Theatre costumes enter a new dimension

Costume-making for theatre hasn’t changed much since electric sewing machines were invented over 100 years ago. The pattern is drawn on flat surfaces using mannequins. After that, it’s sewn to the desired fit. This can be time-consuming and costly.

But tech-savvy designers in Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Department of Theatre and Dance are among those ushering in a new age of theatrical fashion-making using 3D printers, modeling software and other digital tools to create costumes more efficiently.

“These new 3D costume-modeling programs allow us to try different designs and fabrics without having to build them out,” said Alyssa Ridder, MFA, professor of costume design and technology at MSU Denver. “The program simulates exactly how a material will move and look on the actors. Think HGTV and simulated home remodels — it’s the same concept. Once finalized, the patterns can be projected directly on the material and cut out for sewing.”

Ridder is a specialist in CLO3D, a program that allows designers to create 3D garment visuals. Ridder has presented workshops using CLO3D at U.S. Institute for Theatre Technology where she will again present this year.

Connor Sullivan, costume-shop manager at MSU Denver who holds a master’s degree in costume-making from the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, has created period jewelry, tiaras and theatre masks for various productions using 3D printing.

“You can conceptualize anything and get a pretty close approximation to actual pieces without the expertise and expense that was previously required to create authentic-looking period pieces,” he said. “And 3D printing is much more accessible now than it was even 10 years ago. You can now get a decent-quality 3D printer for under $500.”


3D Halloween Costumes

Make your Halloween costumes more realistic and creative by 3D printing accessories, such as skulls, helmets and spikes. Ridder’s suggestions:

    • Visit sites such as Thingiverse These models are available for free and can be printed right away.
    • Use free 3D printers at the Auraria Library’s Innovation Garage.
    • Blender is open-source software that lets you learn. online tutorials.
    • Learn how to sew, pattern and create costumes with the Department of Theatre and Dance.


Sullivan said that 3D printing is primarily used for industrial purposes. Although the technology is most often used for printing with plastics and other materials, Sullivan says that the future could see the use of flexible textiles.

“We may actually print costumes one day,” he said.

MSU Denver’s Department of Theatre and Dance produces at least six performances each year. The majority of them benefit from the latest technology. Whether they’re re-creating 18th-century garments or designing futuristic props, costume designers can use 3D modeling to help them get the look they want in a fraction of the time it took before.

“(MSU Denver) is very unique in that we have two people in the department who specialize in exactly this kind of work,” Ridder said. “It’s so cool that we’re a resource for the students who want to do this kind of work. The possibilities are endless.”

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