lot of promotional appeal for a lot of people, and I’d be lying if I said I never take advantage of that aspect. But, really, for me it’s about the rush and push being over – we’re here, it’s all done and now it’s time to kick back, hang out with friends and enjoy the fruits of all that hard work.
9) Which actor do you feel like you could sit and watch for hours no matter what they were doing and why?
A) Wow, that’s a tough one – there are so many that I love for different reasons. I will say, though, that growing up, if ever noticed there was a Cary Grant movie on TV, I would watch it – no matter what it was. So, I guess he’d be the one I’d pick for this.
10) What advice can you give to somebody just starting out making costumes?
A) Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. No one, NO ONE, comes straight out of the gate building flawless Halo armor or making a perfect Kaylee “Shindig” dress. When you see these very impressive, elaborate costumes at conventions or in photo shoots, they are the culmination of, in many cases, years of work on tens or hundreds of projects that led up to that costume. And millions of mistakes were made on that journey - blood and tears were shed, supplies were wasted re-purchased and wasted again, sleepless nights were spent pouring over search results looking for that perfect reference picture (“I just need a clear shot of that ONE seam! Gah!”) or engaging in in-depth conversations on the RPF and SCF in global-brainstorming sessions on fabrics, trims and treatments.
All of these things are vitally important. Making mistakes teaches you how to improve your approach, sharpen your process and hone your technical skills. Every time you build a new project, you’re going to be better than you were on the last one – every project teaches you. You should always push yourself to try new things and reach outside your comfort zone. Also, use all the resources available to you. Forums were created so that people can share ideas and techniques and their experiences to help others. Asking for ideas when you’re stuck or seeking help from people more experienced is NEVER “cheating” – it’s smart. All of the advanced costumers I know are more than happy to talk to anyone just starting out.
One of the key things about costuming is the process of creating it as well as the costume itself. So, enjoy the process – have fun with it and don’t take it too seriously.
11) Which costume did you learn the most from making?
A) It’s not a single costume, but when I worked for the theatrical supply house, I was in charge of building a set of costumes for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I personally built 5 main character costumes: Belle’s blue and gold dress, Gaston, Lumiere and Cogsworth. Building Lumiere and Cogsworth were, at that time, a big ambitious push for me. I had never built costumes so elaborate or with functional moving parts. On top of that, since these were for rental stock they had to be: storable, shippable, lightweight, sturdy, flexible, fit a range of sizes and, for cost-effectiveness, be able to shift from the “object” to “human” versions with only the addition/removal of certain components. It was certainly a challenge, but we pulled it off and every school that rented the set loved them.
12) Is there a movie that should never be remade and if so which one?
A) Blade Runner. It (with very stiff competition from The Godfather) is the perfect movie. As is. There is no possible way to improve it or expand it, so don’t even try.
13) Closer – what is your favorite costume that you’ve worked on and the story behind it?
A) I’d have to say, hands down, my Macross flight suit. I was a huge fan of Macross ever since it hit the US as Robotech in 80’s and have never shaken my love of it. It was the first space opera (besides Star Wars) that was both character-driven and featured eye-popping (for the time) space battles. The fact that it was a cartoon that tackled issues like love, jealously, wartime trauma, death, real grief and loss and one of the most dramatic love triangles that (I think) has ever been put on film makes it a total pioneer that has never really been equaled.
I talked for 3 years about that costume and how it had to be the perfect, realistic interpretation of the suit and that I wasn’t going to even attempt it until I had it just right. I wanted to take that 80’s, kind-of-silly looking flight suit and really make it look like it could be flown in space. It ended up being a true collaborative effort with my friend and often-time collaborator, Chis Donio of Lab604. Chris is a fabricator and sculptor and he helped me with the helmet and hardware and I deconstructed the anime, gathered copious amounts of research on modern-day low orbital suits and Navy jet-jocky suits and engineered the costume from the ground up.
I debuted the costume at Dragon*Con 2011 and it’s still my favorite one to wear. It gets such a great reaction from fans of the series. I had one guy actually cry when he saw it he was so overcome by someone actually doing the suit and making it look real. I also had a military pilot come up to me and comment on how much I got right in the design of the suit and how authentic it looked (down to the mission specs I have in a knee-board pocket on one leg).
That is why we do this – or, why I do it anyway – for our love of these things and our desire to share that love with fellow geeks through a medium that we love to work in. Some people paint, some people write music or books, some people animate, make statues or toys and some people make costumes. No matter what, it’s about working in a medium you enjoy, creatively celebrating something that means something to you personally and sharing that effort with a community that embraces, through its own common interests, all things creative and all things that push us to explore ourselves and the world (and beyond) around us.
SMP Designs
Sean Patton

Wow! That was a damned fine Q&A. I think one of the best I’ve published. I’ve included some of my favorite picks of Patton’s work here, but you should definitely go check out the sites listed above to see everything. Also, the guy in that last picture looks really familiar.
Be sure and check back in tomorrow for my full Dragon Con schedule, including a full listing of the panels I will be on and...

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