The world of Firefly has a distinct visual style and a big part of that is the costumes. Each character has a unique look that beautifully reflects their personality. The person responsible? Costume Designer Shawna Trpcic, who took some time to answer a few of our questions!
Q: Welcome aboard, Shawna! First and foremost, I gotta ask about Jayne’s shirts. The man has a surprisingly stylish wardrobe! What inspired his look?
A: I tapped into retro Chinese prints and artwork. I didn’t want anything credibly violent, so I used rainbow colors, pin-up girls and funny sayings like the “Fighting Elves” in order to contrast (Jayne’s gun) Vera and his violent job description.
Q: How do you approach designing a new costume?
A: The script is the first stop but often times there isn’t a backstory. Based on the brief description given, I create a backstory, do research to create a character board and can then present to the Producer/Director/Showrunner. For Firefly, I created boards for each new place we visited to give the general look for the rich, the poor, and working class.
Q: Were there elements of the characters’ outfits mentioned in the scripts, like Wash’s tropical shirts or Zoë’s choker?
A: It’s funny. I do not remember. It was almost 13 years ago, and also Jill Ohanesian designed the pilot and first episodes. I was her assistant. I know Zoë’s choker was what she established as a wedding ring of sorts.
Q: Do the actors have a lot of input in their costume designs?
A: For Firefly, not really. Tim Minear approved the sketches and boards and the actors generally were very pleased with the research and design.
Q: With Firefly particularly, you had the unique challenge of designing the looks for characters on different planets. How did that impact the design process?
A: The script generally helps lead the design. Like the mudder’s planet. I had to research mud farmers/miners, etc. There were the workers, the guards, and the aristocrats.
Q: We’ve heard that you like to add a pink flamingo on your costumes as a signature. When did this start and why?
A: It started with Badger. My set costumer, Cleo Mannell, saved the pin and we used it again the next time we worked. (Topher’s assistant wore it on Dollhouse.) I started playing “Where’s Waldo” and hiding them here and there. In This Is the End, it’s on a tie and in Lust for Love it’s on a t-shirt.
Q: You’ve worked with Joss Whedon on many projects beyond Firefly, including Angel, Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and more. Why do you think you two work so well together?
A: I think it was because of my comic book upbringing. I read a lot of comics growing up and feel we shared that sense of design, colors and character development.
Q: What’s your favorite costume you’ve ever designed (in or out of the ‘Verse)?
A: Honestly, I love every costume. Each costume is character development. Whether it is a modern suit or an elaborate ball gown, it is the design process I go through to fully develop a believable persona.
Q: Do you think future spacefaring humans will wear similar clothes to the ones you designed for Firefly?
A: I doubt it. I like what the designer did for The Martian and that Tom Cruise movie where he wore the white and the planet dwellers were a high tech, Mad Max feel (Oblivion).
Q: Can you tell us anything about your next awesome project?
A: I just finished POWERS for PlayStation/Sony. The trailer is on YouTube. I designed season two and it was super fun!
Q: Lastly, you obviously have a lot of insights into each character’s look, so do you have any advice for cosplayers?
A: I LOVE LOVE cosplayers’ interpretations of the Firefly ‘Verse and all the other films and television they tap into. The skill and attention to detail is always so impressive. My only advice is to carry on and always remember to be kind to those with different levels of talent.
Want more exclusive behind-the-scenes content from the ‘Verse? Check out the Firefly Cargo Crate from Loot Crate and Quantum Mechanix!
(Interview originally featured in the LET’S BE BAD GUYS issue of The Signal magazine in the Firefly Cargo Crate, May 2017)